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International Relations

Departmental website: lse.ac.uk/internationalRelations

Number of graduate students (full-time equivalent)
Taught: 218
Research: 53

Number of faculty: 35

REF: 88 per cent of the Department's research was rated world-leading or internationally excellent

Location: Clement House 

About the Department

International Relations has been taught at LSE since 1924. The Department was the first of its kind, and has remained a world centre for the development of the subject ever since. In the 2014 REF, the Department’s research output, along with that of the Government Department, was the top rated within the UK with 88 per cent of its research characterised as world leading or internationally excellent. This continued the trend of highly ranked research in the 2001 and 2008 RAE.  

The Department is sometimes associated with the development of a specifically "English" school of international relations and a number of its leading figures have taught at LSE, including Wight, Bull, Vincent, Donelan and Mayall. Many other developments in the subject have also been pioneered here including aspects of foreign policy analysis, international security, international organisations, international political economy, post-positivist international theory, normative international theory, and global historical sociology. The Department also has expertise in particular geographic areas ranging across Europe, the US, China, the Middle East, Eurasia, South Asia, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Central and Latin America. 

The Department has always been strongly international in character and today the majority of our graduate students, a good proportion of our undergraduates, as well as many members of the faculty are drawn from Europe, North America and further afield. At the same time we have always prided ourselves as having both a national and an international role in training diplomats and future university teachers. At least fifty former students are now teaching international relations in universities both in Britain and abroad.

Opportunities for research

We provide supervision for research leading to a PhD degree across the range of international relations fields. You should define your research interest as precisely as possible when you apply. MPhil/PhD International Relations applicants are normally required to have a master's degree with marks equivalent to an overall merit and a strong merit on the dissertation in a subject relevant to their proposed research. UK/EU students may wish to apply for the MSc International Relations (Research) with a view to applying for an ESRC 1+3 research studentship. If successful in obtaining an ESRC grant, a student would be entitled to continue to the MPhil/PhD programme upon completion of the master's with an overall merit and a strong merit on the dissertation.

Programme details

In the first year of your research you attend the International Relations Research Methods Training Seminar which explores the theoretical and practical problems associated with a piece of major research. Study concentrates on epistemological and theoretical issues, with special reference to the context and literature of international relations, and time is also devoted to problems arising from source materials, methodology and normative dilemmas. First year research students are also required to attend the International Relations Research Design Workshop; this is to help you in designing a well thought out and manageable thesis.

You will also have access to courses in general social science methodology offered by LSE's Department of Methodology. One of these forms part of the two international relations research master's courses: Foundations of Social Research, comprising three modules in Quantitative Analysis, Fundamentals of Research Design and Qualitative Research. If you have not already taken a Research track master's degree you will need to attend a course offered by the Teaching and Learning Centre on Authoring a PhD and Developing as a Researcher and a Library course on Information Skills.

During the course of your research we require that you take part in at least one of the Department's thematic research workshops. These are organised and chaired by members of staff. They usually entail a mixture of presentations by established researchers and presentations of work in progress by research students. They provide a means for placing your research within the wider context of ongoing debates and concerns in the areas related to your research topic.

You will also find it beneficial to attend the weekly editorial board meetings of Millennium: Journal of International Studies, the student-run journal.

Your progress is reviewed annually by a Research Panel and you would normally be upgraded from MPhil to PhD status by the end of your second year. This requires submission of an outline and three draft chapters of your thesis to your supervisor and the subsequent approval of your supervisor and the Panel. You need to make sufficient progress each year to be allowed to re-register.

Application process and supporting documentation

An offer of admission is based upon the quality of your research proposal, references, prior academic and/or professional achievement, the relevance of your proposed research topic to the research interests of members of the Department, a sample of your academic writing and an interview with prospective supervisor(s) and the Doctoral Programme Director.

Personal statement

Researching for, and writing, a doctoral thesis is an enjoyable intellectual experience, but also a demanding one. It is crucially important, therefore, that you embark on this process, starting with the application, with realistic views of what doing a PhD actually consists of, as well as with a good sense of what your reasons are for doing it. Your personal statement should state clearly your motivation, academic interests and your purpose and objectives in applying for the MPhil/PhD in the Department of International Relations. The statement should be between 1,000 and 1,500 words.

Research proposal

To be eligible for admission to the MPhil/PhD programme, you need to have more than a vaguely defined research topic. Your research proposal should be written as clearly and concisely as possible and should address the following questions:

  • What is your general topic and how is it located within the study of international relations?
  • What question do you want to answer?
  • What is the key literature and its limitations?
  • What are the main hypotheses you wish to explore and the argument you intend to develop?
  • What methodology do you intend to use?
  • What are your case studies, if any, and what are your case selection criteria?
  • Which member(s) of the Department might be suitable supervisors and why?

The quality of your written proposal is very important. This proposal will allow us to assess the potential of the proposed project and especially the availability of appropriate supervision within the Department. It is on the basis of the research proposal and supporting documentation that a decision will be made on whether to offer an interview for admission to the programme.

The length of your research proposal should be between six to eight pages. In addition, you should include a brief abstract (200 words maximum) of your proposed research topic.

You may wish to contact a member of staff by email prior to your application to discuss your research proposal and its relevance to their research interests, though the Department cannot guarantee that all members of staff will be able to respond. If you have discussed your proposed research with a member of the Department's academic staff, you should indicate their name in your proposal. 

It is important that you ensure that there is a convergence between your proposed research topic and the research interests of a member of the Department. If your proposed area of research falls outside the interests of the Department’s staff or there is no appropriate member of staff to supervise your topic, then you are unlikely to be offered a place no matter how good the research proposal or your academic qualifications. 

It is worth noting that there is no 'political science' department at LSE. International Relations, Government, International Development and the European Institute are all distinct departmental entities. Therefore, it is unlikely that arrangements for joint supervision with members of staff across those departments will take place. If the relevant potential supervisor for your proposed research is located in a department other than International Relations you should make your application to their doctoral research programme.  


You should provide two references from people who are familiar with your academic work and, ideally, who are able to comment on your proposed field of research. It is your responsibility to make contact with your referees promptly to allow your application to be completed in time.

Sample piece of academic work 

You should provide a sample piece of academic work (an essay or research paper) which will allow the selectors to gauge the quality and clarity of your writing, your critical analytical abilities and your research skills.


The International Relations Department does not admit part-time research students. First year research students are expected to register from the beginning of the Michaelmas term in order to attend compulsory research training courses.

You may find it helpful to read the International Relations Department's FAQs web page for prospective research applicants.

Graduate destinations

The programme has provided excellent career prospects for students wishing to pursue careers in academia (primarily in the UK, Europe, and US), policy related research in think tanks and research institute, and positions with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.

Taught programmes



MPhil/PhD International Relations
Visiting Research Students

Application code: M1ZR (MPhil/PhD), M1ER (VRS) (check availability)

Start date: 22 September 2016. No January or April intake

Duration: MPhil/PhD 3/4 years (minimum 2), VRS up to 9 months (renewable)

Entry requirement: Normally a master's degree with an overall merit (at least 65 percent) or its equivalent and a strong merit or its equivalent in the master's dissertation in a subject relevant to proposed research

English requirement: Research

GRE/GMAT requirement: None

Fee level: See Tuition fees

Financial support: LSE scholarships and studentships (see Financial support). LSE is an ESRC Doctoral Training Centre. The MPhil/PhD International Relations is part of the Political Science and International Studies group of accredited programmes for ESRC funding (see Economic and Social Research Council). You should indicate in your application if you wish to be considered for this and will be contacted by the Department directly if selected 

Application deadline: 11 January 2016. After this date, only self-funded applications will be considered

Note: Your application should include a detailed research proposal, along with a short abstract (200 words maximum). Applicants are expected to look at the research interests of staff on the Department's web pages to ensure that their proposed area of research coincides with that of at least one member of staff. Those applicants being considered for a place on the programme will be interviewed by relevant members of staff prior to a final decision being made