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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

The funding and application portal for admittance in October 2023 closed on 1st December 2022, we do not accept late applicaitons.

Applicaitons for October 2024 entry will open in September 2023.

Programme Description

Our PhD in Politics and International Studies is structured as a three-year programme. With the expectation that PhD students will submit a full draft of their thesis at the end of the third year or soon after.

This is a research degree and is completed through the submission of a thesis of up to 80,000 words. As a full-time programme, it is completed in a period of between three and four years – that is, between nine and twelve university terms. 

The First Year

The first year of the PhD is spent in Cambridge, with two major activities: firstly, developing a research topic, with the guidance of a supervisor; and secondly, on training in research methods.

The development of the topic often involves extensive reading into relevant literature, the discovery of relevant information sources (such as archives or databases), and formulating plans for primary research, such as through making plans for fieldwork. This is done in combination with your primary supervisor, who discusses your progress and reviews your written work, usually on a fortnightly basis. You are also appointed a second supervisor who can be drawn upon for additional advice.

The first year culminates in the production of a report, which serves as the basis for the registration exercise at the end of the year. This registration exercise is required to move on to official registration for the PhD degree, and is conducted through a meeting with your second supervisor and an independent assessor. Its purpose is to ensure that your research project is viable, that an appropriate methodology is being applied and that relevant literature is being drawn upon.

The second major focus of the first year is research training. There is a weekly seminar on the methodological and philosophical questions that underpin research in the contemporary social sciences which all first-year PhD students attend. Alongside this, PhD students choose two further courses to attend from a range of options, such as statistics, qualitative methods and languages.

As the induction process and training courses start at the beginning of October, entry to the PhD programme must also begin then. We cannot therefore accept applications to begin at other points during the academic year.

The Second and Third Years

The content of the second and third years varies considerably depending on the type of research being conducted. Many students spend a considerable portion of the second year of their PhD out of Cambridge on fieldwork, while others are resident throughout. To assist you in the development of your research, we schedule an annual meeting with your primary and secondary supervisor, for which you produce a report for discussion.

In the second year and onwards, many of our PhD students are involved in contributing to the teaching programme of the department, principally in small-group teaching of undergraduates (supervisions).

There is also the opportunity to deliver a lecture if your research interests align with the taught courses. There is no obligation to be involved in this, but many of our PhD students consider this valuable experience, particularly for those considering academic careers.


Dissertations are assessed through an oral examination with two senior academics, of whom at least one must be external.


Full-time candidates on the course are expected to devote themselves fully to their studies. Full-time students must spend at least three terms resident in Cambridge. Part time students are required to attend Cambridge and undergo formal supervision with their supervisor at a frequency agreed between the supervisor and student and determined by the nature of the research project. In general we would expect part time students to be resident in Cambridge for around 45 days per year, spread throughout the year, for supervision and training.

Next steps

"A PhD at POLIS is a rare opportunity to meet and befriend incredible people who are at the cutting edge of diverse and globally relevant research.
I enjoy working independently and have found POLIS to be a great fit. It is a privilege to be a part of such a well-resourced and intellectually stimulating department. "

 - Lyn Kouadio, PhD student POLIS