Humanitarianism and humanitarian action are topics of great interest not only for practitioners working in crises-affected zones but also for an increasing number of academics and researchers. Considering that academic research often transcends into policy and law-making, more and more universities are offering Ph.D. programs and specializations in humanitarian studies. These programs are aimed at hiring qualified candidates who will produce novel insights, critics and knowledge of the past and current humanitarian crises and interventions. While some programs are offered specifically in the field of humanitarian studies, others appear as research clusters and tracks within broader sciences, most notably international relations.
Here are the top five such Ph.D. programs in humanitarian aid and action offered by highly-ranked universities in Europe and North America.
Ph.D. in International Relations with Humanitarian Studies specialization
Location: The Fletcher School, Tufts University, the United States of America
Located at Tufts University, the world-famous Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy is a graduate school that explores the study and practice of international relations to the highest possible level. Humanitarian aid and humanitarianism are one of the many sub-topics of international relations that world-class academics and their students research in this institution. The Ph.D. program in International Relations at the Fletcher is one of the most well-known international relations programs in the world, hiring extremely qualified candidates to produce top-notch research. Importantly, this program is designed not only to answer to some of the most burning questions in academia but also to respond to concrete policy issues.
Ph.D. students at the Fletcher school choose their primary field of study among several broadly defined themes such as comparative politics, development economics, gender analysis in international studies, human security, or international security studies. In order to shape their degree towards humanitarian aid and action, candidates are invited to choose humanitarian studies as their secondary field of study. A number of professors working at the Fletcher School specialize in this research cluster and can provide appropriate Ph.D. supervision to candidates who come forward with original dissertation topics. Within this research cluster, students are particularly encouraged to pursue a critique of the humanitarian aid system and enhance our knowledge of the nature of humanitarian crises.
The Fletcher School admits only highly-qualified candidates to their Ph.D. program. In particular, candidates are expected to hold a Master’s degree in a relevant field. In addition, it is also desirable that the candidate has had some practical experience in the field. To apply, prospective candidates have to submit their academic transcripts, three letters of recommendation, resume, personal statement, supplemental essays, GRE and English language test score as well as their Master’s thesis. Furthermore, all candidates are also asked to submit a 1,500-word long Ph.D. dissertation proposal and to successfully contact a prospective supervisor who works at the school prior to the submission of their application.
All candidates are free to submit a scholarship application form to compete to any stipend funding available. Further information about research and teaching assistantships and awards is available on the website.
Ph.D. Studies with a focus on Humanitarian Law and Action
Location: The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland
The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva in one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the field of humanitarian law and human rights law. At this institute, qualified students from all over the world get trained to become world-class humanitarian academics and practitioners. Formally, Ph.D. students need to be admitted to a particular disciplinary specialization such as international law, international economics, international relations/political science, international history, anthropology and sociology, or development economics, but can, of course, focus on humanitarian studies in their doctoral research.
At a doctoral level, students can engage in research on humanitarian aid and action by enrolling in the Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and Action Research Cluster offered by the institute. This research track is followed by a great number of professors who also serve as Ph.D. candidates’ supervisors. Some of them also lead important grand-scale projects relating to humanitarian aid with the help of external funding. That said, all Ph.D. students at the academy are given an excellent opportunity to cooperate with some of the leading academics in the field and make their own original contribution to science over the four-year-long course of the study. The Graduate Institute is furthermore interested in educating both academic experts and professionals working for international and national organizations and local administrations, so they gladly accept applications from a variety of profiles.
All applications for Ph.D. studies are submitted online. In addition to completing the online application form, prospective candidates are obliged to provide two academic references and supporting documents, including a proof of a master’s degree in social sciences. Other supporting documents include a motivation letter, resume, academic transcripts and certificates and, importantly, a copy of the candidate’s master dissertation as well as a Ph.D. dissertation proposal. All documents can be submitted in either English or French.
Most Ph.D. students at the Graduate Institute are fully funded by their programs through research assistantships, scholarships, or fellowships. More information about fees and financial aid opportunities is available on the official website.
Ph.D. in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response
Location: Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, the University of Manchester, the United Kingdom
The Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester offers postgraduate research students a unique opportunity to conduct in-depth analyses of current and past humanitarian crises in a prestigious academic environment. The Institute does not restrict the study of humanitarianism and humanitarian crises to any particular discipline but rather opens doors for novel, interdisciplinary projects. The research conducted at the Institute is broadly grouped in five different research themes: critical peace and conflict studies, cultures of humanitarianism, disaster studies and global resilience, health and medicine in conflict and humanitarianism, and histories of humanitarianism. Within each research cluster, there is a group of Ph.D. researchers who work on different projects and publications, advancing our knowledge of the matter.
At the Institute, there is a number of experienced academics conducting groundbreaking research on a variety of topics relating to humanitarian aid and action. Interested candidates are encouraged to examine these professors’ areas of interest and reach out to a potential supervisor prior to applying for the Ph.D. Some of the relevant topics that could be narrowed down and turned into research proposals include global health, the history of humanitarian ideas, peace-building, and gender in humanitarianism.
Prospective candidates are required to apply online via the University’s online portal. To do so, they should prepare two academic references, academic transcripts and degree certificates, a proof of English language fluency, and the outline of the project they are proposing. Selected candidates to whom the department might make an offer will be invited for an interview with two academics.
The University of Manchester offers a number of funding opportunities to incoming Ph.D. students. To find out more about funding your Ph.D. humanitarian studies, click here.
International Doctoral Program in Global Health, Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Medicine
Location: Research Center in Emergency and Disaster Medicine, Universita del Piemonte Orientale, Italy
For those who want to get engaged with humanitarian assistance through the field of medicine and health sciences, the international doctoral program offered by the Research Center in Emergency and Disaster Medicine (CRIMEDIM) of the University del Piemonte Orientale is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This interdisciplinary program, ran jointly with the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, trains researchers in the fields of global health, humanitarian aid and disaster medicine and aims at promoting top-notch scientific work in these areas all around the world.
By inviting researchers from around the globe who work in different fields of study, the institution aspires to help make international cooperation and exchange of knowledge of humanitarian aid and global health stronger and create viable solutions for some of humanity’s most burning issues.
Applications for this highly competitive program are typically open in June. Applicants are evaluated on the basis of their academic record, research experience (preferably international), and interest in the study topics. In addition to their academic records and resumes, candidates should also submit a cover letter and a personal statement. In addition, to become a part of the program, candidates must submit a proposal relating to one of the three broad topics, namely global health, humanitarian aid or disaster medicine. Whatever the topic is, candidates should keep humanitarian contexts in focus. Some of the narrower topics that could be researched include humanitarianism, emergency public health, and health and medicine in humanitarian crises. After the initial evaluation of the application, selected candidates will be invited for an interview.
Once accepted, Ph.D. students are obliged to complete an induction course during the first year of their studies. This course consists of an introductory block which takes place in Italy and a research skill development block held in Belgium. Some of the mandatory courses include Research Methodology and Epidemiology, Statistics, and Scientific English. After the completion of these study sessions, Ph.D. students dedicate the rest of their time to their doctoral dissertations.
Structured Doctoral Program in Humanitarian Studies
Location: Centre for Humanitarian Action, University College Dublin, Ireland
The Centre for Humanitarian Action at the University College Dublin is one of the most important institutions that aspire to foster innovative approaches and cooperation in the field of humanitarian aid and action. The structured doctoral program in Humanitarian Studies invites researchers from a variety of relevant disciplines to join the research center and contribute to knowledge creation in these still largely under-researched fields. The overarching mission is educating new generations of humanitarians who will make significant improvements in humanitarian aid systems both as practitioners and academics. Staff members of the research center, together with Ph.D. candidates, work together on a series of funded projects relating to humanitarian studies, including preparedness and resilience to address urban vulnerability and the impact of NGO intervention on the18 level of poverty in Ethiopia.
The application process is simplified and it consists of sending a draft proposal and a resume via email to the relevant authority. Interested candidates are also requested to elaborate on their funding status at the time of their application while a number of funding opportunities are available at the University for postgraduate research studies. In general, prospective Ph.D. students at the University College Dublin are asked to also prepare a personal statement and forward their academic transcripts and references as a part of the admissions process. At this time, the structured Ph.D. at University College Dublin usually takes 4 years to complete with a combination of taught courses and original research and dissertation writing spread throughout the course. More information is available here.
Considering that this a rather new research program still at a developing stage, it is advisable to contact one of the researchers working on different projects within the center in order to get more information about the structure of this concrete Ph.D.