Getting Involved in Policy: An Overworked Grad Student’s Guide


After our article for WOTR’s Schoolhouse series on the state of policy training for graduate students in international relations, it came to our attention that many graduate students are unaware of the various policy options available to them throughout the course of their PhD programs. To fill that gap, we have compiled a short list of prominent seminars, summer institutes, workshops, and fellowship opportunities that students interested in policy might find appealing.

The first section of this post covers the seminar programs, summer institutes, and workshops, including basic logistical information, along with some insights from students who have participated in the past. The second section provides information on funding options for policy-relevant research at the pre- and post-doctoral levels. Of course, this list is not comprehensive, but it should provide a good starting point and, hopefully, the beginnings of a centralized compilation of the opportunities that currently exist.

Seminars, Institutes, and Workshops

1. Public Policy and Nuclear Threat Boot Camp (PPNT)

Location: UC San Diego, Calif.
Financial Information: No stipend, but travel is covered and food is provided on campus.
Time of Year: Summer, 2 weeks.

What/who it’s good for: PhD students in the prospectus phase who want to do future research on nuclear topics and PhD students in the dissertation phase looking for an in-depth review of nuclear fuel cycles, safeguards, monitoring, and arms control.  This is not a course to review academic literature on nuclear topics.  The best-suited participants will be those who would benefit from practitioner perspectives on the technical ins and outs of nuclear policy.

Application Tips: Applications close in March/April. Dates vary so be sure to check the website. Priority goes to students who have completed coursework.  Students who can communicate a clear idea of how the course will aid their research may have a higher probability of being selected.

2. Summer Workshop on Analysis of Military Operations and Strategy (SWAMOS)

Location: Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
Financial Information: Travel is covered and stipend is provided.
Time of Year: Summer, 2 weeks.

What/who it’s good for: PhD students and junior faculty who have an interest in security studies but want to gain more detailed knowledge of military strategy and operations either for their own research or for teaching purposes. Only 20 participants are selected each year and the format provides excellent opportunities for networking and meeting prominent scholars in strategic studies (Richard Betts, Stephen Biddle, Barry Posen, and more). The program is designed to cover a lot of detail, requires active participation, as well as reading prior to the start of the seminar. Only students genuinely interested in more in-depth knowledge of military strategy and operations should therefore apply. It will be less useful to students from programs that cover these topics in their standard PhD coursework.

Application Tips: Applications close in late February/early March. Students who can communicate how this program will aid their research or future teaching may have a higher probability of being selected.

3. Clements Center (UT Austin) Summer Seminar in History and Statecraft

Location: Beaver Creek, Colo.
Financial Information: All expenses paid (travel, hotel, and meals) for five days in Beaver Creek, Colo.
Time of Year: Summer (late July).

What/who it’s good for: The Summer Seminar wrestles seriously with the question of how scholarship can contribute to policy. The seminar’s approach is interdisciplinary, bringing together historians, political scientists, and scholar-practitioners; as a result, participants spend substantial time discussing if and how policymakers can leverage the lessons of history. The Clements Center assembles an excellent and bipartisan lineup of speakers, who generally make themselves available to students during meals and free time. The program is suited to PhD students at any stage; students do not present any work and are only required to complete a manageable advance reading assignment.  Bonus: free afternoons for hiking and exploration in Beaver Creek.

Application Tips: Due mid-February.

4. Nuclear Scholars Initiative, Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Location: Washington, D.C.
Financial Information: Travel and accommodation paid for by CSIS for out-of-town participants.
Time of Year: 6-month program (January-July), with one meeting per month.

What/who it’s good for: Best-suited for early stage graduate students and young professionals with an interest in nuclear policy issues and networking in D.C. At each workshop, participants are briefed on nuclear topics, have the opportunity to meet leading policy and think tank professionals working in the field of nuclear politics, and become part of a network of individuals working on and interested in nuclear affairs. Throughout the program, participants also have the opportunity to prepare and present a research paper, which they can subsequently publish in a CSIS journal.

Application Tips: Applications close in November.

5. Center of New American Security (CNAS) Next Generation National Security Leaders

Location: Washington, D.C. Participants are responsible for any costs incurred traveling to and from the events.
Financial Information: Meals at evening events are covered.
Time of Year: Full calendar year.

What/who it’s good for: PhD students (aged 32 or below) who have an interest in policy-relevant research in national security issues and wish to make contact with policymakers in Washington, D.C., either for the purposes of continued research or to help segue into policy positions post-PhD. Excellent exposure to high-level government officials and a great opportunity to become part of a network of young, policy-interested academics and practitioners from across government and the private sector. CNAS also offers participants the opportunity to contribute to collaborative writing projects with CNAS experts. This program is best suited for students with a strong interest in U.S. national security policy.

Application Tips: Applications due October-December. Demonstrated leadership experience may improve chances of selection.

6. German Marshall Fund Young Strategists Forum

Location: Tokyo, Japan for the last three years.
Financial Information: No stipend, but travel and meals are covered.
Time of Year: February for four days (plus travel).

What/who it’s good for: PhD students and junior-mid level faculty (aged between 25-39) who have an interest in the evolving security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific. In past years, the forum has involved open discussions of regional security issues, a simulation exercise, and meetings with senior policymakers, diplomats, academics, and journalists in Tokyo. The program is purposefully international in composition, and requires active participation from all participants. GMF also offers attendees the opportunity to work on collaborative written policy briefs after the conclusion of the forum. An outstanding opportunity to meet emerging leaders in the academic, policy, military, and business realms from around the world. Best suited to students interested in international security policy as it applies to the Asia-Pacific region.

Application Tips: Applications due in October.

7. RAND Graduate Student Summer Associate Program

Location: Washington, D.C., Santa Monica, Calif., and Pittsburgh, Pa.
Financial Information: Travel is paid and stipend is provided (approximately $13,500 for 12 weeks of full-time research)
Time of Year: Summer (June – August).

What/who it’s good for: PhD students who are done with coursework and working on their dissertations. The program matches PhD students with full-time RAND analysts with whose work the students have a demonstrated and clear interest. The PhD student is generally responsible for collaborating and completing a specific research project with the RAND analyst. RAND’s reputation as one of the most rigorous and academically informed policy analysis organizations in the Washington area makes this an excellent opportunity for students interested in pursuing a career outside of academia.

Application Tips: Applications are due in January. Selection into the program is competitive, and students still doing coursework are rarely selected. RAND primarily selects PhD students based on their match with a specific RAND researcher, so identifying researchers whose interests and needs match your skillset may improve chances of selection.

8. New Era Foreign Policy Conference (NEFP)

Location: Washington, D.C.
Financial Information: Travel to the conference, accommodation and meals are covered.
Time of Year: Spring (two-day conference, generally in March).

What/who it’s good for: PhD students done with coursework and interested in pursuing policy-relevant academic research. Ideal for students who would like to incorporate policy questions into their academic research, NEFP is a two-day conference during which participants engage in a series of workshops and scenario exercises. The program also introduces and incorporates students into the wider Bridging the Gap Network, composed of alumni of the program, researchers, and policy-makers supporting collaboration between the worlds of academia and policy. Students also use the conference to generate collaborative scholarship and policy work with like-minded scholars.

Application Tips: Applications are due in November.

Funding for Policy-Relevant Research

For those of you interested in short-term or yearlong funding for policy relevant research, below is a (non-exhaustive) list of well-known and highly respected opportunities.


1. Boren Awards for International Study: provides up to $30,000 for “U.S. graduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad, including Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.”

2. Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy: provides fifteen, $7,500 grants for PhD students conducting research “in all major areas of the social sciences, including anthropology, area studies, economics, political science, psychology, sociology, and urban studies, as well as newer areas such as evaluation research. Preference is given to projects that address contemporary issues in the social sciences and issues of policy relevance.”

3. Smith Richardson Foundation, World Politics and Statecraft Fellowship: provides up to $7,500 in support for PhD dissertation research on “American foreign policy, international relations, international security, strategic studies, area studies, and diplomatic and military history.”

Pre- and Post-doctoral Fellowships

1. Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, International Security Program: supports year-long pre-doctoral students who have made significant progress on their dissertations, with research interested in U.S. defense and foreign policy; grand strategy; diplomacy; nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons proliferation; managing nuclear technology and materials; chemical and biological weapons proliferation, control, and countermeasures; terrorism; regional security, internal and ethnic conflict; and international relations theory.

2. Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Program on Managing the Atom: offers pre- and post-doctoral support for one year in order to “provide training and research opportunities to the next generation of nuclear policy experts.”

3. New America Foundation Fellowship Program: provides yearlong support to young journalists or academics “eager to advance a better understanding of policy challenges facing our society.”

4. Stanford University, Center for International Security and Cooperation, International Security Fellowships: offers pre- and post-doctoral opportunities for applicants working on a broad range of topics related to peace and international security.

5. Stanton International and Nuclear Security Fellowships: The Stanton Foundation generously provides funding for yearlong, pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships for PhD students doing research on nuclear security issues, defined as including nuclear terrorism, proliferation, weapons, force posture, and energy. The foundation’s fellowships are housed at the following six academic and policy institutions in the United States:

Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Security Studies Program (

Stanford University, Center for International Security and Cooperation (

Council on Foreign Relations (


Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ( — check website in the fall for updates on the fellowship application)

6. United States Institute of Peace Jennings Randolph Peace Scholarship: supports dissertation research by doctoral students “at U.S. universities researching and writing dissertations with clear relevance for policy and practice in the field of international peacebuilding and conflict management.”

7. The University of Texas at Austin, Clements Center for History, Strategy and Statecraft: supports post-doctoral students “whose research bears directly on American foreign policy or international security.” Strong preference is given to applicants with a doctorate in history or whose research has a strong historical component (ancient or modern).

8. University of Virginia, Miller Center National Fellowship: provides support for individuals “that employ history to shed light on American politics and public policy, foreign relations and the impact of global affairs on the United States, media and politics, and the role of the presidency in shaping American political development.”

9. Yale University, International Security Studies, Smith Richardson Predoctoral Fellowship: offers support for students from universities other than Yale, in the fields of security studies, emphasizing international, diplomatic, or military history.

10. Yale University, International Security Studies, Henry Chauncey Jr. ‘57 Postdoctoral Fellowship: provides support “for research and teaching in the field of ‘grand strategy’ broadly defined. Fellows must be in residence at Yale, and must have successfully defended their doctoral dissertation before the appointment begins.”


Lena Andrews is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Techonology, where her research focuses on U.S. civil-military relations, grand strategy, and military innovation. Prior to MIT, Lena was a senior program specialist at the United States Institute of Peace.

Rebecca Friedman Lissner is a PhD Candidate in the Government Department at Georgetown University. Prior to Georgetown, Rebecca was a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. She received her MA in Government from Georgetown University and her AB in Social Studies from Harvard University.

Julia Macdonald is a Stanton Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow at MIT and a PhD Candidate in Political Science at the George Washington University. Her research on coercive diplomacy, foreign policy decision making, and U.S. military strategy and effectiveness has been published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Journal of Strategic Studies, Foreign Policy Analysis, and Armed Forces and Society.

Jacquelyn Schneider is a PhD Candidate-in-Residence at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University. Her research on technology and national security has appeared in The Journal of Conflict ResolutionStrategic Studies Quarterly, and The International Relations and Security Network.

Rachel Whitlark is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Project on Managing the Atom and International Security Program at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Her research explores U.S. foreign policy decision-making and nuclear proliferation.


Photo credit: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan