Note to PhD Applicants

You’re considering an application to Johns Hopkins SAIS, either the full PhD program or the DIA, possibly supervised by me? — Here’s some advice before applying.

Note that I will only consider PhD proposals on intelligence and cybersecurity related projects. So if you would like to work with me, please email me a two-page proposal in addition to applying officially.

Please include the following items in your 2-pager: a concise abstract; a research question (with a proper pitch, or puzzle, and an actual question mark); ideally a preliminary argument; a short outline of the structure; a preliminary chapter outline (as a table of contents); and references to potential primary sources as well as the existing secondary literature that matters for the suggested project. Most of that will probably change; but it’s still useful at this early stage.

Detail: proposals must demonstrate sound attention to technical detail. For guidance on a useful balance between political and technical considerations, see some of our recent articles co-authored with PhD candidates (especially the ones with Ben Buchanan and Daniel Moore). 

Framework: a strong conceptual framework is essential at a later stage. Your research should be driven by actual problems, not by somebody’s preferred methodology or pet theory. The question should determine the toolset, not the other way round. So if you’re, say, a fan of “securitization” theory and want to apply it “to cyber” — I’m probably not the right person for you.

Scholarship: a PhD is a serious piece of scholarship with a long shelf-life, based on original research and fresh evidence of past (or present) trends; a PhD isn’t a thick but short-lived policy paper about future solutions to some current problem.

Your background: obviously you have to meet the formal entry requirements. Beyond that, we highly value elegant writing, conceptual clarity, technical skill, and practical experience — in other words: it doesn’t matter if you went to some ivy league or Russell group school, who you know, or who recommended you. Substance trumps everything else.

I look forward to reading your proposal (please send as PDF or share a Google Document with me, ideally not MS Word).