We have liftoff: SAIS welcomes first Doctor of International Affairs (DIA) cohort

September 18, 2019

By Sandra Salvatori

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After years of focused effort, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) inaugural cohort of Doctor of International Affairs (DIA) students has arrived on campus. The SAIS Observer will be following this first DIA cohort—of which the author is a member—throughout the semester. 

The DIA program intends to serve as a platform for experienced international affairs practitioners to conduct applied research on pressing global issues. Compared to SAIS’s Ph.D. program, the DIA is relatively fast-paced. Students who already hold a master’s degree can complete the program in two years. A three-year track is available for all other students.  

In year one, students have a full-time course load as part of the Master’s of International Public Policy (MIPP) program. The only required courses are DIA Methods I & II. The goal of the “Methods” courses is to provide DIA students with tools to generate and conduct research. The second year of the DIA—which carries a remote/part-time option—is spent completing a dissertation.

There are 19 members in the initial group. While many are SAIS graduates, some come to SAIS from the international business community, and about one-third are attending through military academic training. Like most of SAIS, students in the inaugural DIA cohort are multinational, multilingual and have an impressive range of backgrounds. 

Equally impressive are their wide-ranging areas of study. These include cross-organizational space/satellite architecture, improving in-country immigration processes, strategic power politics, U.S. policy regarding Ukraine and the New Europe, efficacy of international finance tools and policies (credit analysis, money transfers, debt instruments and negotiations, economic strategy for insecure/unstable communities, impact of sanctions), influence operations in the U.S., U.S. foreign policy in the 21st Century, nation-building in the post-Arab Spring Middle East, dynamics of cyber conflict and Russia in Africa. Also included are a number of topics regarding China, such as the growth of lending/economic/maritime capabilities, expansion policies and the impact of Chinese elite and intellectual migration to the U.S. over the past 20 years.  

DIA candidate profile: Serwat Perwaiz

The SAIS Observer asked Serwat to discuss how her background motivated her to apply to the DIA program and how she has enjoyed her time at SAIS so far. 

Growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Serwat was bilingual from an early age. As a result, she said, she has always sought to “analyze a situation from different frames of reference,” and find opportunities for divergent groups to work together. She began her professional career as a lawyer. When asked what motivated her to apply to the program, Serwat said, “(I am a) SAIS MIPP graduate, and when I heard (from Dean Cohen’s information session) that the DIA could build on my educational and professional experience and provide another opportunity for growth, with an ever higher-level practitioner approach, I was immediately intrigued!” 

Serwat focuses on U.S. foreign policy development and implementation from a diplomatic and strategic view. She hopes to apply her dissertation’s findings to the field of civilian-military relations “in a way that can add value to the making and implementation of policy decisions and promote U.S. peace and economic stability.”

So far, so good, Serwat said. “I am more confident than ever that applying for and being in this program was the right decision for me. I am in awe of my fellow DIA colleagues’ background, knowledge, experience and contributions! I love the energy at SAIS and its space to discuss and debate various views in a respectful and productive environment.” 

Future articles will feature additional interviews with cohort members and faculty, insights into DIA research and activities, and, perhaps most importantly, a meet and greet, scheduled for later this semester. Details to come!