Canada’s IR scholars: who they are and where they think you should go to school

By Steve Saideman

The Teaching, Research and International Policy [TRIP] project at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, U.S., has been surveying scholars of international relations for over 10 years to find out what they are teaching, what they are researching, how they look at policy oriented work compared to basic research, and more.

With every new iteration of the survey, the number of countries covered has increased. Canadian IR scholars were first surveyed in 2006, and as one of the Canadian partners, I have the results from the most recent survey — conducted in 2014. Over the next few months I will be presenting some of those results here on OpenCanada and elsewhere. You can also read about the results of the latest survey here. For details about the methodology, see the TRIP website.

I want to focus here on the basic demographics of Canadian IR scholars and what they consider to be the best university programs for undergraduates interested in IR, for policy-oriented MA programs, and for aspiring PhD students.

Canadian IR scholars (at least those who responded to the survey) are a slightly more male-dominated group than in other countries, with most being quite male-dominated:


Second, the IR discipline in Canada is not very diverse:


Neither the gender nor racial homogeneity of Canada is that different from the demographics of the other countries surveyed, especially the United States and the United Kingdom.

Canada sits in-between the U.S. and the U.K. age-wise:


Twelve percent of Canadian IR scholars are over the age of 65, and another 12 percent are nearing retirement age. There have long been arguments that the academic job market will improve as the older generation begins to retire. However, the numbers here can be read either way — that there will either be plenty of open positions to fill over the next 10 years, or the number of profs who continue to work past retirement age is still enough to make PhD aspirants worry about whether there will be jobs for them.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not those interested in international relations should pursue PhDs, for those committed to the field the survey asks which three PhDs programs Canadian IR professors would recommend in Canada for an academic career. The results are as follows:

1 University of Toronto 27%
2 University of British Columbia 20%
3 McGill University 18%
4 York University 6%
5 Carleton University* 4%
6 University of Ottawa 4%
7 Basillie School of Intl Affairs 3%
8 McMaster University 3%
9 Queen’s University 3%
10 University of Montreal 2%

* Carleton may refer to either the Political Science program or the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. It is not clear in many cases to which program respondents were referring.

Generally, there is consensus that the top three PhD programs in Canada are at UofT, UBC, and McGill. These three programs tend to look south to U.S. scholars rather than to Europe in terms of the kind of IR they value, although the differences are perhaps not as dramatic as some might think. Respondents may have in mind the placement records of these schools, the visibility and influence of the professors in these programs, and/or the specific training these places offer. The results are hard to pull apart (I will be doing more work in the future to figure this out)

When asked about international PhD programs, Canadian scholars list American (Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, UC Berkeley, Chicago) and British schools (Oxford, Cambridge, LSE).

Canadian IR scholars were also asked which schools they recommend for students seeking a career in policy:

1 NPSIA, Carleton University 28%
2 Munk, University of Toronto 20%
3 GSPIA, University of Ottawa 15%
4 Balsillie School of Intl Affairs 12%
5 University of British Columbia 4%
6 Queen’s University 4%
7 McGill University 3%
8 IQHEI, Laval University 3%
9 Dalhousie University 2%
10 University of Calgary 2%

NPSIA is mentioned more than any other program, although the newer programs at Toronto, Ottawa, and the Balsillie School in Waterloo have quickly become prominent. It seems that the two factors that matter most in raising the profile of an MA program are location (two Ottawa-based schools) and money (Munk and Balsillie are known to be very well-funded programs).

Scholars were also asked which undergraduate institutions would they recommend for those interested in International Relations:

1 University of Toronto–Downtown 79%
2 University of British Columbia 73%
3 McGill University 55%
4 Queen’s University 35%
5 University of Ottawa 29%
6 University of Montreal 18%
7 Carleton University 16%
8 York University 16%
9 McMaster University 16%
10 Dalhousie University 15%

Finally, respondents were asked to list the top three think tanks in Canada:

1 Centre for International Governance Innovation 29%
2 Canadian International Council 21%
3 Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute 11%
4 Munk Centre, University of Toronto 8%
5 North-South Institute 8%
6 Fraser Institute 7%
7 Institute for Research on Public Policy 5%
8 C. D. Howe Institute 5%
9 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives 4%
10 Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa 3%

Strikingly, the fifth most recommended think tank, the North-South Institute, no longer exists after they lost government funding. CIGI and the CIC stand out as the most prominent Canadian think tanks in the minds of IR scholars, which may or may not have anything to do with which think tanks government officials give more attention.

In future posts, I will consider methodology, stances towards policy, key policy issues, and political parties.

This article is published in partnership with the Canadian International Council and its international-affairs hub  OpenCanada.

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