Student Research Opportunities

When students conduct original research while working closely with a member of the faculty, they are able to address critical international challenges, develop potential policy solutions and participate at the cutting edge of key policy debates, while also developing their analytical and communication skills. The skills and relationships developed through this experience make students well-positioned for graduate study and exciting career opportunities.

There are numerous ways Elliott School undergraduate students can engage in research beyond the confines of the traditional classroom:

Student Research Spotlight

Eric Teller
Class of 2018

While studying abroad in Peru, I began a research project examining how Quechua farmers in the Cusco region respond to the degradation of native forests. With support from the Elliott School’s Undergraduate Scholars Research Program, I returned to Cusco for several weeks to further investigate the relationship between the indigenous communities and the NGO working to restore the forests... This yearlong research led to a deeper understanding of how NGOs can create sustainable development programs that foster local investment and empower communities.

Independent Study

Independent Study courses are an opportunity for students in the Elliott School to receive credit for individualized academic projects supervised by a full-time faculty advisor. The faculty advisor may be any full-time GW professor; however, they must have knowledge of the issue or topic the student will explore in the independent study. Independent Study coursework must not duplicate courses that are traditionally offered at the University. This research opportunity offers a range of credit options, which are determined by the length of the research paper:

  • 1 credit = 10 page minimum
  • 2 credits = 20 page minimum
  • 3 credits = 30 page minimum


1. Junior or senior standing (60 or more earned credit hours)
2. Cumulative GPA must be 2.5 or higher at time of application

Course Requirements

IAFF 3198: Independent Study and Research — To complete the independent study, students must fulfill the following academic requirements:

  • Research Paper: Students must complete a research paper relevant to contemporary international affairs. The paper is to be developed over the course of the semester in conjunction with the faculty advisor. The faculty advisor has final approval on all aspects of the paper except the length, which is described above.
  • Readings: Decisions regarding what books and articles must be read are to be negotiated by the student and the faculty advisor. Faculty advisors may assign readings or they may approve readings that students suggest if they feel the content is appropriate and relevant. In addition, faculty advisors have the authority to set deadlines and assign any related work.
  • Faculty/Student Meetings: The faculty advisor and the student will meet regularly throughout the semester.

How to Register for IAFF 3198: Independent Study and Research

Students must submit the Independent Study Guidelines & Form (pdf) to the Undergraduate Academic Advising office. 

Responsibilities for the faculty advisor:

  • Sign the student's Independent Study application
  • Meet with the student regularly during the semester
  • Assign appropriate readings, review/revise the final product periodically
  • Submit a grade at the end of the semester*

* The Elliott School will mail a form to the faculty advisor about two weeks prior to the end of the semester to request a grade.

Internship Course

Students are able to apply for an internship course for credit or for zero credit.  The internship course for credit option allows students to work closely with a faculty advisor to pursue research related to their internship experience and write a final research paper.  Details about both options can be found in the Guidelines and Application forms below.  In order to be eligible for one of our internship courses (for credit or zero credit), students must first complete the online information session.

Guidelines & Application - For Credit Option 

Guidelines & Application - Zero Credit Option

Research Seminar 

Research Seminar courses provide an opportunity for students to write a substantial research paper on an issue related to the general subject of the seminar. Students will earn 3 credit hours by completing a Research Seminar course (IAFF 4191 or 4191W).


Students must meet all of the following requirements in order to register for a Research Seminar:

  1. Junior or senior standing (60 or more earned credit hours)
  2. Cumulative GPA must be 3.4 or higher at time of application

Course Requirements

IAFF 4191: Research Seminar — To complete the Research Seminar, students must attend a course that meets weekly. The seminars can be viewed on GWEB or on the GW Schedule of Classes by searching for IAFF 4191 or IAFF 4191W. Research Seminars topics vary and are subject to availability (Some topics are not offered each semester).

How to Register for the IAFF 4191: Research Seminar

Students must submit a Registration Transaction Form (RTF) (pdf) to your academic advisor. Your academic advisor will then verify your eligibility, and sign you into the course.

Earning Elliott School Special Honors

Students who complete a Research Seminar course as a senior with a grade of A- or higher, earn a cumulative GPA of 3.7 upon graduation, and earn 60 credit hours in residence at GW will be awarded Special Honors. Special Honors is noted on a line of the final transcript that indicates graduation with Special Honors from the Elliott School.

*Please note ESIA Special Honors is designated to students participating in the Research Seminar in their final year of study. Juniors who take the Research Seminar can take another Research Seminar during their Senior Year if they wish to qualify for ESIA Special Honors and concurrently satisfy additional requirements within their specific plan of study. Students are encouraged to consult with their Academic Advisor if planning on taking the Research Seminar as a Junior. 

Senior Thesis 

The Senior Thesis is an opportunity for students to participate in a semester-long independent research project under the guidance of a full-time faculty member. During the semester, students will write a substantial research paper on an issue related to international affairs. Students will earn three credit hours for completing the Senior Thesis course (IAFF 4199). 


Students must meet all of the following requirements prior to applying for registration.

  1. Senior standing (90 or more earned credit hours)
  2. Cumulative GPA must be 3.4 or higher at the time of application
  3. Final Year of study at GW

Course Requirements

IAFF 4199: Senior Thesis — Students must conduct original research and write 30 or more pages about an international affairs topic of their choice. Students are responsible for finding a GW faculty advisor who is willing to meet on a regular basis throughout the semester to supervise the research and writing process.  The faculty advisor must be a full-time faculty member.

How to Apply/Register for IAFF 4199 Senior Thesis

Seniors applying for the thesis option (fall or spring) are required to attend an information session. Please note that students cannot register for the Senior Thesis via GWeb. Additional information about the registration process will be provided at the required information session.

Semester/Course Option Online Application Due *Information Session Dates (Elliott School, Suite 302) Thesis Approval Form Due

Fall 2019 

IAFF 4199 Senior Thesis

Sunday, August 25, 2019 Aug 27, 12-1pm
Aug 28, 10-11am
Aug 29, 2-3pm
Sept 3, 11am-12pm
Sept 4, 1-2pm
Friday, September 6, 2019

Spring 2020 

IAFF 4199 Senior Thesis

Sunday, January 12, 2020 Jan 14, 11am-12pm
Jan 15, 10-11am
Jan 16, 2-3pm
Jan 21, 12-1pm
Jan 22, 1-2pm
Friday, January 24, 2020

Earning Elliott School Special Honors

Students who complete a Senior Thesis with a grade of A- or higher, earn a cumulative GPA of 3.7 upon graduation, and earn 60 credit hours in residence at GW will be awarded Special Honors. Special Honors is noted on a line of the final transcript that indicates graduation with Special Honors from the Elliott School.


Submit an Online Application and download the Senior Thesis Approval form (pdf)

Dean's Scholars Program

The Elliott School of International Affairs created the Dean’s Scholars Program to provide an intensive research opportunity for undergraduate students who wanted to distinguish themselves both professionally and academically. Designed to be a two-year program, the Dean’s Scholars program is for selected sophomore students interested in taking what they learn in class and expanding their knowledge and understanding of the field of International Affairs by researching a topic and interacting with people directly impacted by it.

  • Small group research class that allows collaborative and in-depth learning.
  • Customized curriculum that guides each student through the data collection and writing processes.
  • Close relationship with faculty mentor and Program Director advising.
  • Financial support to be used for research travel, materials, and expenses.

Please email the program with any questions about the program.

Funding Opportunities 

To encourage students to participate in faculty-led research projects or to pursue their own original research, the Elliott School offers two types of awards.

1) Awards to Participate in Faculty-Led Research Projects

Elliott School faculty may seek outstanding students to assist them with an original research project. Selected students will receive an undergraduate research award of up to $1,500. The size of the award will depend on the amount of research work the undergraduate is likely to perform. Although an Elliott School faculty member must lead the research project, the student recipients of these awards are not required to be Elliott School students.

2) Undergraduate Research Awards for Student-Initiated Projects

These awards are designed to help with student research expenses (e.g., data collection, the purchase of research materials, and project-related travel). To be eligible to apply, the student must be an Elliott School undergraduate who is enrolled in a Senior Thesis, Research Seminar, or Independent Study course.

Information about these awards and when students can apply are sent via email from the Elliott School and are included in the advising newsletter.  In addition to the above awards, students may find research funding opportunities at their center, institute, or program.