The big and scary ‘F’. It hovers over every research student, haunts them in their nightmares, and causes anxiety. Yes, you probably guessed it. Today’s post is about ‘F’ for ‘Funding’.
So, you submitted a proposal, got accepted at the university of your dreams and if that wasn’t already stressful enough, the real challenge begins: securing funding for your studies. But where to start? What happens if I don’t get any funding? The anxiety is real. On top of that, other students often don’t like to talk about their own hunt for the competitive research grants and studentships. And to be very honest, particularly in the humanities, the lucky ones often don’t even know why they were chosen over someone else.
We asked our fellow SAS students how many of us are actually that lucky and we wondered how our school compares to the rest of London and England. In 2012/13, vitae.ac.uk published an analysis of the main sources of funding for all doctoral researchers in the UK. Shockingly or not, the main source of funding were doctoral students themselves with one third of the 2012/13 PhD students being self-funded. This actually does not correspond to our little SAS internal poll. Interesting here would be to find out whether the funding situation has improved over the last decade or if we SAS students are just very lucky.
Loans and Studentships: A General Introduction
So what do you have to do once you get accepted at a university for postgraduate study? Well, the truth is that there is no straightforward answer to this question. I found FindAPhD’s suggestion and tips really helpful and a good way to get started. It did seem very overwhelming at first and what then happened was that I asked myself: better the devil you know than the devil you don’t? So my first step was to look at options student finance offers. For taught and research masters you can get postgraduate loans, but these often barely cover the tuition fees. Student Finance England also makes doctoral loans available. But let’s be real. If you already had a loan for your undergraduate and postgraduate taught degree do you really want more repayments going out of your bank account? However, personally, looking up these options first puts me at ease. After all, if I failed to secure any funding at least I could take out another student loan.
The next step, in my case, was looking at LAHP (London Arts and Humanities Partnership). LAHP funds up to 90 PhD studentships each year. Some of them are Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDA) with a cultural or other external partner. There are separate competitions for CDA and open studentships. So whichever one you are going for, make sure to thoroughly read all the information available on their webpages. Applying for one of those highly competitive studentships is not only stressful but also disheartening, especially as the deadline is so early on: most of the time you have to submit your application by the end of January or early February. LAHP is part of the The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), so if you are not a student or prospective student at one of the London universities, the AHRC website lists all doctoral training partnerships they offer with links to their respective websites. Browsing the opportunities advertised on the AHRC website is a good way to start with your search for funding whether you are applying for a PhD place at Durham (Northern Bridge), East Anglia (CHASE) or Warwick (Midlands4Cities).
Now, here is where my case gets interesting. I was actually already in the process of giving up. I thought that within two months of thinking about applying for a PhD and the funding deadline I wouldn’t get everything sorted out. Then, thanks to some miracle I came across an advertisement for a fully funded PhD in the exact field of study I wanted to do. My initial idea needed to be adjusted a bit and I tried to find my niche. I tailored my proposal to the exact requirements and after speaking to my potential supervisors I had a better idea of what to emphasise and what to better leave out.
This brings me to my next point: the big studentships from AHRC are not the only ones out there. Frustratingly, university internal studentships, funded projects, and independent charity and trust studentships often get widely advertised after the government funded application deadline has passed. That does not mean that you should not try and apply for LAHP and the likes of it. But don’t stop looking after you submitted your application because chances are you won’t get it. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and keep an eye out for other opportunities. Speak to your current and/or future supervisors and ask if they know of anything that might be of interest for you. Communication is key but so is #academictwitter (I’m being serious here, there are so many people out there who can point you in the right direction).
SAS Specific Funding Tips
As we are the SAS student voice, it would be criminal not to dedicate a section to SAS specific funding. After all, this is how I managed to secure funding for my project. The best way to start is on the SAS funding website. Here, the main SAS scholarships and bursaries are listed as well as the more general funding options that are available and external funding sources for EU and overseas students. Some of them are actually still open as of April 2021, why not have a browse now? Make sure to check out the individual institute websites as well. Most institutes have a separate page dedicated to funding options, internal and external.
To Keep in Mind
EU Funding and International Funding
Ah my favourite topic. The ‘B’ word that is banned from most conversations when I’m at my boyfriend’s family home because no one wants to upset me. No, I’m not talking about Boris. My dear old friend ‘Brexit’ how I loathe you. I’m one of the lucky ones here because I started my course before the grace period was over and got an application for the settlement scheme in, before I had to worry about visas and international student fees. LAHP already states that they are only covering fee payments equivalent to home student fees so if you are an international student (which includes us EU-Europeans) you should think of other options how to cover the extra costs. Additionally, some countries may offer country specific funding for researchers that wish to study abroad. As a German national, I know of the DAAD that funds study and research abroad but your home country may have a similar institution! With the mess that is Brexit things are changing constantly and you should keep yourself updated on the UK government’s website about your rights and obligations.
To my astonishment, distance learners are getting shafted – to put it very bluntly. Most, if not all the scholarships available exclude distance learners. Conny, our chief editor, is experiencing that first hand. While there are scholarships like Fulbright for US students, and Cheveningen and Commonwealth scholarships for students from specific countries, the funding opportunities for distance learners, especially Europe-based ones, are very limited and often even more competitive than the ones available to UK based students.
“Unless you qualify for one of those international scholarships, the usual requirement is that you reside in the UK. I personally feel that studying at a UK university should qualify you for funding.”
- But maybe there is hope. Since the start of the pandemic, we have all been distance learners in some way or another. So hopefully, this will give the funding bodies an incentive to open up their opportunities to more students regardless of where they are based.
The Application Itself
Be prepared but don’t stress. In most cases, you have already been accepted for a PhD at the university and passed the first steps. Your supervisors liked your proposal and you even had the chance to discuss and maybe already improve it before you even started. This obviously only works if you are applying for non-funded projects that don’t require an offer from a university prior to the funding application. If your PhD is advertised as a funded project then you won’t need to make a separate application for funding.
You didn’t get funding in your first year, so what?
Just because you didn’t get funding before you started your project, that doesn’t mean you won’t get it ever. If you can afford it in any way, start your project and after a few months of immersing yourself into the project your next funding application will be more detailed and convincing. Elena, our SASiety president, has been there and got some tips for you:
“Applying for a scholarship is never easy. I personally have always felt a bit uneasy talking about how great or significant my project is as I do not like placing a value on my passions. I think my project is worthwhile and that is all that matters to me. I know that when I was applying, I didn’t enjoy the process and I had a few meltdowns where I would just start tearing up out of the blue. Still, applying for a really competitive scholarship early on in your PhD degree can help you narrow down your thesis statement, refine it — give it some spice, if you like. It was definitely a process, but now that a couple months have passed and I have had some time to digest the entire experience, I realise how actually applying for the scholarship focused the mind and exercised some mental muscles that I wouldn’t normally use. Under any circumstances, I would say go for it and do the best you can do because you owe it to your project.”
Apply for other opportunities alongside your general fundingGoing to a conference costs money. Publishing in some journals costs money. A research trip to an archive abroad costs money. A field work trip costs money. And what I cannot emphasise enough here is: Your funding doesn’t also need to pay for this! Often universities or institutes offer separate funding opportunities for these kinds of things. Make sure to check out your institute’s website about this. For example, IMLR, ICS, and IHR are all offering additional funding applications. As for publishing opportunities, the UoL press has a waiver policy which is applied on a case by case basis. But why stop at just your university or institute? There are actually a lot of opportunities out there that can help you finance your studies.
Hardship funds, in my opinion, are not spoken about enough, especially because they might actually put you at ease a bit when you start stressing about unforeseen circumstances. The hardship fund is a means tested fund designed to help students who have fallen into unforeseen hardship to continue with their studies. SAS also offers a hardship grant that provides discretionary financial assistance and you can apply for help from the grant at any time during the academic year.
This is a different kettle of fish I don’t claim to know enough about this to give you an extended insight into the ins and outs of applying for research fellowship posts. However, the various institutes have very detailed information for researchers considering applying for a fellowship and many of them offer funded opportunities like various ones offered by the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR). General information about funding opportunities is also available on the SAS website.
As I already said, there is no definite answer to the big funding question. It depends on so many things like your field of study, your qualification, the university you go to, your nationality and/or ethnicity etc. I wish I could take the pressure of securing funding off you but unfortunately, you have to do a lot of research on this yourself. The best advice I can give is “Don’t give up and keep your eyes open”. Social media like LinkedIn and Twitter can be really helpful. Also, don’t be afraid to ask researchers, supervisors or lectures you are still in touch with about anything they might know because they have been around for longer and might have some contacts. Lastly, here are a few helpful links worth checking out. They might help you find what you are looking for.