Where to Start With PhD Funding - A Very Simple Roadmap
PhD funding can seem complicated. You won't earn a doctorate for that observation, but, nevertheless, it's true.
There are projects advertised with funding, projects advertised with funding for some students (but not others), projects advertised without funding and projects advertised with funding that isn't actually confirmed yet. And that's just the advertised projects.
If you're proposing your own PhD you'll be navigating a maze of studentships, scholarships, grants and perhaps even student loans - all with different values, providers and eligibility criteria.
But this isn't a post about how complicated PhD funding is. This is a post with a solution. And that solution is to prioritise.
As with most big projects (like a PhD, even) the trick isn't making sense of everything all at once, but rather knowing where to start. This Very Simple Roadmap will help you do that. It isn't a substitute for the full suite of funding resources here on FindAPhD.com, but it should help get you make sense of what's available and decide what to investigate first.
Step 1 - Find out if your project already has funding
Sometimes finding PhD funding can be as simple as finding a PhD; if you're applying for an advertised project, and that advertised project already has funding 'attached' to it. . . you're done.
First of all, you have to find one of these fabled 'funded projects'. That's actually where this website comes in. Our search lets you filter PhD projects according to their funding criteria. You can view projects available to UK students, EU students and international (non-EU) students.
You'll also need to double-check how the funding for a specific project works. A lot of packages will cover fees and maintenance, but some may be more limited. Other projects may be 'competition funded' - this means that support may depend on other factors (such as finding a great student, like you).
Step 2 - Know what you're eligible for
Can't find a project with funding you're eligible for? This could be an issue for international students applying for PhDs in countries like the UK.
If this is your situation you'll find that you won't be eligible for some forms of support. In particular, you won't (normally) be able to apply for advertised projects funded by one of the UK Research Councils or a separate Research Council studentship to complete a PhD that you've proposed yourself.
So, if you're struggling to find funded projects you might be better off looking at specific PhD funding for international students.
Step 3 - Investigate Research Council studentships
Assuming you are eligible and you're looking to study a PhD in the UK, your first port of call to fund a self-proposed project should probably be one of the UK Research Councils.
These are the official bodies responsible for funding research and training new researchers (that's you, by the way).
There are two ways to find Research Council funding for your PhD:
One is to apply for a PhD that already has this funding attached. These are most common in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) subjects, but they can be available for pre-defined research projects in the Arts, Humanities or Social Sciences. Either way, you can find these funded doctorates on FindAPhD, as per Step 1, above.
The other option is to come up with your own PhD topic, write a great proposal for it, get accepted and then apply for a Research Council studentship from your university.
If you can apply for Research Council funding for your PhD (or a PhD with Research Council funding attached) you should. These awards normally cover fees and living costs* and they don't have to be paid back.
*EU students are still eligible for Research Council funding in 2018-19 (this is guaranteed, despite Brexit) but are usually limited to 'fees-only' support.
Step 4 - Check with your university
Chances are you've already discussed funding with your university by this point. After all, they'll be responsible for listing the funded projects and / or distributing the Research Council studentships above.
But many universities will also provide a selections of their own scholarships, studentships and grants. The trick is finding out what's on offer at a given university and knowing there to look in order to do so.
You can get started by using our guide to PhD funding from universities. This explains the kind of support universities offer along with shortcuts to postgraduate research funding resources from most UK universities. We can't do all the legwork, but we can help you get started.
Step 5 - Consider a doctoral loan
Student loans for UK doctorates are a fairly new addition to the funding landscape. If you're a regular reader of this blog (or subscribe to our email updates) you'll probably have heard of them.
Provided you meet the eligibility criteria, you'll be able to apply for up to £25,700 to study any PhD, in any subject, anywhere in the UK.
So, why is this option all the way down here at Step 5? It's simple really. PhD loans are loans, subject to repayments. So, whilst it's nice to have them available, they're less ideal than the potential 'full funding' options above.
But, if you think a loan could be what you need to get over the funding line for your PhD - and you're eligible - this option may be worth considering.
Step 6 - Start looking at charities and trusts
If you've got this far we can assume that you haven't managed to find full-funding for your PhD, or the funding you are able to access isn't enough.
The good news is that you aren't out of options - in fact there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of postgraduate funding awards available from charities, trusts, research foundations and other organisations. It's quite common for students to top-up their funding or 'portfolio fund' by drawing on grants from several of these groups.
The bad news is that searching through hundreds (or thousands) of different funding bodies takes time. Thankfully there are ways to make that process simpler and our guide to PhD funding from charities and trusts is a great place to start.
Really, this should be 'Step 0'.
PhD funding changes all the time. New funded projects are always being added to the FindAPhD database and major changes like PhD loans are just a breaking news story away.
Our newsletter is there to keep you updated, for free, for as long as you need it. And don't forget that our full selection of postgraduate funding guides is also there to provide extra information or answer your questions.
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