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Posted on 7 Apr '22

5 Other Ways to Help Pay for a PhD

PhD funding can mean many things. If you're lucky (and your project fits the bill) it could mean a full studentship. Or it might mean a partial scholarship from another source - like us. If you're beginning a doctorate in the UK this year, it could even mean a student loan.

All of these are potentially good options, and I've written here before about the best way to prioritise them.

But 'funding' doesn't always mean a studentship, scholarship or even a loan. Or, at least, that's certainly not how all students cover the full cost of a PhD.

For me, 'funding' at the beginning of my doctorate meant working as an assistant chef in a small Italian restaurant. It wasn't quite a Research Council studentship (those were hard to get back then too) but it provided a nice break from the books. There are easier places to jot down sudden flashes of scholarly inspiration than the top of a hot plate but, to this day, I can still make a pretty decent spaghetti bolognese.

Of course, this isn't actually a post about using catering jobs to pay for a PhD (I'll write that if enough people request it on the FindAPhD Facebook). Instead it's an attempt to quickly round up - and perhaps remind you of - some of the other other ways to help pay for a PhD.

Sadly, none of these offer a wonderful full-funding solution that you've somehow never heard of before. But they are worth (re)considering. And, with so much focus understandably placed on the 'big' scholarships and studentships, perhaps you haven't yet.

#1 Don't overlook your university (or others)

Chances are, you already know whether or not your chosen university has full funding available for your PhD. This is particularly likely if you've been looking at applying for one of their advertised projects.

But you might not have checked to see what kind of other funding your university offers. Most have some form of PhD scholarships or bursaries available, often awarded to particularly strong applicants, or to students from certain backgrounds. If you aren't sure, or you can't find information on their website, ask your prospective supervisor.

And don't be afraid to 'shop around' if funding isn't available at the first university you've considered. Universities offer funding to help attract and support talented PhD students. Provided the project or programme is a good fit, there's no shame (and there can be a lot of sense) in going 'where the money is'.

Obviously, checking every university website is going to take a bit of time, but our university funding index can help make the process a bit quicker - for the UK at least.

#2 Expect some wealth from your future self

The title above may imply that I'm expecting you to fund your PhD through some form of time travel, or that I'm auditioning to become a particularly bad rapper. Or both.

Actually, it's just a way of introducing a sensible, slightly dull, but worthwhile point about the money you might be able to make during a PhD. Granted, postgraduate students aren't renowned for being especially wealthy, but your earning power and employment options are likely to improve a fair bit in the subsequent stages of a doctorate.

Hypothetical future blog posts about pasta sauce recipes aside, I don't still work in Italian cuisine. After a year or so I moved on to other jobs that used some of the skills I'd begin to develop during my PhD. These involved working in various academic roles, as well as an ongoing position on the sub-editorial staff of a research journal. They paid a lot better than the catering (though the lunch perks weren't quite as good).

This kind of work isn't guaranteed and it won't suddenly cover all of your PhD costs, but it could make a significant dent in them. It might even inform your post-doctoral career planning.

#3 Keep those loans in mind

If a PhD loan was going to solve your funding needs in one blow, you probably wouldn't be reading this post. And the reality is that the £27,265 you can borrow probably won't solve all your funding problems.

It might help though and it's worth knowing that's available. In fact, you may be surprised at how flexible the loans are, with no subject-restrictions, a fairly relaxed age cap and no application deadline. That last point is important. Provided you aren't receiving a Research Council studentship (or similar public funding) you can always take up a PhD loan later in your doctorate.

So, even if you aren't sure you fancy a(nother) student loan, you should still take a look at what's on offer.

#4 Use your passport

Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic may have made PhD study abroad seem impossible, but that isn't necessarily the case.

While UK nationals are sadly no longer eligible for the same fee discounts as EU nationals, there are plenty of countries that offer extremely affordable (or even free!) PhD programmes to all international students, regardless of nationality.

These are excellent options for PhD study abroad too. Places like Germany, which features more top-ranked universities than any European country outside the UK and just so happens to have invented the PhD (no, really). Or countries like Finland and Sweden - home to some of the oldest, and highest-ranked, universities in the Nordic region.

#5 Enter our scholarships competition

This summer we'll have another £12,000 to give away to new postgraduate students, with separate competitions for Masters and PhD study. We're not pretending that this will fully fund your degree, but, like the other options covered in this blog, it will certainly help.

Find out more about the FindAPhD scholarship competition and sign up to our newsletter to find out when the competition opens.

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Last Updated: 13 April 2023