Written by Marcus Holt
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is the main source of UK funding for technology-based science research. An STFC PhD studentship will cover your PhD fees and / or maintenance, as well as providing funding for materials, consumables or training related to your research.
This guide explains how STFC funding works for PhD students, with information on the different STFC studentships, who is eligible and how to apply.
The STFC is one of the seven Research Councils that form part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Each council manages a UK Government budget for research in a given subject area, some of which is allocated to training PhD students.
Unlike the other Research Councils, the STFC focuses more on developing and operating large-scale facilities and scientific infrastructure to support industrial and academic researchers across a range of subjects.
Which PhD subjects does the STFC fund?
Although their facilities assist a wide range of research areas, the STFC remit focuses primarily on Physical Sciences and provides PhD funding in the following areas:
The STFC may also fund interdisciplinary studentships with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
What PhD funding does the STFC provide?
The STFC funds around 800 PhD students each year. A full STFC studentship provides the following:
- A fee payment of £4,596 per year
- A doctoral stipend of £17,668 per year to cover living costs (you will receive slightly more if you are based in London)
- A Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £1,000 to cover the cost of research training
The STFC may also provide a contribution of £230 to go towards the cost of conference fees and UK fieldwork, as well as Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA).
These values increase annually in line with inflation and you’ll receive the new amount each year.
How is funding allocated?
The STFC does not provide funding directly to students. Instead, funding for studentships is provided directly to universities or research organisations who go on to advertise PhD projects.
These projects are either based within university Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) or Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), or awarded as industrial CASE (iCASE) studentships.
UKRI funding for other subjects
The funding opportunities described on this page are for Economic and Social PhDs. Other members of Research and Innovation allocate their own Research Council studentships for different PhD subjects.
STFC Doctoral Training Partnerships
The majority of STFC funding is provided through Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs). These are set up by individual universities or through a network of multiple universities.
Institutions receive a quantity of DTP studentships from the STFC based on an algorithm that takes into consideration the number of their principle investigators and research fellows as well as previous research publications.
DTPs for 2023
Information on current DTP allocations is available on the UKRI website. You can also use FindAPhD to search for individual STFC-funded PhD projects.
Studying your PhD at an STFC DTP
You will be based at a specific host university during your PhD, but will have access to premier research facilities managed by the STFC. The majority of these are free to use at point of access (such as the Diamond Light Source) and are available depending on your research needs.
As an STFC student, you will also have access to a Long Term Attachment (LTA) should you need it. The LTA is an amount of money set aside for a visit (of between 120-365 days) to one of the international STFC facilities (such as CERN) or to conduct fieldwork in another country.
Studying within a DTP will also provide you with additional training to help you successfully complete your PhD. This is usually provided as workshops and courses that are run throughout your doctorate.
The STFC award funding for 3, 3.5 or 4 year studentships, the length of your PhD is dependent on the nature of your project. Although these studentships can start at any time of the academic year, most STFC projects commence in October.
Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science & Technology (iCASE) studentships provide opportunities for PhD students to work in collaboration with a non-academic partner on projects that fall within the STFC remit. These often support the development or use of STFC infrastructure in tandem with business and industry.
Studying an iCASE PhD
You will work with a joint supervisor from an academic research organisation and an employee from the partnered business.
iCASE students receive the same basic funding as other STFC PhDs, however, you may also receive an additional stipend of up to £1,615 (to cover extra costs associated with placements and travel).
You will be required to spend between 9 and 18 months working within the non-academic partners’ premises. This time may be all at once or spread over the period of your studentship. You can use this time to gain extra skills and training as well as access to facilities you would not otherwise have been able to use for your research.
iCASE studentships are ideal if you’re interested in a non-academic career with a PhD and want to focus your work on research facilities and infrastructure.
iCASE studentships for 2023
You can use FindAPhD to search for current STFC iCASE projects.
An iCASE-Plus studentship is very similar to an iCASE studentship: you will spend the first 3.5 years working towards your iCASE PhD studentship, however, this is followed by a year working full-time for the industry partner as an employee. During this year, you will receive a salary similar to an STFC postdoctoral fellow.
STFC Centres for Doctoral Training
The STFC also provides funding through its Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT). These are set up by universities or networks of research organisations and can also include external non-academic partners.
STFC CDTs are set up in partnership with the National Investment Fund. Each receives funding for a certain number of new PhD students each year.
Current STFC CDTs
Whereas DTPs work across a broader subject area, CDTs are usually set up to tackle specific topics and to train PhD students with relevant skills for researching in these areas.
At the moment, STFC CDTs are focused on Data Intensive Science:
The STFC also part-funds some CDTs with other research councils, such as the EPSRC and the NERC, whose remits overlap with its own.
Studying your PhD at an STFC CDT
Whilst studying at an STFC CDT you will receive the same funding as those studying at DTPs and your studentship will run for four years. Initially, you will undertake domain-specific and general training in relevant techniques and methodologies, such as: data analysis, machine learning and data visualisation.
Your CDT funding period will also cover a six-month placement within a non-academic partner organisation. You may have the option to split this into two three-month placements with the same partner or across two partners. This work is typically completed during your second or third year.
As with the other Research Councils, eligibility for STFC PhD funding eligibility requirements follow the general guidelines set out by UKRI.
Residency (and funding amounts)
There are two ways in which you can be awarded an STFC PhD studentship:
- UK students who have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least three years will be eligible for a full studentship (covering fees and including the doctoral stipend).
- International students are also eligible for a full award. However only 30% of the total number of awards available at a university may go to international students.
- EU students may be eligible for UKRI funding on the same terms as UK students if they have settled status in the UK or applied to the EU Settlement Scheme prior to 30 June 2021. EU students who arrive in the UK for a PhD from 2021-22 onwards may apply as international students.
- Irish students are eligible for UKRI finding on the same terms as UK students as part of the Common Travel Area.
Application for STFC funding is competitive and studentships are awarded to the best applicants for each project.
Although there is no set minimum qualification requirements, the STFC normally expects you to hold a first or upper second (2.1) class degree in a relevant subject. For most STFC projects, Masters degrees are not necessary, but holding one may help your application if you hold a lower undergraduate degree (2.2).
If English is not your first language you may have to provide evidence of language test results such as from IELTS or TOEFL.
Whatever your academic background, you should tailor your application to fit STFC funding objectives and check the background for each project.
Working during an STFC studentship
You cannot work full-time while receiving STFC PhD funding. However, you may be able to work part-time (provided that you also study part-time). You should get your supervisors’ advice before taking on any extra work (a PhD is a big time commitment in and of itself).
You can’t combine an STFC PhD studentship with a UK doctoral loan, but you may be able to access additional support from your university or other sources in order to supplement a fees-only award.
You don’t apply directly to the STFC for PhD funding. Instead studentships are allocated to DTPs and CDTs who advertise PhD projects on their websites, associated university websites and here on FindAPhD.
STFC projects are usually advertised with pre-defined questions, goals and aims. There may be some freedom to respond to new directions that emerge from your research, but the STFC doesn't normally fund completely self-proposed PhDs.
The first thing to do when applying for STFC funding is to find a project that interests you. Once you have found one you like the look of, you should read the description and prepare the requested application materials.
These will usually include some or all of the following: a personal statement (detailing your academic background and research interests), a covering letter (saying why you are interested in this project and how you are suited to it) and a CV with appropriate references.
If you are shortlisted, you will usually then be invited for a PhD interview which will give you the opportunity to discuss your application in more detail.
Some projects are available to apply for year-round, others may be advertised with a set deadline. Check regularly for projects on relevant STFC websites or sign up to our newsletter for weekly updates on new PhD projects in your chosen subject area.
STFC funding application tips
Winning PhD funding from the STFC is a competitive process, here are some tips:
- Make contact with potential supervisors – When you find an advertised project you like the look of, it will be beneficial to contact the primary supervisor and get more information about the project. This will demonstrate your interest and help with your application.
- Update your application material – Your STFC application will be stronger if your CV is up to date and includes all of your relevant previous training / experience. Also, don’t forget to tailor your cover letter to each application.
- Give yourself time to prepare – PhD applications take a lot of time and effort to prepare, so make sure you’re aware of the deadline and have your application ready in time.
- Research the area you’re applying to work on – It’s a good idea to read around the research area for your target project. Don’t overdo things (this isn’t your PhD, yet) but get a sense of how this work fits in the current research landscape.
Check the UKRI website for additional funding details.
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Last Updated: 21 October 2022