By Roseanna Doughty |

The funding season is well under-way, the application window is closed and all that’s left to do is wait as the gods of academia toy with the fate of us mere mortals. For many the next few years will be determined by whether they can get their hands on that elusive money. Talking to a Masters student recently, however, I realised how much store is set by getting funding. The misery with which this student contemplated their prospects suggested that it was more than just a matter of money; funding has come to symbolise a marker of the validity your project as well as an indicator of your own capability to complete a PhD.

This, of course, is not true. While the self-funded may be madder than most we are certainly no less worthy of the coffee-induced late night library sessions that make up the PhD. No matter how hard you try, not every topic can hit the buzzword jackpot. The reality of the situation is that there are too many fantastic candidates out there fighting for too few studentships. Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before, but really funding is just a fancy term for designated drinks purchaser, right? What is really important is a strong work ethic, enthusiasm for your subject and determination; although a stubborn streak doesn’t go amiss!

There does seem to be a genuine fear amongst those who are self-funded or contemplating self-funding that without endorsement from a funding body we will not be taken seriously as academics and our future careers will be jeopardised. Fear of being the object of shock and pity also seems to recur in accounts given by self-funded PhD students, but I have found that shock quickly turns to respect because yes it is tough! Then again what PhD isn’t? Like many others, I have to balance a part-time job with my library addiction which, apart from taking up precious hours that could be spent reading (or browsing Facebook), can also prevent you from attending seminars and social events. Working for the university is a good way of circumventing timetable clashes as they are more inclined to be flexible. Doing your PhD part-time is an alternative option (unless you are an international student) and most institutes will allow you to change your status during your degree if you begin to struggle. Besides, just because you haven’t got funding now doesn’t mean you won’t ever get funding. Both internal and external bodies often run bursary schemes. At the time of writing this post I have also begun the first of two applications for bursaries offered by my university (wish me luck!). It is therefore, very possible to complete a PhD without financial aid.


Reading interviews and blogs by other self-funded PhD students from a wide variety of disciplines I was struck by how positive most of their experiences have been. In fact, many see their lack of funding as a driving force encouraging them to seek out other opportunities and helping them combat that fickle temptress procrastination.  Although they acknowledge that they initially feared being self-funded would affect their future prospects, they point out that it also demonstrates resilience and resourcefulness, which will be viewed as assets by future employers. Within the first few weeks of my PhD, I quickly became aware that what you achieve during the course of your degree is much more important than your fees status. As self-funded students we may not have acquired backing but we can prove the validity of a project through conference papers or publications.

Whilst Masters students throughout the country anxiously wait to hear back from our funding Overlords, it is important to recognise that it is just money. As Hang Kei Ho a PhD student at University College London in Human Geography said in an interview for the Guardian: ‘The greatest factor to success is not financial but good old fashioned determination’.


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