By Sophie Cooper |

Whenever I mention my doctoral research project people react with a mixture of glazed eyes, interest, and envy. The first two are pretty self explanatory when it comes to a doctoral topic – I personally think investigating the influences on Irish identity abroad is both fascinating and important, weirdly, not everyone does! Normally, however, I can overcome the glazed eyes by focusing in on the communities that I look at. I research Irish communities in nineteenth century Melbourne and Chicago…which means research trips to sunny climes, cue the envy.

I realise that I am incredibly lucky to be in a position where I can travel around the world for work, especially when I have been fortunate enough to have funding to help cover my costs. Hopefully an account of my experience of applying for funding for research abroad will be of interest and use to other students thinking of going around the world for research trips.

The Victoria State Library


Why is my life a series of funding applications?

I knew coming into my PhD that I would have to raise quite a bit of money in order to go abroad to research. I didn’t, however, quite realise how time consuming these funding applications would be – after all you have to track down all the possible sources of funding (thank you Google and Twitter), work out how to actually write a funding application, send various versions to your supervisors for comments, and ask for references (thank you kind supervisors). I’m not saying that I yet know how to write a funding application, but looking back, my applications have got better over time. I’ve found them really helpful in actually working out what I want to do with my PhD, and where I think my priorities lie. Actually my applications have improved a lot (in my humble opinion) since I’ve done research in Melbourne.

Having had my first year review, and now that I’ve done some primary research and discussed it with a wider group of academics, I have a clearer idea of why exactly my research is important and relevant. I don’t know whether this comes from time or the research itself, or a mixture of that and writing at least ten applications for Australia and a further ten for the United States. Practice makes…well not perfect, but more possible. My supervisors have been a huge help, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask friends if you can look at their funding applications – people are normally quite happy to share, after all your projects are probably hugely different and will therefore appeal differently to panels. Another important aspect is to have a good idea about how long your research will take you, and be realistic! I had originally planned to go for three weeks, but realized quite soon that it would take me a while to settle in to the way that Australian archives worked, and to get my bearings. If I was going to fly 23 hours (with a delightful 9 hour stop-over) to get to the archives, I might as well give myself enough time to do the work.

Luckily for me, organisation is a strong suit (my powers have sometimes slipped, so this time I took it to a new level), I have a spreadsheet of dates and email addresses, and so do my supervisors. I still send them reminder emails, with quite a bit of notice, but we have a good system, which is vital when you are sending out so many applications (which are all written slightly differently, with different focuses and research collections), especially if you’re sending them abroad and therefore have to keep in mind different deadline time zones. Giving myself enough time to write my funding applications was really important, and it does take less time the more you do…until confronted with an application with a completely different format when the whole fun process of having no idea about tone or information restarts.

Thankfully I have been lucky with my funding, and my savings – I was able to pay for my flights to Melbourne with money from my scholarship, the British Association for Irish Studies, and the Royal Historical Society. I had resigned myself to funding the rest of my month abroad from savings. However, I later got a retrospective award from the University of Edinburgh that covered my accommodation. I hadn’t quite anticipated how expensive Melbourne was – I had been about six years ago for a semester, but I suppose my tastes and the economy have changed slightly – so this award was really useful! This isn’t a boast about my funding…it’s an acknowledgement that in my experience, you do need a certain amount of financial support to start with when you go on such a big research trip. Even if it’s just a credit card that allows you to pay for flights or accommodation before you send in receipts allowing you to get your money back from funding bodies, you do need something to start you off. And be reassured, there is hope that even when you think you’ve exhausted all funding options, there might be more waiting around the corner!


Sophie Cooper is a second year PhD student and William McFarlane Scholar at the University of Edinburgh. She is studying Irish communities in Melbourne and Chicago between 1850 and 1890, specifically in relation to situational influences on identity formation and nationalist thought. Sophie tweets using the handle @SophcoCooper and more information can be found on her academia page.

(Image 1: Pascal’s Flickr account; Image 2: ​​)