PhD funding – plan B

Many postgraduate students are not fully funded on their course. This can be a tough ask when taking research through a PhD. This blog presents some sources and options of funding not always known or publicised.

My thanks to University of Nottingham and for permission to share these insights. UoN for hosting. (the alternative guide to postgraduate funding) for presenting a detailed UoN student session on-line, this month.

The Grad-Funding team would also like me point out the accompanying “Alternative Guide” on their website is freely accessible to the majority of students in the UK. This service has nearly 100 subscribing universities. Students can check if their university subscribes on the website under ‘List of University Subscribers‘. I was also advised that other subscribing universities are rather less proactive in publicising the Guide to their students than Nottingham. The Postgraduate-Funding team concluded that all publicity is welcome – therefore please feel free to share this blog.

My thanks to Lucy as the presenter on the day. Her first tip was to check out a few bios on their website. There will always be someone there who has been where you are now. Here is the link to the alternative funding homepage.

Plan B – What to do if the full funding option is not attained.

Building a portfolio of awards.

Research costs can be an unexpected reality check. External factors, or necessary changes from the research itself. This may be as study expenses, write-up challenges, the robustness to disaster recovery (many PhD students had to rework their post-Covid realities). Before starting any funding applications you will need to have clear ideas of what costs are in the pre-planned – but there are always unknowns – and more need to know beyond applications for loans.

Key first step is what is cash needed for. Tuition, maintenance, or costs associate with the research itself. Funding very often needs this disclosed upfront. Some funding will only include or expressly exclude:

  • tuition (UK or beyond)
  • maintenance: rent costs, bills, food, clothes, mobile
  • dissertation costs (field work, travel)
  • conference costs
  • books
  • printing

Portfolio funding

A portfolio approach is normal. Meaning there is an expectation that more than one source of funding is being sourced, particularly if larger sums are required. Funding sources may range from £50 – £8,000. The more typical range is £500-£2.000. Hence the portfolio approach becomes the typical strategy. Some will fund year to year. Some will be more responsive before course starts (with offer) others once course has started.

PhD Government loans up to £27,570 1st August 2021 – these are not means tested but not such loans tend to be loaned in draw-down amounts, at least yearly. A loan will not preclude funding. Funding will not preclude a loan. But each is informing the other. All in (i.e., course and research costs and living and studying) a 3 year PhD is going to need more than this loan.

Blitz or targeted – either way this will take some time

Expect a need to spread widely if seeking large amounts. The example offered was 120 applications; 24 responses; converting to 4 successful applications. This is termed the industrious approach. Width of reach.

The targeted approach is advised if smaller sums needed and better success rate. Depth of understanding of the nature of the funder concerned.

Some key sources to seek out

There are more avenues of funding. This alternative guide to graduate funding gives a good scope of what they may include.

100’s of funding charities. This includes education charities specifically aimed at students looking for post-graduate help.

Crowdfunding – can be successful with good sales pitch and with clear goals that people will be excited by. Sharing the journey is generally a key part of the process.

Specific university assistance – Nottingham University will have more information to inform what is available directly from the graduate school or department. Note the Student Hardship Funds and the associated national assessment guidelines. Worth approaching to see if PG applications are permitted or more information on what else in available at this institutional level.

Alternative funding – Charities, Foundations, Learned Societies, and Trusts

1,000s in UK. Many set up by private benefactors with specific causes or interest in mind. Check the following – and build your own database

  • criteria
  • eligibility (or close fit)
  • history of the charity – understand why it was established (their goals)
  • minimum and maximum grants – (rule of thumb is ask for 25%-50% of max). Asking for the maximum may make your case less likely to be chosen over four cases each asking for 25% vs your 100% of max.
  • deadlines – note many trusts may be small and only work with paper applications. Have in mind that many of these trusts are administered from private charitable trusts or foundations. Expect to be applying with stamped addressed envelopes not email or websites.
  • All applications will want to know what the career path looks like post this education. Contact thereafter may also become a means to pay forward.

Building the list

Have in mind flexibility beyond the parameters of a charity or trust. Note many charities will only pay to an organisation (e.g. the university).

  • institution
  • alternative guide online
  • other universities
  • scholarship search, cf.;;
  • Research and Development Funding List
  • General Charity Search Engines (e.g., Turn2us)

Other information resources to check out

It is worth looking at other websites. Nottingham website has a list of external funding resources. Kings College and University of Birmingham have good resources to read through.

Remember the Postgraduate funding student stories look at the individual stories where people look in similar situation to yourself. Then check out the funding database (e.g., search by age or key words). Also useful for pro forma statements. Also, google “examples of” and many pdf examples will appear. Checking what others have done by experience (blogs, crowdfunding).

Also, go to your local public library – ask specifically for:

  • the educational grants directory;
  • the charities digest;
  • the grants register
  • the directory of grant making trusts (not always in library)
  • they are reference books and can only be reviewed in situ.

Also check Google for “grantsregister.pdf” for a 2016 version someone has uploaded.

Professional learned societies

  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Royal Historical Society
  • Royal Society of British Artists
  • British Psychological Society
  • but also think of other organisations that might have interest in your work

Students should also liaise with their university to understand which societies are best to join. Check the bursary details for each – they may fund research, travel or course costs. Also networking opportunity can be significant.

Ask local council (education division), local parish council, or directly to the university department.


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