Awards: How to navigate the funding jungle

As many people doing a PhD in the social sciences are experiencing, getting funding for your beloved project can sometimes seem almost impossible. When I started my PhD I was relying on funds from the Swedish Government, but this was only secured for the first year. Since then, I have been applying for numerous scholarships and awards, and have actually managed to fund myself throughout my PhD with external funding.

Doing a PhD abroad, especially in the UK, when you do not meet the residency requirements (you have to have been residing in the UK for at least 3 years to be eligible for the research council scholarships), can seem quite off-putting. The fees are higher than most other European countries, and the costs of living are not especially low. When I started my PhD at University of Manchester, I was constantly feeling that there was quite a bit of extra work that I had to go through, just for being a foreigner, even though I’m an EU citizen and things shouldn’t be that different.

If anyone is thinking about embarking on a PhD abroad without internal funding, please keep this in mind:

1. You deserve to be there. Even though not getting internal funding might make you feel like you are not worthy of doing a PhD, the correlation between funding and good dissertations and projects are not exactly linear. Of course, most of the people with funding are doing stellar work, but that does not mean that yours isn’t. The funding bodies are not gods when it comes to foreseeing who will be a successful academic, or any other profession for that matter. In addition, rejection is an everyday feature of academia. You can’t really take anything for granted, and the sooner you learn how to deal with rejections the better. This will make you stronger in the sense that you are mentally prepared for not always getting things your way, and you’ll be able to focus on your work instead of repeatedly mowing over your latest turndown.

2. Don’t give up. There are plenty of other ways to get someone to pay for your PhD. This takes a lot of time, planning, and effort, but it is possible. You will have to write a lot more applications than you think, and they will ask questions of you that come off as completely irrelevant, but if they are willing to throw some money your way, why not go for it? Sometimes, when moaning about my funding applications, I thought about the hourly rate of my work if I were to get that scholarship. As an example, I spent 2 days on an application which gave me £5000 in the end. If we do 8 hour days, that means they paid me £312 per hour, which I must say is a decent sum.

3. It’s part of the learning process. If you are looking at staying in academia, a fair amount of time will be spent writing funding applications. In other words, if you come out of your PhD being more application savvy, this is unlikely to hurt you in any way. Sure, you might have wanted to spend some of those extra hours on reading another one of your favourite theorists, but, to be honest, this is a skill that could come quite in handy.

4. Pay for someone to find scholarships for you. It is definitely a jungle out there, and one of my best decisions was to invest the neat sum of £80 for an agency to assemble a list of grants that I would be eligible for. Money well spent. I used Global Grant, a Swedish agency, but I’m sure that there are others out there.

Two years ago, I had little faith that it would be possible to take any other route than internal funding. This was most untrue, and I would strongly encourage anyone wanting to do a PhD abroad to go for it. It has been a journey of a lifetime so far.

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