Self funding a PhD

(13 Posts)
Sooperswooper Tue 15-Jul-14 17:20:36

Am I mad? I haven't been able to secure funding to do my PhD and after careful consideration and reflection, I really do think that I need to do it in order to progress in my career. It's social science / law and it follows 10 years of working as a researcher and as a VL all within a higher education setting, so I know very well what I'm letting myself in for (insofar as I can) and my unconditional offer is from a great university with a superb superior with whom I have previously worked.

If I'm very careful, I think I can just cobble together the fees, conference attendance/travel if necessary, along with part time nursery fees (i have a 22mo ds) for the year so that I can start in October and devote enough time to it. Luckily I don't need to worry about living or accommodation costs as they are all covered by both dh and me. However, things will be very tight.

I'm worried I'm missing something so wondered if anyone who is self funding can give any idea of funds that I might be able to access, being a ft student (even things such as council tax etc as it's been so long since I was a student), or unforeseen (or foreseen but I'm just missing) costs so that I can try to put together a contingency fund. I also wonder whether it's usual to be able to apply during your PhD for university awards/scholarships/ESRC funding for the second & third year, or whether that is just something you can access before you start.

Thanks in advance grin - I need to sit down and be able to discuss it all, excel spreadsheet and everything with dh when he gets home from working away this weekend!

monsterowl Tue 15-Jul-14 17:34:38

You've obviously thought carefully about whether you should be doing this at all ... that would have been my first point otherwise!

Could you start off doing it part time, since sometimes the PT fees are less than half the FT fees?

I assume you've checked with the university you'll be attending whether they have any bursaries or awards open to you? Often PhD students can earn extra money by teaching, invigilating exams, etc - might be worth checking how much money you could expect to earn doing this.

A friend of mine raised money for his postgrad work on this site: www.gofundme.com/ but he does have a high social media presence and already quite well known in his field so that may have contributed to his success.

Of course, that you haven't got funding to do it this year won't prevent you from applying in the next round, so looking on the bright side you may only need to budget for a year (but naturally you'll need to consider the worst case scenario!).

It's possible that you might be able to do a PhD faster than is usually expected. I did mine in 2 years (just over <cough> a decade ago) because I didn't have funding for longer than that and needed to get an income. A lot of PhD students don't use their time wisely, so if you can cut out some of the hours spent watching Jeremy Kyle, sitting in the pub, surfing the internet when you could be working, you could probably shave some time off it.

Good luck!

UptheChimney Tue 15-Jul-14 18:02:25

Check with your university & relevant RCUK funder about whether they allow applications for a studentship in your 2nd & subsequent years. Some do, some don't.

Sooperswooper Wed 16-Jul-14 07:48:31

Thanks for the thoughtful replies- I'm waiting to hear back from student finance at the University, and also my supervisor with regards to the funding options for years 2 & 3. Once I hear back, at least I'll have a clearer picture of what the options for years 2 & 3 are. What I'm hoping for is that once I'm back in, so to speak, then making contacts, GTA, fee waivers, hearing about research projects that need researchers etc will be a lot easier than trying to ascertain this from outside the environment so even if there is no funding per se, there might be other options.

Interestingly, dh was asking about why it had to be 3 years the other day, and I just said it HAD to be, without actually knowing why- subscribing to the norm, I suppose. If I was able to do it in two years (I know my subject area, have all the contacts set up for field work etc) then that would be ideal. Also, ds has made me a mean master of my time.. monsterowl was it something that you decided from the outset, or did you find that you were flying along as you went and so happened to finish in record time? When student finance get back to me, I'll ask them about this possibility too.

On a completely different note, do you think that there is a hierarchy between funded & self funded students in terms of how the university or the supervisors view the students? Just as result of a few chats I've had with people recently.. I suppose it doesn't matter a jot really, but it is interesting as to how a PhD is funded might be viewed by employers at the end when applying for jobs.

UptheChimney Wed 16-Jul-14 08:50:50

It is highly unlikely you'll do a PhD in 2 years. In most fields, experiments can go wrong or take longer, field work can drag, vital interviewees go missing, archives take longer, and so on ...

Three years is a minimum, and 4 years is the norm (including a year of what's called variously "writing up" or "thesis awaited" when you don't get full supervision, just occasional advice, as basically, you know what you need to do in rewriting.

Re hierarchy: well, hmmmm. Having RCUK funding shows you are competitive and can win external funding. It means that you're part of a system that goes beyond you & your supervisor/s. You are more likely to finish in a timely manner.

When I've had self-funded PhD students, I also seem to have a litany of reasons why they can't keep deadlines etc. All genuine, because we all need to eat & keep a roof over our heads! but distracting them from the main thing they should be doing. I also have found that if partners are not fully on board and very tolerant, then it gets difficult for candidates, so watch that one.

For some reason no, I know the reason male partners of female candidates are far less tolerant & supportive of the time & energy required than vice versa.

Most people just do not realise how different a PhD is from anything you've done before. It's because of the dismissal & lack of regard and respect for scholarly research in this society.

BranchingOut Wed 16-Jul-14 09:07:38

Very impressed by you doing it in two years, monsterowl! Did you have any barriers/opposition from within the university to doing it that quickly? What was your subject?

I too suspect that the 'time wasting' thing can be am issue for students who are just out of undergraduate courses.

I too am hovering on the edge of applying for funding - I think that the ESRC say that you need to have completed a max of one full time year before funding begins, if you apply part way through. Probably fair enough, as it would be harder on those who were not 'applying from the inside' as it were...

monsterowl Wed 16-Jul-14 09:36:08

My PhD was in philosophy, and doing it in 2 years wasn't exactly planned ... I knew I had 2 years of funding in the bag and there was a good chance of getting extra money from my college, but as it turned out I was in debt and needed to be earning. Plus, I was a bit fed up with it all. There were no barriers within the university to my doing it that quickly (though perhaps there would have been if I'd asked at the outset if I could do it this way!), but it could have done with a year's more work. I would be pretty embarrassed to show it to someone who works within my field.

When I was a PhD student, a fellow student told me that her supervisor wrote his PhD in only a year(!) Apparently this was because he didn't realise he had longer than this to do it. Anyone who know many academics will realise how this sort of thing can happen :D Another fellow PhD student did an undergrad degree in maths at the same time as his PhD, and a current colleague of mine did three degrees concurrently while he was an undergrad. Now, I suspect that these are all people who allowed their academic studies to dominate their lives completely, whereas you Sooperswooper have a family to consider, but even so, they show that there is some flexibility in the standard time limits for degrees.

To balance all that out, however, by far the vast majority of people who do PhDs do not finish them early, and often take longer than 3 years. So, whilst there is some flexibility, it would probably be a huge mistake simply to assume that you'll be able to finish early.

Upthechimney makes a good point here: if there is any empirical element, or any other factors outside your control that could potentially hold you up, it may not be possible to finish it early. On the other hand, if you got the bulk of it all done in two years, you could perhaps manage to balance the writing-up bit with a job.

I know someone who is crowdsourcing funding for her PhD. She has a very active twitter presence (I know how wanky that sounds), and she runs an online magazine related to her area of study, so I think people are more willing to donate. Might not be for you as I imagine you'd get a fair amount of people who want to give you a hard time, but if you're thick-skinned it might be an option.

Is there no chance of waiting a year?

TarkaTheOtter Wed 16-Jul-14 09:57:03

Are you sure that your topic is suitable for PhD study? In my discipline the dept would be able to find some financial support for a good candidate with an interesting research area. If they are not offering even a small bursary or teaching fellowship I would wonder if they truly believed the candidate/idea was viable.

callamia Wed 16-Jul-14 09:58:40

I didn't exactly self-fund, but my fees were paid out of a research grant while I worked as an RA, so it wasn't a student ship as such. No one has ever asked or cared about how the PhD was funded, and I don't think it's very relevant - my publication record was far more interesting when it came to job searching.

I completed in 2y 8m, and it was HARD. I was also working on other projects for my wages, but I worked very long days and was pretty miserable. I think that moving to writing up status lessens your fees, so this might be something to consider - two years at full fees and one year on writing up. Be aware that moving to writing up status may result in losing some amenities, like access to own office/desk - you may be asked to hot desk instead. Will your department give you any research money per year? All of our students receive a small amount of money each year to go toward research running costs/conference travel.

It might also be an idea to consider part time fees. I'm not sure where you are, but I was somewhere where Could register part time on a sliding scale of 90-60% and pay accordingly.

If you have a clear idea about how your PhD will work, and have time to publish/do whatever you need to jump start your career in that time too, then go for it.

tobeabat Wed 16-Jul-14 10:15:27

Just a few thoughts...

Why do you think the PhD is necessary to progress? If it is necessary, are you confident it will be sufficient?

Have you thought about registering p/t? As someone said, this would be cheaper, and in my dept at least makes no difference in practice (desk-based PhDs).

It is possible to complete in less than the standard timeframe, if you have the right skills, attitude and organisational ability. As you say, being a mum helps with the last, as should your work history.

Are you sure you are doing the PhD for the 'right' reasons? If you're not incredibly interested in what you're doing things can go very wrong and miserable. If you are more after change, perhaps consider other options outside of academia too?

Good luck!

Sooperswooper Wed 30-Jul-14 20:01:22

I've finally had a moment to sit down and re-read through all of this, and thank you all so much for your advice. I accepted my offer yesterday and am so excited about starting now. I am going to bear all the advice in mind with regards to writing up, completing within the three years, balancing it all, and so just to say, WOOP! I can't wait to get stuck back into research and getting to the end point that I need/want/will (hopefully) be proud of and able to make a (small) difference, eventually.

chinamoon Thu 31-Jul-14 17:02:55

Sooper, congratulations.
Was going to come on here with advice but fear I'm too late. Will give it just in case. I was offered an unfunded place and turned it down. Suddenly they magicked up the money for me to do it full time on fee waiver plus stipend. It's all negotiable. Especially for someone with your experience.

Re doing it in two years. I know a few people who have done this who used existing material or data as the starting point to their research. So long as you add to it and break new ground, it should be fine.

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