“Money makes the world go round” – I personally despise that saying. One of the most challenging things when pursuing graduate education is acquiring funding. This becomes more challenging when you are an international student. So, let me share what I learnt along the way to securing funding for my PhD.
Some context: I pretty much knew I wanted to pursue a PhD when I was about midway my master’s degree. Long story short, I made my applications and received some responses around late February. Yay. On the downside, this meant I only had 6 months to secure funding. Here is what I learnt during that time:
Time is both your friend, and your enemy
At the time, six months sounded like sufficient time for me to secure funding. It probably wasn’t. Give yourself as much time as possible to secure funding. The ‘catch 22’ is that in most cases you will need to already have an offer at hand in order to secure funding. But don’t panic, this is not always the case. Where possible, apply as early as you can for which ever programmes or degrees you want to pursue. Though during this time, also apply for funding. It is sometimes possible to apply for funding and specify to which universities you will be applying and the progress of your application(s).
Not every rainbow has a pot of gold at the end
The first thing to do is to find out for which scholarships and such you are eligible. This can be particularly irritating for an international student in the UK as some funding is only for UK/EU students. The first point of call should be your (future) supervisor and/or the department. Supervisors usually have grant funding which they can allocate to fund students, particularly for PhD students. In some cases, the departments/schools/faculties also have awards or scholarships in place.
Next, look for funding within your area of research. This could be from professional bodies or even companies; the latter could even mean an easier transition into a job following graduation. After this, cast your net wider and look for funding from your government or even from private bodies that fund students from certain countries or who have specific personal circumstances. Examples of this include the Rhodes, Fulbright, Commonwealth and Chevening scholarships.
Planning, planning, planning
Time goes by very quickly; having a plan in place is key. Most scholarships, bursary programmes and funding schemes have annual calls and deadlines during which they accept applications. If you miss that round, you will have to wait for next year’s call. So, list all the calls you want to apply for and their deadlines. Break down what is required for each application, what is common among the different applications and what is unique to each application. I found it useful to have one ‘master document’ of all the common things among applications. Having a ‘master document’ also means that you can tweak it where necessary without having to rewrite the entire essay.
Be prepared to put in the work
Securing funding can be straightforward – if you’re lucky. Though it’s more likely you will have to put in some time and effort. Some applications can be very detailed; this could mean they require a lot of information, more in-depth information or a mixture of the two. During the planning phase, try to note down how long you realistically think each application will take and then factor in some contingencies – because such is life and things happen. You will then be able to schedule in the work, making sure you have sufficient time to complete and submit the applications.
Having an objective eye
It is common to have to write essays for PGR funding (and degree) applications. We usually develop a sort of filter when looking at our own work, reading what we meant to write instead of what is actually written. Having someone else read through your essays can be useful in making sure that: 1) there are no spelling or grammar mistakes – which won’t look good to someone receiving your application, and 2) what you were trying to say has been clearly communicated through what you’ve written. This can be anyone you trust, such as a parent, friend, partner, supervisor, etc.
You have nothing to loose. The worst that can happen is that you get a “no”. If so, you just have to keep applying until you get at least one ”yes”. You really won’t know until you try. The hardest part of this journey is getting into your desired programme or degree; so that deserves a congratulations in and of itself. The funding aspect will come around. If push comes to shove, one might even consider deferring for a year and working during that time to save up to begin the course. For PhDs or longer master’s degrees, you can still apply for funding while already underway with the degree. So, don’t be daunted by the task at hand, just do it.