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5 Sources of PhD Funding

Congratulations! After years of hard work and sacrifice, you've secured your dream place to study for a doctorate. However, before you take your place among the intellectual elite, there's one more thing you need to sort out: funding. After all, tuition fees range from $3,000/$7,000 per year and you'll also need to cover living expenses for up to five years. The majority of PhD students apply for funding directly from the university, but it's well worth exploring some additional options given the intense competition for full scholarships. So here are five alternative sources of PhD funding.

Dec 14, 2020
  • Student Tips
5 Sources of PhD Funding

Government funding for international students

Many students dream about studying for a doctorate at the world's best university, but a large number are put off by the expense. Thankfully, governments around the world, as well as many other organizations, fund and support several full scholarships to help the best and brightest students. This includes 1,500 US knowledge corridor scholarships for students from Pakistan. The grants last up to five years and are awarded in various subjects, including business sciences, engineering, emerging technology, nanotechnology, and robotics. Students from other countries can find similar programs at the World Scholarship Forum.

The UK government recently announced plans to attract more international PhD students. The plans include an extra £62 million a year in funding, as well as a new streamlined Global Talent Visa to fast-track applications from the most talented candidates. Amanda Solloway, the UK Science Minister, says, "Our research sector is stronger when it's open to people from all around the world. That is something that we must protect and enhance. We must support scientists and become a magnet for talented researchers attracted to countries that share their values of openness, collaboration, and freedom of expression."

Research councils

Research councils support postgraduate training and development through funding degrees. The financial support can come in different ways, such as a grant for tuition fees, a stipend to cover living costs, or a one-off payment. PhD funding is awarded on academic merit, although every council has its own eligibility criteria. For example, the British Federation of Women Graduates Research Council (BFWG) aims to empower women in academia, especially in fields where they are underrepresented. Recent success stories include Daniela Köck. She won the 2020/21 Margaret KB Day scholarship to complete doctoral research in Physics at the University of Sussex.

In addition to organizations such as the BFWG, the UK has seven research councils specializing in a particular field. They include the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Economic and Social Research Council. The seven councils group together under an umbrella organization called UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). You can visit its website for more information on PhD funding opportunities in the UK. You'll also find useful tips and guides on how to write the best application.

Alternatively, you can apply to international funding programs like the European Joint Doctorate. As part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie EU research commission, the joint doctorate provides three years of funding for international Ph.D. students enrolled at select European universities.

Centers for doctoral training

Funded by research councils and universities, centers for doctoral training (CDT) are among the latest innovations in doctoral research. Unlike traditional universities, CDTs were set up to train PhD students specifically; think of them as a trade school for aspiring academics and researchers. CDTs provide practical research training, as well as career advice on how to find work in the private sector or secure a university research position.

CDT programs are fully funded four-year courses. Financial support includes a grant for tuition fees and a monthly stipend for expenses. As you can imagine, there is plenty of competition for these sought-after opportunities. Candidates must have a degree in a relevant subject, excellent academic references, and a full transcript of their previous academic performance. They also need to write a personal statement and a fully formed research proposal. The research proposal is probably the most crucial part of the application. It should define a clear question, approach to answering it, and explain how it adds to, develops, or challenges existing literature in an original way.

Located near the University of York in the UK, FUSION CDT center trains doctoral students in materials science, plasma physics, nuclear physics, technology, and laser physics. Recent doctoral graduates include Bethany Jim, who discovered how small-scale mechanical testing aids in designing fusion energy systems can be less reliant on carbon sources. Bethany then interned at the UN's Sustainable Energy Division before becoming a project lead for a UK based venture capital firm. Angus Wylie developed new laser technology for industrial welding during his time at FUSION CDT, while Michael Mo looked at how low-temperature plasma processing impacts nano-technology used in computers and spacecraft propulsion.


Some employers will fund PhDs to upskill staff or create a new product or service for their business. Cian Rynne, who works for a small tech enterprise, began his industry-funded PhD in 2019. He's now developing a patented product, intending to have a market-ready version within the next few years. “It's great,” says Cian. "You get to explore your research in a more pragmatic and applicable way – academia often suffers from criticism that not enough of the work completed has practical applications. You also get to work in close proximity with people with lots of experience in industry and business."

However, an industry-funded PhD can be very different from an academic PhD. For example, you may have to balance your PhD research with some of your regular work duties. In other words, excellent time management is a must. Moreover, employees funding a PhD will expect a return on their investment. This means students must remain commercially focused, ignoring exciting avenues of research in favor of ideas with a tangible market value. “Important logistical questions should stay at the forefront when completing an industrial project,” adds Cian. "Like, what will be the financial cost of producing something on a large scale? Just because you make something that works doesn't mean it's something that will sell. You'll need to know what kind of target market there is for this product."

Lastly, employers often attach certain conditions to an industry-funded PhD, such as an intellectual property clause that means anything you create belongs to the company instead of you. Others insist employees remain at the company for a certain period following graduation. Break this clause, and you may be liable for the cost of your PhD


Christopher Aris is a self-funded Dental Anthropology PhD student at the University of Kent. He decided to self-fund after missing the deadline for scholarship applications rather than waiting another 12 months to continue his academic journey. Self-funding is hard, but Christopher soon realized this unique situation offers some unique benefits. "PhD funding is attractive, but it can come with a lot of strings attached," says Christopher. "These can take the form of crazy teaching hours and attending mandatory events. If you self-fund, these obligations disappear, leaving more time for research, conferences, paper writing, and maybe even a little bit of social life."

Self-funding demonstrates a huge amount of commitment and initiative. As such, self-funded students tend to stand out when applying for bursaries and part-time teaching positions. "Reminding institutions that I'm self-funded has helped me receive conference bursaries, moved me to the top of the list for extra paid teaching, and even got some rather considerable bench fees voided," continued Christoper.

Now you've got a better idea of potential funding sources, make sure you explore as many as possible. There's nothing wrong with applying for more than one source of funding. In fact, it's always advisable to have a backup option in case your primary source falls through.

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Ashley Murphy


After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.

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