By: Jude Brady, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
Most funding bodies fund PhD research for three years (full time) and five years for part time students, maybe four at a push for full-timers, and six for part timers. Other students successfully plan to self-fund, or partially self-fund for the initial three or five years.
However, we all know (on the down-low) that many projects extend beyond the funding/planned period. Many of these circumstances are beyond the candidate’s control: delays in receiving equipment; faulty machinery; participants leaving the research prematurely; a series of failed experiments; unexpected results, or simply that you need more time to think and make sense of your data.
So what do people do? Where does the elusive fourth or sixth year funding come from? Are you suddenly liable for your institution’s fees?
Let us start with the good news: many institutions will waiver the majority of your tuition fees for the ‘writing up’ year. If they don’t waiver it completely, you might be asked to pay a ‘continuation fee’. This varies in amount. The Open University, for example, charged £516 in 2017-2018, whereas York University will charge £315 to its continuing students in 2018/2019. Cambridge usually offers waivers for its students, as long as they are in a position to submit within 12 months.
For the purposes of this blog, let’s assume that you are unable to ask your nearest and dearest for financial support, and that you need to continue living and paying rent and bills in your city of study. That leaves you with the not so easy task of meeting living costs and a potential ‘continuation fee’.
So what are your options?
- Seek supporters
Petition your faculty, lab, or if applicable – college. They might be able to offer you something – and there’s no harm in asking. If the answer is a definitive ‘no’, don’t be disheartened. There are many other ways to ensure you survive your writing up year: Crowdfunding being one of them. UCL PhD candidate, Carolyn Thompson (a friend’s partner), exceeded her goal to fund her primatology research by nearly £8,000. How? She made an uplifting video and blog page about the adorable Skywalker gibbons she is working with, and the crucial importance of her conservation work.
Public appeals aren’t your style? Don’t despair!
- Seek external funding
There are a surprising number of small charities and councils willing to offer funding. The criteria are often niche and awards small – but you can apply for several awards at a time.
Turn2us.org is a comprehensive database of such charities and available grants. It’s also worth checking out The Alternative Guide to Funding which features student stories of how they have found funding.
My own research on this matter threw into profile several larger charities and councils to which you might be able to apply:
Women, for example, can apply for help from Funds for Women Graduates (FfWG). The organisation can contribute to living costs for overseas and British women while they are in their fourth year of postgraduate study.
Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education also offers support for female postgraduates. The surprising part is that you do not need to be from Yorkshire!
Additionally, The Al Charitable Trust can provide small grants to assist with PhD living costs whilst you are writing up. Preference has historically been given to social science candidates who are writing in relation to a particular theme.
Finally, fourth year students working in international relations/studies are invited to apply to British International Studies Association (BISA) for support. These grants (of up to £500) are intended to help you to finish writing up in the short term.
The bonus is that successfully applying for any such grant is great for your CV; it shows that you have the ability to find and secure research funding.
- Assume part time work
Short term consultation projects could be your saviour here. Depending on your discipline, there will be many businesses, charities, or public bodies that will pay you for short term projects and/or consultation. You could have the option of working intensely for three months, saving, and then reverting to your studies full time for a few more months.
If that doesn’t sound like your bag, consider teaching or tutoring. You may be able to acquire some teaching hours through your institution, and if not, consider tutoring privately.
Depending on your skills, you can work with babies through to adults. Think broadly – can you offer conversation classes in different languages? Guitar lessons? Coding lessons? Maths tuition? Gumtree and tutorhunt will help you gauge an appropriate fee for your work.
If you do need to extend beyond your funding, the likelihood is that your subsistence needs will be met by a hotchpotch of all of the above. Procuring funds will likely take a significant proportion of your time, so it might pay to start doing your research early if you foresee the need for a writing up year.
For those who’ve already completed a writing up year, or are currently navigating this situation, we’d love to hear about your experiences and seek your advice in the comments below.
Jude Brady started her career as a secondary school English teacher. She trained and worked in Yorkshire, before relocating to teach in the London boroughs of Southwark and Lewisham. Now, she is a third year PhD student at the University of Cambridge and Robinson College. Her work explores teachers’ working conditions (in relation to retention) in state and independent schools in England.