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Applying to study for a PhD in psychology
Applying to study for a PhD in psychology

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4.3 The funding step

This step is not numbered because it overlaps with the previous ones. You may have skipped directly to this part of the course but it does not stand alone: you will also need to take note of the information presented in the previous sections, and the previous steps in this section.

Most universities offer part-time or fulltime registration for a PhD. Part-time study is usually self-funded but for fulltime study there are more options. The main ones are:

  • self-funding
  • funding through a student loan: more information about this can be obtained from GOV.UK
  • funding through a studentship offered by a university or another body. Studentships provide funding for fees and a living allowance, most commonly for three years fulltime PhD study although some also include funding for the extra time and fees required to do a Masters. Studentships are usually obtained through a competitive process.

There are many different studentships so it’s not possible to cover all the variations. As an overview, they can be broadly divided into three categories.

  • The first category of studentship offers an opportunity to do PhD study related to a larger research project led by an academic team. The application process is competitive and requires candidates to provide a CV and also a research proposal, as described in Step 1, with the condition that the proposal will be for a topic related to the larger project. This kind of studentship is an excellent opportunity if your interests fit with the project. There is often more than one studentship available on a project so the successful students will be able to support each other in their studies.

    If you apply for this type of studentship, the topic area and potential supervision arrangements (and university) are already specified. You will therefore begin the application process towards the end of Step 1, above. You will need to demonstrate that you are suitably qualified and skilled, and you will need to present an appropriate research proposal. And of course the proposal will have to be one that genuinely interests you, because you are applying to work on it for the next three to four years, and possibly longer.

  • In the second category of studentship, the research area and topic is not specified, beyond a broad requirement to fit with ongoing psychology research in the university that is offering the funding. To apply, you will go through Step 1, above, in order to find potential supervisors among the available psychology academics. You will then make a further application for the funding with the support of your prospective supervisors.
  • In the third category of studentship, funding is obtained from a separate body. The application process will usually be competitive and you will need to go through Step 1 to find potential supervisors, and then present a further, more detailed application and proposal to the external body, probably working with your potential supervisors to polish your proposal. The funding body may have some connection to specified universities, as in Doctoral Training Partnerships funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). (An example is the Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership between Brunel University London, the Open University and the University of Oxford.) Alternatively, the funding body may be a separate organisation that supports PhD research with a specified focus. (As just one example, the Association of Commonwealth Universities offers studentships on Commonwealth-related themes, funded in association with a journal and publisher.)

For all these types of studentships, there is the possibility that you will find a topic that you want to research and supervisors that you would like to work with, but then be disappointed in the application for funding. It is always easier to obtain funding for some areas and topics than others (the topicality and potential impact will both be relevant here). It will therefore be important to have an alternative plan, for instance, to self-fund your own study, possibly with the intention of applying for funding again in the future.