Alternative Funding for Your PhD: five golden rules

Alternative PG funding pic Tom Ottway

This was the facilitator at the Doctoral School at University of Sussex event for researchers on 22.3.17: Postgraduate Funding: considering the alternatives

The blurb for this event read: ‘If you’re looking for extra funding for fees, living expenses, research, travel, conferences, or 4th year PhD study, come along to this workshop for help navigating the thousands of alternative grant-making bodies in the UK.’

After sitting through an extremely informative two-hour session with the facilitator, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I feel inspired to consider new ways to seek alternative funding.

Here are my  5 nuggets of gold, which I picked up from the session:

1: You are more likely to get funding if you already have funding

Yes, I know it seems unfair- money goes to money, you could say. But charities and trusts want to be sure you are a safe bet; an investment.

2: Start small and build up!

You should begin by searching for charities who give small amounts-even a few hundred pounds. Then you can show that you are worthy of investment.

3. Use The Alternative Guide Online (AGO) to do this..

It’s free to University of Sussex students- use your Sussex login. The search sections are great to get you started. I tried it, and it’s easy to use. There are all kinds of weird and wonderful income streams out there: for example, if you are the child of a commercial traveller, there may be cash with your name on it. Have a good look and try different searches…AGO.png

4. Don’t say: I’m broke! Do say: deficit! 

You need to be able to show that you have a credible plan to finish your PhD, and that you have simply come up against an unforeseen ‘deficit’. You also need to demonstrate your ambition  and worthiness, so make sure you know the charity and its aims well. So generally, begging letters really are not the way to go. Even hardship funds are best accessed as top-ups when you are a bit short of cash.

5. Keep plugging away.. it’ll get easier.

Apply to lots of charities or trusts at once. If you have a deficit, of say £5,000, then you’ll need to apply to 5-10 charities. But keep very clear records of what you have asked of whom- other charities will want to know wholes you’ve asked. It’s more likely, however, that you’ll be successful if you show a smaller deficit of, say, a few thousand pounds or less…

And finally…

The great thing is that as long as you have some kind of address in the UK, this kind of funding is open to everyone, including international students. Also, you can apply to certain charities for travel and conference costs.

So what are you waiting for??


KEYWORDS: Charities, trusts, making up the deficit, inspiring, informative.


Tom Ottway is Research Hive Scholar and lecturer, and is doing his PhD Sonic Home & Homelands in Creative Practice in the School of Media, Film & Music.



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