Hannah Belcher, PhD Autism, Anglia Ruskin University
Funding for Fees, Maintenance, and Research Expences
I am a self-funded PhD student at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, studying Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in Females, within the Faculty of Science and Technology. I decided to skip my Masters and go straight to PhD after finishing my Psychology Degree at York University, and being diagnosed myself with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of ASD. I was passionate about the topic of female autism, and knew I wanted to study it straight away, no matter the cost.
I was fortunate enough to have moved back to my family home on the outskirts of Cambridge, so paying rent was not a problem. However, I still needed to find enough money to pay my yearly fees and to live. I had a part time job working in Special Needs Schools; however this still wasn’t enough to cover the amount I needed. There was no internal funding available to me so I looked further afield. I found the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding and systematically worked through possible funders, as well as doing an online course on how to write good grant letters.
Initially I applied for charities local to me, there was no formal criteria for these so I sent them the general grant letter I had written. This basically outlined what my research was about, my arguments for why I felt it was so important, and a bit about myself and why I needed help with funding. Because my topic was so specific, I worried many funders would turn it down. However many of the charities I applied to were angled more at helping people in education generally, and were not so concerned with the topic of research. I managed to secure £500 from a charity in my own village, the Buwell Churchlands Trust. I then received £400 from the J C Robinson Trust, who said that they usually do not fund individuals but wanted to help me nonetheless. I also received £300 from the Yorkshire Ladies’ Council of Education, which I am able to reapply to every year of my study. Some of the charities were also only open to individuals who had family members in a certain occupation. I received £1000 from the Ruby and Will George Trust, which I was able to apply to because my Granddad and Uncle had worked in commerce as carpenters.
As well as this charity funding I also looked for charities specific to what I was studying, Autism. Unfortunately a lot of these charities had very little money themselves, but when I looked for organisations abroad I found many more. I applied to the American Organization of Autism Research and managed to win $2000 to go towards costs associated with my research. This didn’t help me directly with my fees but it did mean I could expand my study and therefore attract more funders. As well as this I also added a donation button on my blog so I could receive small funding amounts from anyone interested in my work.
Without the help of these charities, or knowing they existed in the first place, I would not have been able to afford my first and second year of study. It takes some time to create applications, and many you have to adapt to the specifications of the charity, but it is a great skill to have and looks great on your CV.
I would encourage anyone at any level of financial difficulty during their postgraduate study to try out applying to these charities. Some of the amounts seem very small, and like they won’t even touch the surface of your mounting student debt, however, it only takes receiving a couple of these small amounts before the load starts to lighten considerably. Plus there are not only grants to consider, but also quite reasonable loans, which I keep on file in case times get desperate!
We think there are a couple of really interesting points in Hannah's story. The first is that one charity - the JC Robinson Trust - funded her even though they do not usually fund individuals. This demonstrates how flexible charities can be with students and research topics they sympathise with. The second is how she used an American body to get some research-specific funding, which is draws attention to the exciting fact that UK bodies are in fact only the first frontier. Some American bodies will fund research in the UK.