Postgraduate Funding for University Students through Grants from Charity | GradFunding

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Shuzhi Zhou, PhD Neuroscience, KCL
Funding for research, travel, conference, and fourth year PhD

Unlike many of the other student profiles featured here, I received full funding for my PhD- in Neuroendocrinology at King’s College London. My stipend covered three years fees and maintenance. It was a departmental scholarship, and although not quite as good as a research council (BBSRC in my case) award, I still thought I was sorted. However, like many students in a similar situation, I soon found that I still had big gaps in my funding package: conference costs, and fourth year funding…

Conference Funding

As a scientist, it was vital that I showcased my PhD to other researchers in my field at conferences. Many domestic ones came with their own funding, so I was able to easily apply for grants to cover the cost of travel and accommodation. However, the larger and more prestigious international conferences had no support available. My first funding application was close to home- from the Graduate School at King’s, although this was a one-off grant that paid for only one trip, so I had to spread the net wider. After speaking to some more senior PhD students and post-docs in my research group, I discovered that there were numerous learned societies I could also gain grants from. After some brieft google research, I joined the British Society for Neuroendocrinology for only £10 a year as a student member, and applied for their early-career conference grant. The application itself was relatively easy; I had to include a personal statement explaining why it was important for me to present my research, a financial table showing my estimated income and expenditure for the trip, and references from my supervisor. As my PhD progressed, I  went on to win grants from several other learned societies, and managed to attend conferences in America, Spain, and South Africa that I otherwise would not have been able to afford.

Fourth Year PhD Funding

By the end of my second year, I realised that – like most doctoral students - that I wouldn’t be able to complete in three years. This was a big financial worry for me as my stipend was going to run out, and I had next to zero savings. However, my earlier successes in gaining conference awards gave me confidence that I could look at voluntary-sector bodies to help me out. After a lot of research on the internet, I discovered several educational charities offering fourth year PhD funding and writing-up. I also thought that even charities which were more general might be sympathetic to a doctoral student running the last leg of her PhD marathon. After sending out a fair few letters, I heard from several charities who invited me to apply. The applications were very simple- just a personal statement, financial statement showing my rent, living costs, and fees, and a letter from my supervisor. Eventually, I was successful in winning a grant from the Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education (and I’m not from Yorkshire!), the Sir Richard Stapley Education Trust and the Roger & Sarah Bancroft Clark Charitable Trust.

Probably the most unusual body I was successful with was a local educational charity called the Christ Church of Southwark Educational Foundation, which offered grants to people in my postcode. It amazed me that the small church which I walked past every day on my way to the lab had given me a grant to help write up my PhD. I had started my doctorate funded by a big academic public funding body, and finished it by picking up a cheque from a local clergyman. It was an unexpected end to my PhD story, but made me realize that help can come from the most unexpected places if you know where to look, and are prepared to ask. As an asside, some people discount church-based charities because they aren't christians- and that's usually a mistake, as they will help anybody, including someone like me who isn't religious.

Postscript

My funding campaign wasn’t all rosy, and I did receive rejection letters or no response to several charities I applied for, but on the whole I was successful. Although individually modest, the awards accumulated into a large enough amount to support me in my fourth year. But my experience of the strange world of alternative grants inspired me to write the Alternative Guide with Luke Blaxill, and I hope one day you also have an interesting (and successful!) funding story to tell too.

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