Postgraduate Funding for University Students through Grants from Charity | GradFunding

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Stephen Gordon, PhD History, University of Manchester
Partially Funded (fees only) raising money for maintainence

I recently completed a PhD at the University of Manchester, exploring the literature and archaeology of ghost belief in medieval Europe. When, in 2009, I made my initial application to Manchester, I was confident that I would be able to secure a full AHRC maintenance grant. My confidence turned to consternation on discovering that not only had I been unsuccessful in my AHRC application, but I had also failed to win an internal scholarship. Having instead been awarded a fees bursary, I realised that if I took special care of my finances I might be able to fund my own maintenance for the next three years. Part-time work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant alleviated some of my monetary difficulties, but not enough to support myself for the duration of the doctorate.

After consulting with my institution’s Careers Advice Service, it transpired that there was a dearth of centralised funding bodies for PhD students in the Arts. A new strategy was needed. The Alternative Funding Guide provided a starting point for contacting small educational charities, the existence of which I was previously unaware.  Turn2us.org.uk and opencharities.org were the main online databases I consulted, and my search met with almost immediate success. The Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust and the Sidney Perry Foundation stood out in terms of their mission statements to fund postgraduate students and, after going through their application procedures, I was awarded significant bursaries from both organisations. The Roger and Sarah Bancroft Clark Charitable Trust and Humanitarian Trust were also forthcoming in their support.

And yet, over time it became apparent that most of the trusts listed on online were either quite strict in their eligibility requirements, agonisingly ambiguous, or else had not updated their details to correspond to their current charitable outputs. My successful application to the Catherine Mackichan Trust, an organisation that funds research on Scottish history, came about due to the inclusion of case studies from the Lowlands and border territories in my thesis. Rejection letters from the Britland Charitable Trust and Moody Charitable Trust, to pick but two examples, explained that although they were sympathetic to my needs and found my research interesting, they were not in a position to fund postgraduate students at the present time.

Out of the fifty-two letters of enquiry I sent out during my PhD, only sixteen resulted in grants. This is not to paint a grim picture of the situation: everybody’s circumstances are different, and what may be a pertinent funding possibility for one person may not be for another. The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding allowed me to look beyond the obvious means of funding and, moreover, develop my skills in putting together successful applications, an ability that will no doubt prove useful in the future.  Above all, it is important to always keep searching for the charity that is right for you. Perseverance is the key.

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