Taylor Aucoin, PhD History, University of Bristol
Raising Funding for all apsects of PhD Study as an International Student
I am currently starting the second year of a doctoral degree in History at the University of Bristol. I study medieval and early modern festivals and my project focuses on the history of Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day). I am 25 years old and hail from Louisiana in the US; I earned my Bachelor’s degree there before deciding to make the big leap to the UK for postgraduate study. But being an overseas student, I naturally came up against the very high cost of international fees. I had managed to self-fund a Master’s degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Durham, but I knew that finding funding for a three year PhD would be much more difficult. So I began to look around for help and guidance, and discovered the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding, which Bristol subscribes to. I used it to devise a long-term strategy to fund my way.
My first step was to apply to universities with scholarship opportunities for overseas students, and I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Deas Doctoral Scholarship from Bristol. Although it was generous, it could not entirely cover overseas fees (around £14,000, rising each year) or any living expenses. However, with the substantial head start the Scholarship provided, I was determined to seize the amazing opportunity before me and make up my shortfall, partly by working part-time, but also by applying to charities and academic societies.
It then came to hunting for charities, and I submitted dozens of letters and applications both before I started my course, and during its first year. At first success was rare, and I had to rely on loans to get by. Then I received a generous grant from the Sidney Perry Foundation, and success seemed to breed success. I have since been granted financial backing amounting to over £4,000 from six different organisations, ranging from charities like the Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust to academic societies like the Medieval Academy of America. My goal is to be fully funded at the start of my final year, so I am continuing to apply, updating my letters and applications to reflect the support I’ve received thus far. I also make sure to illustrate the lengths I’ve gone to fund myself (part-time work; loans) and include reference letters from my supervisors so that organisations can see I’m committed to attaining my goal.
When planning out letters to send and applications to pursue, I try to consider a wide range of funding bodies that might be interested in supporting me or my project. Academic societies usually only offer funding for research expenses, but for a PhD, such support is essential as archive trips or field work can be costly. In any case, once other bodies see you’ve won these awards, they may naturally view you as a safer investment with a track record of grant winning. Indeed, it is sometimes surprising how a research project can appeal to a variety of academic disciplines and sub-disciplines: in addition to the Medieval Academy, the Folklore Society and the Society for Theatre Research have also supported me. Charitable organisations are usually much more flexible than learned societies, and will grant money towards fees and living expenses. Regardless of the particular need, I’ve found it pays to do your homework before applying or sending out letters. Using resources like the Alternative Guide’s online funding database and the Charity Commission website, I try to narrow down my list of potential funders, saving time and effort. For instance, the Charity Commission collects financial reports of charities each year; taking a look at these revealed that both the Sidney Perry Foundation and the Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust have large budgets and award hundreds of grants annually. Carefully crafting applications to such organisations may be a more economical use of time and stamp money than sending letters to charities that have quite modest funds or can only award ten grants a year. So you can size up your potential funders.
The quest for postgraduate funding can be daunting and, at times, disheartening, but my advice is to remain positive and persevere. Treat your postgraduate education as the worthwhile endeavour that it is, and present it to charities and societies as a project in which they can invest. Take advantage of helpful resources like the Alternative Guide to create a realistic funding strategy and follow it to pursue your passion. Even when faced with the obstacle of high fees, there are ways to succeed.
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