Funding yourself - How difficult is it?


Hi Folks

Does anyone have experience of financing themselves through a PhD, with no other funding. How difficult have they found it?



I'm now in my second year and I'm finding it a bit tougher than my first. I'm doing some teaching (more hours than I should), I have my own funds to pay my rent and some of my bills, but I'm having to have a sub from my parents this year (which I feel guilty about). It's not the physical lack of money so much as what it does to your head - "Can I really afford/justify buying that?" becomes a bit of a catchphrase. It is also very easy to get annoyed at funded students who complain about not having much money! I might be being uncharitable to our esteemed academic establishments but do they take more notice and care of funded, especially by a research council, students? Of course, age and experience has made me cynical (bitter? me? never!). The upside of that is that you're not accountable to your funding body.

Oh, and you get stalked by the finance office and their 'polite' requests that you pay your fees NOW.

I'm sounding a bit negative, sorry, it's been a stressful few weeks.

Before you start you need to make a detailed budget so that you know how you're going to pay your fees, rent, bills, food, research related 'stuff'. It takes a bit of the worry away. I would also suggest you attend a uni in the middle of nowhere - things tend to be a cheaper (pub etc), there are less shops to temp you, and internet access can be patchy so online shopping isn't too easy access, and public transport is so awful you just can't be bothered to trek for hours to find the nearest reasonably sized town! You might think I'm joking, but it helps. Saying that, I can't wait to move back to a city.


======= Date Modified 19 Apr 2011 19:36:26 =======
Many humanities students self-fund themselves, typically part-time. I did this for the first year of my PhD, but won funding from AHRC to pay my fees for the rest, though I didn't get a maintenance grant until the very end of my PhD, when the rules changed to support part-timers that way.

I wasn't working during my part-time PhD (long-term seriously ill) but hubby was, so he supported me. But typically part-time PhD students are working full-time and support themselves that way.

One drawback of studying part-time is that, in my experience, institutions can favour full-time students who are more visible on campus, get teaching opportunities etc. As a part-timer at a distance off-campus I felt very cut-off, and had much fewer support mechanisms. Hence this forum being particularly important.


I know a few people who've done it. I think there's two options depending on your circumstances but both have drawbacks.

1) If you currently have or could get a part-time job that pays well then studying part-time is a good way to minimise the financial struggle. It is doable if you have a fairly lucrative skill for example. E.g. a friend was an accountant and did that part-time throughout and didn't really struggle financially. She did complain about being always passed over for the teaching, RA work etc that helps make you more employable in an academic setting post-PhD though, like bilbobaggins pointed out. Part-time on minimum wage / low pay jobs is a nightmare as you are constantly having to work more hours to keep your head above water and then the PhD gets neglected. Fieldwork / lab work can also be complicated if you are part-time depending on topic. You also need to be very motivated as it goes on for such a long time.

2) If you have significant savings to cover the fees & well-off family / partner who would help you financially, then going fulltime and picking up as much teaching / RA type work as possible to pay living expenses, might be an option depending on the type of department (and assuming you choose a cheap location and live like a poverty-struck student). The snag here is that you tend to end up neglecting the PhD because of the constant search for income. Hourly paid teaching looks well-paid at first but actually isn't as you only get paid for the hours you teach so there are huge income gaps in holiday periods etc. Most people I know who did this were mature students with partners who were prepared to pay the mortgage etc while their OH studied. I know younger single people who started this way but almost all had to either drop out or go part-time as the budget didn't add up. Oh and some people tried the career development loan route but ended up in real trouble financially, so I really would not advise borrowing money with interest rates and instant repayment requirements as those are the real horror stories (that's assuming banks are still lending - they did pre-crash but may be more careful now).

I think the other thing you really need to consider is that if you self-fund, you are going to be paying out a lot in fees and lost earnings for a qualification that may not help you find well-paid work at the end of it. How bitter would you be if it didn't work out? Look at all the people on this board who are struggling to find work post-PhD - it's not straightforward at all, even when there isn't a recession. At least if you are funded, you can say oh well I got a qualification out of it and view it as a not very well paid 3-4 years in your life. The odds of getting an permanent academic job in particular are very poor, so if you are not in a field that would translate easily to non-academic employers then personally I would not risk it (unless post-PhD employment is irrelevant e.g. you're nearing retirement or have no need to work). I know too many unemployed / underemployed recent Politics PhDs to recommend it for my own subject anyway (seem to remember you were asking about ESRC so it might be relevant).


I am a self-funded PT student.
I have a FT work, which I "use" to pay rent, living expenses, fees, and travel to UK (I am from Greece and I am based in Greece). It is difficult (especially in the current economic climate in Greece), but I have found out that if you want something you can do it! This is my moto in life! And I really want this PhD (it's not going to help me professionally, but I love my subject and I want to acomplice my goal and then move to the next one)!


I self-funded throughout. I should never have done it. I got teaching work, but it was never enough to keep me alive. I was in constant battle with the Fees office, who didn't have a clue. Nor did Welfare. They don't have experience in handling idiots who choose to fund their own studies. I came 2nd in a battle in my second year to secure a Uni scholarship, but they were only giving one away.The next year, they gave 10, but only to students under the age of 35. I missed out on all kinds of funding opportunities. I wouldn't wish this on anyone. My PhD cost me over £100k in lost earnings etc. Was it worth it - no. Not financially, and not in any other way. It's just I knew I could and should do it before I died. So I did. At 66, having sold most of what I own, I got it. But I didn't do it for the qualification. I did it out of passion for the subject.


Hi Angelette,

similar as others have indicated, if you have a (professional) job already then keep on working and to the PhD aside of it. It may be something one can negotiate with the employer. Obviously the downside is that is a contant struggle regarding not having enough time to spend on your research and sometimes sarcastic remarks from colleagues who dislike that you have to spend some time on it. However, it does avoid that you constantly have to worry about your bills. Also if you would not like the PhD you can just stop. Having these opportunities helps you to keep going!

At Beajay, interesting, well done for having it completed! Would be interesting if you could tell a bit more about yout story.


Hi Rick, I've been quite careful in this forum, not to mention the esoteric field I work in. I could be identified immediately if I did that. But just to repeat what I said when I wrote my first post here, I'm a professional writer/journalist/broadcaster, and I truly can't believe the mess I walked into when I came to do my PhD. I don't fit into any box that they've ever encountered. I'm too old, too sussed, and no UK national in my broad area in my Uni (Education is the School I went into) had ever done a full-time PhD (they usually go for EdD, and only International students do that full-time). So no one had ever walked down this route before. Consequently my Uni and School had no knowledge of the fee-structures, help/funding available, and it's been the blind leading (or rather tripping up) the blind. I have few good words to say about my PhD experience, except I got it. I sold my wonderful art collection, my collection of Private Press books, my Mortgage endowment policy, and my sup (mistakenly as I've now found out) insisted that for the 3+ years I was in there that I did no interviews or writing, as these might contaminate my results. So I had to take those years out of my career, totally, only to find that no UK University will employ a first full-time academic within 6 months of their 65th birthday. But actually, now I've thought about it, I may be better off out of there!


Hi Beajay,

thanks for that. It is interesting to read what you have done beforehand and what kind of problems you came across. As mentioned earlier I find it quite an achievement to obtain a PhD despite all these barriers. As you quite rightly say in education most will do the diploma in education, usually part-time and as such aside of a job. Sorry to hear that you cannot get a job in the academic world, because of this age rule (Is this that still legal? Did that not change? Sorry I am not from the UK either, as such do not know all UK regulation in and out).

As mentioned, your story stands out in this forum.

Kind regards:-)