======= Date Modified 13 22 2009 12:22:49 =======
======= Date Modified 13 21 2009 12:21:48 =======
In a research class I was auditing the other day, one student made a disparaging remark about students who self-fund their way through a PhD. He stated that such students are typically less capable, and it was unfair on exceptional students who miss out on funding opportunities, and have to forego their PhDs because they cannot afford it. He said that as a result, weaker candidates (with rich parents) are doing PhDs, and that this made a mockery of academia. This led to a very uncomfortable discussion, particularly after he said that 'you can often tell who is self-funding'. What surprised me, was that this sparked a debate in which he got a fairly equal amount of support and criticism. What do others think about this?


======= Date Modified 13 Nov 2009 12:26:55 =======
In my area of research, there are not many who self-fund, but to me this just sounds ridiculous. How can you tell whether someone is self-funding or not? And anyway, the ones I know who self-fund don't get their money from "mummy and daddy" but rather from savings, their spouses and loans. Am I missing something here, how can weaker candidates (with rich parents) make a mockery of academia?? - if someone produces sufficient quality work in their thesis/viva, then they deserve to pass, self-funded or not.


Nothing is fair when comes to love and war. Similarly, when comes to research, it all falls back on from which perspective you view at. If you view it from the angle of half empty portion of an hour glass, you will be grumpy and thinks in the similar manner that guy was saying. If you happen to view the half filled portion of the same hour glass and think maturely enough, “walla”, you will get to realize that even those snobby rich kids do genuinely have something to deliver which entitles them a PhD. By the way, I am not one of those rich kids yea, I am struggling with teaching load, research, etc.


I think there is a little snobbery around this...I have heard people with attitudes to the effect that if a person is a good enough candidate, and their project is worthwhile, then they would have got it funded. Thus those who are self-funding seem to have to put up with ignorant people who think that they, or their project, must be inferior in some way. I think that once the PhD had been gained then it probably doesn't matter- a PhD is a PhD however it was funded. My flatmate self-funded her way through a PhD then walked into a 4.5 year post-doc, so I think this attitude fortunately just belongs to the ignorant few, rather than everyone else in academia. I would certainly hope so. KB


======= Date Modified 13 Nov 2009 13:01:04 =======
This view implies that the number of "capable" people always directly corresponds to the number of places that a research council happens to fund -- which is a very naive assumption in my opinion, as it disregards the contingency of policy decisions about the number of places available and takes it as some kind of "natural" given.


I know brilliant people who now have excellent careers who didn't get funding. It's as much about whether you tick all the boxes that year as anything else in my experience. I have funding but I know people much more intelligent than me and whose work is much better than mine who didn't. Of course there are always people in every department who are there principally because they can afford to be (and yes, I would say sometimes you might be able to guess who they are) but that's not to say that this proves anything about self-funded students in general!

Avatar for Eska

Hi all, I'm self funded and I'm doing really well with my research. When I applied to the AHRC the money was still allocated directly to the student from a central pot, and the AHRC has fads, fashions and cycles for topic areas it will and won't fund; that has a been a major deciding factor in who gets what in the past, not just ability.

I didn't apply for any studentships which were funded by departments because I knew exactly the subject I wanted to study, and which supervisor[s] I wanted. I figured that by going for studentships I would not be able to build the foundation I wanted with the people I wanted. I was actually invited to apply for a studentship which offered fees and the usual 12,000 stipend at one of the universities I have taught for, but I knew the supervision and other contacts their would not get me were I wanted to be. We all make choices for different reasons, and I find it impossble to understand how a self-funded PhD student could be inhibiting funded places, it just doesn't work that way.

I get the feeling from one of the AHRC funded students at one of the unis I teach at that she thinks she is superior or in authority over self-funded students, but she'll get the sock of her life when the PhD finishes and she crashes back down to mere morta status.There's no way I'd have taken a PhD place at that uni, or with her supervisor - paid or otherwise; that thought always gives me a sense of secret satisfaction whenever she waves her AHRC funded status in the air at staff meetings...


Being in a position where I cannot 'comfortably' afford to go to university to do research, in my opinion, puts me under a bit more pressure than someone who doesn't even need to think of the finances involved. This is because my mind cannot wholly be occupied with thoughts about my research and a social life etc, but also with worry about how my next fee installment is going to be paid. This may have caused me problems with the types of grades I achieved - if I didn't have to work as well as study, then perhaps I would have more time to think about study and achieve better marks. Right? Erm... yes and no.

Perhaps if you were brought up in a position where you have never had to worry about food and a roof over your head, then you would probably be more confident in life. With confidence you tend to have the courage to try out new things and just 'go for it' becuase you've got nothing to lose (e.g still have a very cushty future with inheritance, etc).
If you are poor, you have everything to lose. If you don't get things right the first time, all your dreams could potentially go out the window. So what some people tend to do is say 'well, I need something to fall back on just in case this happens.'
But trying to lay down a 'safety' foundation ALSO takes a lot of work. So what happens? You don't spend so much time on the things that you REALLY want to do. In addition to this, it's so easy to settle in what you set up as 'the back-up plan', because other things, such as partners, and well... LIFE might get in the way.
Oh but hang on a minute... that person was so bright! They should have done a Phd!

It doesn't make someone more capable of research if you were brought up in poverty, as opposed to having a very comfortable life and upbringing. But rather it is likely that both are pretty much equal. However, the one in poverty didn't get the same opportunity as the one who could afford to go.

On the other hand, if you want something SO BADLY in life, you would do it no matter what it takes. The only problem here is that, if you're someone who can afford to go to uni with no worries whatsoever AND you DIDN'T want it that badly, but didn't really know what else to do with your life so you just go anyway, THEN it is a little bit unfair. But I guess that's just life.

If it wasn't for the fact that I had to earn my own living and fund almost every penny of uni myself (undergrad/postgrad), I wouldn't have been so determined to do so well. Also, you learn so much from being in the 'real world'. You gain so many skills that really benefit the whole uni experience, and make life more interesting.

Sorry if this didn't make an awful lot of sense - I'm rushing coz I gotta get on with my work. I've wasted so much time already. My point here is that I can see the pro's and con's of being in both positions.


There's so much luck involved in getting funding that I don't see how anyone can make generalisations about the "worth" of individual students, funded or otherwise. As other posters have pointed out, all the research councils have their pet topics and there are some things that are just never going to get funded. I know brilliant people without funding, and people who got funding and squandered it (e.g. someone in my dept with ESRC funding now going into year 6 with no good reason). I got my studentship back in the good old days of ESRC quota funding - there were only 3 of us that applied for 2 studentships. So although I look like I got some amazing funding, in reality, it wasn't that difficult to get. Similarly, my husband didn't get funding for his first year, then applied - with the same proposal - and got full AHRC funding for the remaining 2 years. So the funded/not funded categories are rather blurred in reality.

Frankly, people that need to use something like funding to make themselves feel superior to others need to evaluate their concept of self-worth.

Rant over :-)

Avatar for Eska

Great post Cobweb: I too spend copious amounts of time and energy worrying about money, bills, fares to work and uni etc and I really struggle most of the time. But I am absolutely determined too do this, and in a way it makes me more efficient because I grab every chance I can to work, squeeze every ounce of productiity out every minute, and I'm grateful I can do this after years of thnking even an undergrad degree wasn't for me, I will not let my [tentiall slip away. I will also push like hell and never give up on my future career because I have invested so much in this. I'm forty, so this is a real risk for me in terms of building up another career - I don't own a property (although I do have a four years of lecturer's pensin built up); I have to make this work!

Yeah, I've seen students who aren't really up to it, and who are there for their money (horrible but most probably true), but I've seen many of more of them at MA and undergrad level then PhD.


i think some people are just bitter and jealous at those with rich parents. what's wrong with having rich parents? too bad for someone if their's are not. they should grow up and deal with it.

they also need to remember that we get admitted based on a proposal and decent grades.. not how we are going to pay for it.

however, i do agree that supervisors tend to ignore self-funded students, particularly international students. largely because they only have to account to them.


======= Date Modified 13 Nov 2009 16:06:23 =======

Quote From jojo:

i think some people are just bitter and jealous at those with rich parents. what's wrong with having rich parents? too bad for someone if their's are not. they should grow up and deal with it.

What's wrong with rich parents? I think it is quite understandable why some are bitter and jealous about the social, economic, and cultural advantages that many have over others in our society by virtue of wealth and its self perpetuating nature. And for those in this situation, it isn't enough to say "too bad".


Erm...I'm just wondering where I fit into this debate. I've got a fees waiver and a subwardenship (which chops off a lot from rent, bills and food) and my parents are helping me out with the rest (not that they're rich, just that I'm the youngest so they're got more money now that ever before.) I've also been picking up bits of work when its available and can't wait to teach next year.


i don't think jealousy can ever be understood or justified.

envying others and making their lives difficult does not change a thing. instead these people should be happy that someone can self-fund, hence less competition for whatever funds are available and more research gets done.


Hi Maria1,
This student's argument really does seem indefensible and, well, frightening. Judging whether research is worthwhile is a really tricky area and I don't think anyone should assume that they have some kind of foolproof test for this or that there is any necessary correlation (negative or positive) between funding/personal income and the worthiness of the research.
However, I'm going to try to construct a charitable reading of his argument!
I think that there are a very, very, very small number of people who are self-funding research because it isn't good enough to be funded, and perhaps shouldn't be done at all. And it can be annoying when you encounter these people.
I can think of two examples I've encountered personally. One was actually in my undergraduate degree when a mature student who had worked for many years in a top chemicals company semi-retired and decided to do an arts degree. He was self-funding and joined our course. He would regularly turn up to seminars without having done the reading and instead talk from his "life experience". Which is fine - life experience and original thinking has a great contribution to make to research. But so does reading around the field and learning from others. He also regularly made comments along the lines of how pointless the essays and exams were - the really important thing was broadening the mind. He said he was the best judge of his own success.
The second example is very similar but this time a Phd student. Again, self-funding, again coming from a different discipline - this time economics. This student gave a paper recently which was meant to relate economics to another discipline. It didn't. When challenged by the audience on this, he accused us of being uneducated about something he had been studying and practising all his life. Again, there seemed to be this sense that it wasn't necessary for him to listen to us or really to learn because he already had the answers.
What I take from these two examples is that probably both students were struggling in a new discipline and were finding it difficult to own up to that. They were probably also experiencing the common problems of mature students (all students?!), e.g. isolation.
At the same time, it is hard not to get rubbed up the wrong way by someone who seems to be liberated from worries about money and academic achievement - and who in fact suggests that your concerns and daily troubles are unimportant.
So, maybe the student you are talking about has met with one of the very, very, very few self-funded students who are like this and it upset him?