Desperate for learning


Hi guys,

I am 57 and hold an M.A. in EnLit. This dates back to 1989. I have been working since but have always kept learning enrolling in evening classes at my local uni and learning a few additional languages.

1) I have travel plans for the next three years but wish to do a PhD thereafter i.e. when I am sixty. Does a PhD count towards pension entitlement at all? Ideally I would like to do it full time but I have to be realistic and do it part time.

2) I am nuts about zoology and the natural environment but being a very left-brained person my maths, physics and chemistry is very poor. I am doing loads of field trips all over the world watching animals in their natural environment and I did a class last year on animal bevahiour. My tutor really liked the paper I handed in to finish the class but how would I even go about finding a PhD topic.

If Zoology is out for me, I could always go back to either English or German literature (research is probably cheaper than zoology anyway). I would fund the PhD myself I reckon unless someone can point me in the direction on how and where to apply for grants. Again, how do I find a supervisor and a PhD topic.

I really appreciate your advice.

Many thanks!

P.S. Ideally I would like to do my PhD at Oxford because this is my local university.


Hi Gimmick,

Your PhD won't count towards your pension as it is untaxed income and you crucially pay no NI on this. You don't declare it at all on your tax returns.
What you could do is register as self employed and pay voluntary NI contributions (about £160 per year) which covers a full year's contributions for you. That's what I did.

As for your PhD subject. I'd expect a Zoology or Science based PhD position will require statistics so avoiding maths might be an issue.

Good luck with this.

Avatar for rewt

Hi Gimmick,

Getting accepted to do a PhD primarily requires funding. If you self fund you can do effectively do any project you want as long as you find a supervisor. For a funded PhD you are best looking at sites like to see what is available. Prefunded PhDs usually have a predefined projects and they can be competitive but are your best chance at getting funded. If you have a research idea (it doesn't need to be that good yet), you can email prospective supervisors, explaining your idea and ask to talk with them about it. At that stage they might have funding available (very rare), suggest a grant you can apply for (very competitive) or work out self funding. An academic in your field would be your best chance finding suitable grants but looking at research council supported networks is also a good call.

Though, if you aren't planning to start for three years anyway you have plenty of time. I would read about different areas you are interested and choose a few fields you are interested in. You might get lucky and find an idea or area you are passionate about with a good research question. You can also attend conferences (post covid) to find out more about cutting edge research in the field. The conference networking could also help you find a potential supervisor. Also, I would say that most academic funding requires a start date of 6-12 months after the funding is granted. So if you can't start for 3 years you will need to time any grant application.