Self-Funded PhDs. Good or Bad?

posted
08-Oct-16, 16:36
by Maryco
Avatar for Maryco
posted about 3 years ago
Hello. I was considering applying for a PhD in UK as a self-funded student since there are very few funded projects in social sciences. Also, even though I have work research experience, 2 Merit masters , excellent references, distinction on my research projects and a high school certificate above 95, I got a very low degree GPA due to personal issues that affected the exams which were worth 80%. Nevertheless, I have the qualities and I am confident that I can do it.

I have just read some articles that were a bit concerning.

Among other comments I read :

- limited conferences and research trips.
-without funding one finds it almost impossible to get an academic post
-someone self funding their PhD would not be looked favourably..

Is this true? I feel that there are many things that I am not yet aware of and I need objective answers from people who know what is going on..

Thank you very much.
posted
10-Oct-16, 18:02
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 3 years ago
There are few project-based funded soc sci PhDs - most of the funded places available are through the ESRC's doctoral training centres, where you have to write a proposal. If you meet the eligibility criteria, and can put together both a really strong proposal and a good supervisory team then, it's not impossible for someone with your profile to get funding particularly if you aim at the DTCs based away from London / Oxford / Cambridge.
Regarding self-funding - you need to ask yourself whether you would be happy to have spent all that money (and add in lost earnings during the PhD) if as is likely you don't get an academic post at the end. Nothing to do with your ability, just that the stats say that only 6% of PhD graduates in the UK will get a permanent academic post. If you are wealthy then maybe that's irrelevant, but if you are going to struggle to cover fees / living expenses (and thus really struggle to pay too for conferences / fieldwork), then if it didn't work out, it can be gutting. I understand the LSE is trying to cut back on self-funded PhDs for this reason.
posted
12-Oct-16, 17:59
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From bewildered:

Regarding self-funding - you need to ask yourself whether you would be happy to have spent all that money (and add in lost earnings during the PhD) if as is likely you don't get an academic post at the end. Nothing to do with your ability, just that the stats say that only 6% of PhD graduates in the UK will get a permanent academic post. If you are wealthy then maybe that's irrelevant, but if you are going to struggle to cover fees / living expenses (and thus really struggle to pay too for conferences / fieldwork), then if it didn't work out, it can be gutting.


This.

If you are considering a PhD as a 'career investment' then self-funding is a dubious decision. The likelihood of getting the career path that many desire is small and often not within one's control. Back of the envelope sums lead me to the conclusion that self-funding a PhD costs upwards of £90,000 if you include opportunity costs as well as actual spending. You have to be very sure that's worth it.

For that reason I would say only self-fund a PhD if (i) one doesn't mind if it doesn't lead to an academic job and/or (ii) one has sufficient funds to cushion not only the PhD period as well as the period after where one is job hunting (bearing in mind a PhD may harm some job prospects) and/or (iii) one is willing to do it part time and work alongside, preferably in a job that will lead to a 'Plan B' career. In fact overall I'd just say don't self fund full time at all, and go for option (iii).

Although you correctly note that there are few funded posts, have you actually applied for any?
posted
13-Oct-16, 19:34
Avatar for fallenonion
posted about 3 years ago
I have the same dilemma myself. I have a proposal, and a professor - a leader in the field - who is keen to supervise it. But there is no funding, realistically. Especially as my academic history is a bit uneven - I have a post-grad certificate and a masters in different subjects. But I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it's what I want to do, so it's worth the risk. If there are no academic jobs at the end of it, then look at other ways to use your skills, stay on as a research associate or some such. I guess it come down to, is there anything else you want to do? If so, go and do that, but if not, do the Phd. Even a funded phd, from what I've read, is no guarantee.
posted
14-Oct-16, 03:53
edited about 17 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 3 years ago
Hi, Maryco.

Could you work in the group of your choice or at the university that you are intending to do your PhD in a role that would help you in your study? You could then use this as a leverage to apply for a PhD scholarship later on. Or could you get funding from a charitable body/foundation interested in the field you are working on?

Also, just a food for thought: If there are so few funded project in social sciences at a PhD study level, what is your opinion of the prospect of an academic position and project grants later after you have finished your PhD? Have you looked at the stats of the academic job prospects of your field of choice? How about long-term career prospects? One must do a thorough investigation of all aspects of a research field and then, make an informed decision on whether to do a PhD in a particular field.

A PhD is a huge investment of your time, and if you are self-funding, you want to know the likelihood of getting a job to pay for the debt you have incurred during your study. There is no point having a Dr to your name if you are unemployed for a long time after your PhD (or have to work in a different field), in addition to having to pay debts. Passion and interest are important, but so is survival. Please consider well before making your decision.
posted
14-Oct-16, 12:55
Avatar for spidermanspiderman
posted about 3 years ago
There is nothing wrong with doing a phd for personal development. It all depends on how you feel about it. Nothing is guaranteed whether or not you are funded.
posted
14-Oct-16, 14:37
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From fallenonion:
I have the same dilemma myself. I have a proposal, and a professor - a leader in the field - who is keen to supervise it. But there is no funding, realistically. Especially as my academic history is a bit uneven - I have a post-grad certificate and a masters in different subjects. But I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it's what I want to do, so it's worth the risk. If there are no academic jobs at the end of it, then look at other ways to use your skills, stay on as a research associate or some such. I guess it come down to, is there anything else you want to do? If so, go and do that, but if not, do the Phd. Even a funded phd, from what I've read, is no guarantee.


Unless you're in lab science, you need to be very realistic about any academic job at all appearing. RA jobs in my soc sci field have become pretty rare - indeed I think more lectureships are advertised. The demand for a university-based job massively outstrips the supply unfortunately so especially if you are going to self-fund, I'd work on having good non-academic plans B/C/D right from the start. The triple whammy of the HE Bill, Brexit and anti-immigration measures suggest UK universities are going to have a very difficult future - sadly the already over-subscribed jobs market is likely to get even harder,
posted
15-Oct-16, 09:45
edited about 3 minutes later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 3 years ago
Personally, I would never consider an unfunded PhD. I can't think of any scenario where this is a good decision. Academia is overcrowded (there were already nature issues about it ten years ago and it became rather worse than better) and if you can't secure funding, it is unlikely that your CV is competitive enough to land an academic post after your PhD. Not saying that it is impossible, but very unlikely. Many people are flattered when a professor, sometimes leading in the field, is keen on supervising them but seriously, you are just free labour. In the lab sciences it is pretty common to hire PhD students from China or India just because they are coming with their own government funding and do not cost anything. Why wouldn't you agree if someone offers to work for you for free? Keep in mind that the professors with a great reputation are seldom the ones who have a lot of time to spent on supervision. A funded PhD is no guarantee for success afterwards but at least you are not in debt. There are btw also many options abroad. There are tons of international PhD programs in English all over Europe.
posted
15-Oct-16, 19:29
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 years ago
I think you should try for funding. Limited opportunities out there perhaps - but they do exist. And there are other options too - such as PhD funding on the agreement that you do some teaching to cover some of the fees. Etc.

Another thing - a friend of mine self funded for her first year part-time (whilst working), and then managed to obtain funding after the first year to cover the rest of the PhD.

I'd say actively seek out other possibilities + options as well - there may be more opportunities than you're currently aware of. Have you talked to the postgrad officer in your school? They often know a lot and can tell you about things you hadn't thought of before.
posted
15-Oct-16, 21:42
by pd1598
Avatar for pd1598
posted about 3 years ago
Given, I would suggest, a fair few of the posters on this site are fully funded and not 'subbed' by anyone, I think you may have just alienated yourself, Onion. Not sure how your rant addresses the OP but I take your point.

As for the OP, if your a person wishing to enter academia, with no other outside income, self funding as a bad idea.
posted
15-Oct-16, 22:57
edited about 4 seconds later
Avatar for fallenonion
posted about 3 years ago
Hi pd1598. Well, my point to the OP is that, personally, I think it depends on circumstance. A blanket view that no funding means don't do it, I think is too sweeping. I have heard of self funded candidates getting jobs, so it has to happen to someone. I was trying to help, sorry if it wasn't clear. I'm assuming that the OP has some form of income, as I,doubt they expected yo live on air for years.

I'm sorry also if you think I'm ranting. My point is, there are (or should be) different routes for everyone. Not everyone peaks at undergrad, and knows at the age of 21 or 22 that academia is what they want to do. Some people, like me, felt it wasn't an option, went off and did other things, then came back to it later. Once you've got a mortgage and stuff, it's difficult to get by on a bursary. But If you've worked, and saved and are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary, why shouldn't that be rewarded? It makes no sense to me.
posted
16-Oct-16, 00:51
edited about 1 second later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From fallenonion:
Hi pd1598. Well, my point to the OP is that, personally, I think it depends on circumstance. A blanket view that no funding means don't do it, I think is too sweeping. I have heard of self funded candidates getting jobs, so it has to happen to someone. I was trying to help, sorry if it wasn't clear. I'm assuming that the OP has some form of income, as I,doubt they expected yo live on air for years.

I'm sorry also if you think I'm ranting. My point is, there are (or should be) different routes for everyone. Not everyone peaks at undergrad, and knows at the age of 21 or 22 that academia is what they want to do. Some people, like me, felt it wasn't an option, went off and did other things, then came back to it later. Once you've got a mortgage and stuff, it's difficult to get by on a bursary. But If you've worked, and saved and are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary, why shouldn't that be rewarded? It makes no sense to me.


I am on a fully funded phd in the UK and have a mortgage and three children to feed. My wife earns less than I do and we get by perfectly well. You would be well advised to rethink your attitude. Specifically it isnt helpful to rail against unfairness. The world has never operated on fair principles. It should. But it doesnt. Be careful you dont become consumed with anger about it.
My advice is that you should do whatever feels right. Academia recruits people based on rules probably nobody on here is privy to. Trying to second guess these people is the root of all madness. Industry hires phd graduates. if your skills are transferable, can figure out how to create a decent CV and you can hold a conversation in an interview you should have no problems. Good luck.
posted
16-Oct-16, 09:29
Avatar for fallenonion
posted about 3 years ago
Well I didn't think my comments (which at the end of the day are valid, as are anyone's) would be met with such hostility. I expected of course some 'holier than thou'-ing of course, and I got it. And inevitably the old 'chip on your shoulder' - a well worn and all pervasive social construct designed to render working class grit taboo and promote deference to our 'betters'. Fear not, I will get out my sack cloth and ash this morning, say ten Hail Marys to Teresa May and whip myself until I bleed, lest I get above my station again and ready myself to go down t' pit where I belong. Ever so sorry to have troubled all you learned sirs with my ill breeding, ever so humble your honor.
posted
16-Oct-16, 10:03
edited about 3 minutes later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From fallenonion:
Well I didn't think my comments (which at the end of the day are valid, as are anyone's) would be met with such hostility.


Well you obviously have a higher life standard than the posh kids you were ranting about and that live on this salary (never heard of or met a PhD student that received financial aid from the parents) ;) Fair enough. I guess it is hard to go back to a PhD salary once you've earned much more in industry. This is, however, not the common route to take. I have no stats to proof that but would guess that over 95% of PhD students are taking up their PhD right after finishing University and in that case it is almost always a bad idea to start an unfunded PhD. You are either in debt or it takes you forever due to part-time work and the reward is almost always a job that is unrelated to research and often didn't even require a PhD in the first place. I think this is rather idealistic...doing a PhD for the PhD's sake and not because it gets you the career you aim for. If there is no funding, there is usually no job afterwards either. No matter if you are looking in academia or in industry. People in computer science or other fields with great job perspectives seldom struggle to secure finding. You will maybe manage to find a job and don't end up unemployed but I doubt that it's worth it.
posted
16-Oct-16, 13:03
by pd1598
Avatar for pd1598
posted about 3 years ago
Find it curious that you say we want you 'down the pits' and you have a cloth and coal lifestyle, whilst at the same time confirming out you have a comfortable position in FE and can afford to fund a PhD part time. Hardly a serf existence is it? Champage socialist springs to mind. As it happens I'm first generation to go to Uni in my family, from Middlesbrough, and fund wife and baby off the PhD scholarship (no subbing).

I will have to bow out of this now, however. Well done in your achievements to date, you have clearly achieved against the odds, something for the OP to consider. Best of luck.

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