Other Sources of Funding

  • Some schools offer temporary loans for emergencies
    • My department has a small fund that can be used (and paid back with no interest) by grad students in times of financial distress. It's worth inquiring if these exist.
    • My union also does this.
  • Others offer grants that don’t need to be paid back. Never be afraid to ask or use that money.
  • Even if you don’t plan to use it, keep your FAFSA on file so that you can borrow in the event of an emergency
  • Think carefully about transportation costs. Sometimes the cheaper housing is a greater distance from campus and you get into high costs for parking etc.
    • I moved from a rural area in TN to Atlanta and then to Madison, WI for grad school--had no idea that I would need to "rent" a parking space with my apartment and didn't understand that I really needed to prioritize an apartment with a parking space.
    • Often times local transportation will be free for students. Try to find something on a bus line if so. Also, some institutional missions include a focus on sustainability and so if you “decline to get a parking pass” you can sometimes earn a bike stipend.
  • See if you can negotiate for moving expenses. Some universities will ‘sweeten the pot’ for your first year of funding by finding an additional, small, one-time-only scholarship to help defray your move.
  • Sources of funding for these things that are institutional (known to others-- rich kids, legacy kids) that it is assumed you will know
  • Also remember that this is your job. You may or may not be expected to know. Either way you are expected to ask.
  • Apply for everything you can find out about - Fulbright, Trudeau (Canada), Vanier (Canada), Tri-Council Scholarships (in Canada), Canadian Federation of University Women (Canada), etc. Some of these are less well known and so less competition, all of them can provide you with funding for years.
    • Most universities in Canada will help you write the tri-council awards, in fact it is usually required that you apply. The university often provides workshops on how to write grant apps. Ask on your first day where and when they are held. The tri-council consists of CHIR (health research), NSERC (science research) and SSHRC (arts and humanities research). You can apply for the appropriate grant before you go to your Phd and come in with funding before you start. Ask for help from your department where you did your MA or your undergrad. Look for guides to writing grants online. There are three tiers of funding, the base is 20,000 a year for three years, next is 40,000 a year and finally 50,000 a year for three years.
    • The Vanier is the top tier of the tri-council awards and is very competitive but also really worth it. You have to be nominated by your department to get a Vanier and it has to be in your first year, so tell your department that you are interested as soon as possible! It is worth $150,000. There are three areas they look for “research potential”, “leadership” and “academics.” You have to write a letter about your research and your leadership. You want to tell one narrative about yourself. They love “feel good stories.” It will feel a bit gross to be reductive about your life but you need to do it and in a way that feels authentic to you. It is really important to spend a bit of time telling the readers about obstacles you overcame and how this informs your research and volunteering. Write it and rewrite it. It should take you a month! You will need three references: A supervisor from your old department, the grad head from your new department and a leadership reference from someone who knows you well outside of school. There is a guide from U of T on filling out the forms. Scour the internet to find examples! Give the appropriate guide/templates to all your referees and refer to it yourself. The whole process is really hard and you need as much help as you can get. Once you win you will need to do interviews for your institution and local media. You will also have to spend money on professional headshots. They give you the money in 16,000 instalments every four months for three years starting in May. To be nominated, you have to have done something impressive outside of the university, let your institution know what you did. Did you write a book, start a student organization for other low income students, volunteer? What have you done to help others? Tell them. It’s not bragging.
    • Each province also has provincial awards. In ontario this is called the OGS. Ontario Graduate Scholarship.
    • All of these awards in Canada are tax free. Don’t make the mistake of listing them on your taxes, it’s a mess if you do.
  • Check the university grad studies websites for listings of external funding opportunities.
    • Many universities have a grant librarian who can help you find relevant grants/funding.
  • Sometimes the timeline for funding applications is such that you might be applying for a scholarship before you know you’ve gotten into the PhD program (or sometimes even before you’ve submitted the application!). Be aware of this and work with your proposed faculty advisor to get applications in early for best odds. If you get a big award the program will probably take you (even if you didn’t initially quite make their cut). They want you to come with funding.
  • Some awards are for 2 or 3 years. However, often if you get a big prestigious one, the university will give you funding for the following few years, so it usually doesn’t pay to wait to apply until later in your program--if you apply earlier and don’t get it, you may be able to apply again next year. Check the details at your university.
  • Look for diversity fellowships or fellowships for people “underrepresented” in academia. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, veterans, and people who were the first person in their families to go to and/or graduate from college might be considered.
    • NSF and the Ford are also good to look into (USA)
  • Loan availability and loan repayment
  • If you are a US Citizen, learn about how the Income Based Repayment system works. Loans may not be the worst thing ever.
    • \ __https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans/income-driven__
    • This is especially important for those of us who came to academia from low income backgrounds because we’re terrified of debt, but debt is manageable, and is not always irrational to take on.
    • Learn about loan forgiveness. If you plan a career in the non-profit sector, chances are you can get your loan forgiven after 10 years of minimum payments (Income Based Repayment counts) __https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service__ - Public universities & non-profit private universities qualify; added benefit - unlike other loan write-offs, amount written off under this program is not considered taxable income when it gets written off! Note- not all loans qualify, so be selective in what loans you take!
  • If you are a US citizen considering studying in another country, be aware that it may limit your US government grant/loan options.
  • If you have a lot of student loan debt (or just because you want to), you may consider looking into jobs abroad after the PhD. If you live outside the US, you should take the earned income exclusion on your taxes. This makes your Annual Gross Income (AGI) go to zero (so long as you make less than roughly $100K per year). If you also take an Income Based and when you return to the US, those months abroad count toward your qualifying months for loan forgiveness.
  • Schools often don’t guarantee funding past a certain number of years. Statements like “funding for 5th and 6th year students has never been a problem” shouldn’t be taken seriously. If funding suddenly becomes a problem, you won’t have any recourse. The only hard guarantee is what’s in the offer letter.
    • When/if funding runs out, note that you are able to apply for unemployment benefits, food stamps, etc.
    • In NYS and California work you do for a school while you’re enrolled as a student there doesn’t count toward your unemployment award.
    • Most states allow you to receive food stamps while receiving funding, as stipends are not considered income. This is true for all of the graduate students in my department (I live in Ohio) and many of my friends in programs across the US.
  • If your funding runs out, even the best intentioned of departments may not be able to find anything for you. Be proactive in seeking out opportunities in departments that teach undergrads but don’t have graduate departments of their own. They may need teaching assistants or adjuncts.
    • This is why you need to network within your university. If your package doesn’t contain funding for those crucial last few years, then you will need to line things up quickly so an unfunded term doesn’t sneak up you.
  • Costing (in the UK) -- there are many funded PhD places, where your fees and pay of around £13,000/year is provided (that is without tax, so quite good). It is common for universities to have many places one year, and few the next, so don’t get too attached to one university. When you ask an academic if they have funding, and they say no, ask them if they know of any other PhDs with funding. It is common for academics to refer good candidates to friends at other universities, and that is your best way to get your foot in the door.
    • PhD students (like other students) don’t have to pay Council Tax in the UK. But you will if you live with non-students.
  • When you have funding it is often strictly time limited, so don’t assume that it can be extended: maybe it can but you need to find out. So if you have money for say 3.5 years, then you need to make sure you always have a credible plan to submit in that time (discuss with your supervisor throughout the thesis). It is common for PhD students to take say 4 years and there may be no funding at all for that last 6 months. Many academics will assume you can just get by for that extra period and won’t enquire too closely.
  • If you need to take an extended leave of absence (e.g. for health reasons) you might find your funding is on hold. I.e. at a time when you are ill and unable to study your income might suddenly go to zero. Or if it doesn’t it might effectively reduce the time available to finish your PhD.
  • Ask for help from your program if you have a medical crisis. I had serious medical crisis grad school and advisor went to bat for me so I kept getting paid. Some people don't tell because they don't want to seem or like they can't handle it. People with privilege know and expect that when things wrong, people will adjust for them. Follow that lead and ask for what you need.
  • Check the PhD listings on jobs.ac.uk for funded PhD places. These are often attached to the projects of individual professors.