PhD and funding application process

A brief overview of what you might expect to encounter when applying for a PhD place, and funding.


My previous post was about applying for a PhD, but in this post I wanted to go into a little more detail about the actual application process. Obviously it differs a little from university to university, but one thing you will definitely need is a research proposal. Honestly, attempting to write one of these seemed wild to me. You mean, you’d like me to write exactly how I’m going to do this PhD, having never done one? Sure, sure, seems reasonable. But I managed it, and you will too, if you want to do a PhD.

Different universities require different proposal lengths, and this can also vary by school so it’s worth scouring the application guidelines when writing your proposal to make sure you’re not writing 2000 words when you only need 500, or vice versa. Within your proposal you need to outline your topic, show your awareness of existing work that has been done in this field, and make clear where your research project can fill a gap in the current scholarship. Some questions you should be answering are: what will you be studying? how? why? and, most importantly, what makes your work original? It is worth noting that nobody is going to hold you to this proposal. You are allowed to change your mind as your PhD progresses. In fact, if you didn’t it might be a bit weird.

Once you are happy with your proposal it’s time to send it to the potential supervisors you identified. Be prepared for feedback. This is good! It means they think your project is worth spending time on. If you are applying to multiple institutions you will end up with multiple drafts of multiple proposals, each adapted and aligned with the institution you are applying to and the research interests, skills, and experience of your supervisor(s).

With the support of a supervisor, you can begin your application. Here I am going to go ahead and assume that in order to do your PhD you’re probably going to need some money to live on. Funding is sometimes available from the institution you are applying to but is more often offered by funding bodies such as (for the PhDs I was applying for) the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This involves a whole separate application, but with a lot of similar components. You need to sell yourself, your project, its timeliness, and how it fits within the research interests of your institution.

Your funding application is probably more important than your actual PhD application, given that there isn’t really too much money lying around for research. You really need to take the time to study the values of the funding body you’re applying to. I can only speak from my arts and humanities background but key themes I have come across are interdisciplinary projects, and those that address global challenges. No big deal, huh.

These applications will involve balancing help from other people. Not only are you working on your proposal(s) with different supervisors, but you may also need to ask them to write you a supporting statement as part of your application. You will also need references, normally two. These are likely to be tutors from your master’s degree, or at least they were in my case. So you’re juggling several academics, who are all busy people with their own responsibilities. Give them as much time as possible, and make sure you are responsive when it comes to both communication and feedback.

Once all of the elements are co-ordinated, make sure each part is submitted before the deadline and then sit back and wait for the offers to roll in. Good luck!

Applying for a PhD

A small insight into the very beginning of your journey to a PhD.

When I was applying for PhDs (picture me googling ‘how to do a phd’. No, more clueless) I looked at what projects were out there already. If you’re not an academic (look at me pretending I have an audience), you may not know about how PhDs work. Basically institutions either offer a set project — something they want to research — or more general PhDs in a subject covered by one of their departments. Applications for both types of PhD require you to sell yourself and why you are the right person to do this research to the university, but applying for a research project that has already been outlined is a little more like a job application. The university has a job they want doing (the research project) and they are looking for the best researcher for the job (it could be you!), and they will pay them to do it (woohoo!).

Anyway, when I was looking at PhDs, there wasn’t really anything that grabbed me or related very strongly to my research interests so I went for the other option: I wrote my own research proposal. The imposter syndrome started about here and hasn’t left since. You’re basically like, hello! I literally have no clue what I’m doing but I’m very interested in this vague thing. That’s where your supervisor comes in. Once you know what you want to research, in my case that was ‘films with female-led narratives that didn’t seem to fit the category of chick flick’, you need to find someone to advise and support you. It might be the case that you already know that person. You may have met them during your master’s degree, they may have even supervised your work before, or you might be yet to meet them.

In my case, I had to do a little hunting. I looked at universities with good film departments and an interest in feminist media studies, in places I thought I probably wouldn’t mind living, and then scoured their faculty pages for members of staff who had similar interests to mine and, crucially, were available to supervise new students. Once you’ve found your people, get in touch with them. You need to secure the support of a supervisor before a university will consider your application. I sent out emails, briefly outlining my education background, my research project, and why I thought they might be a good fit for my work. Most asked for my proposal, and one requested to chat things through over the phone. After receiving initial feedback on my proposal, I narrowed my selections down to three universities where I felt my research could find a good home.

Next came the stressful bit: applying for a place and funding. But we’ll save that for another post.

Starting my PhD

How I made the brave decision to move hundreds of miles across the country in order to pursue something that I just couldn’t not do.

Starting a PhD is scary. Dedicating several years of your life (in my case seven) to one subject is more commitment than I have ever given to anything. But the moment I submitted my MA dissertation was the moment I knew I had to do it.

I had spent a few years working in fashion marketing after finishing a BA in Fashion Design. I was terrible at designing but loved writing my dissertation and thought I would continue enjoying writing about clothes. And I did. That is, until I became completely disillusioned with the fashion industry and its continual churn of newness and realised it wasn’t the clothes themselves I really wanted to write about. So I quit my job.

I enrolled on LCF’s MA Fashion Cultures and fell in love with the exploration of why we wear clothes. I immersed myself in cultural and social theory, and through the Fashion & Film pathway learnt about film concepts and global cinema as well as stardom and celebrity culture. After completing my dissertation, which explored teenage self-actualisation through film, I wrote a proposal for a research project that investigated the emergence of a New Women’s Media. After some careful consideration, and some snowy trips to visit universities in Norwich and St Andrews, I chose to study at the University of East Anglia. And here I am.

This blog is all sorts of things. It’s a record of what I imagine will be a long and eventful journey. It’s a chance for me to reflect on my research. Hopefully it might one day be a useful insight for someone thinking of starting a PhD. Heck, it might even be entertaining. But mostly it’s a personal reminder of the brave decision I made to move hundreds of miles across the country away from most of my friends and family in order to pursue something that I just couldn’t not do.