Types of PhD Funding: Scholarships, Fellowships, Assistantships & Grants

Funding is a concern when graduate students first consider entering a PhD program, but sometimes particular concerns about the types of PhD funding or source of funding for international students, American minorities, and women can loom over the decision. As it has been noted, financial support from a university in the form of a teaching or research assistantship is the most common source of funding for US citizens.

Other popular options include fellowships, traineeships, grants, or loans from governmental and private organizations including the student’s country of origin. Unfortunately, the pattern in the distribution of these forms of funding can be quite complex with no single option available to all students.

Furthermore, the extent to which students are offered financial assistance can vary between departments within a university, and between private and public institutions. Different factors influence this variance such as the financial health of a department (Funding Availability), Academic Discipline, Funding Source, and Research Area

Although this particular blog post will not exhaustively clarify the aforementioned issues, it is hoped that it will provide solid advice for investigating funding opportunities. You can see the related article section at the end of this post to see other related topics on Doctoral funding that can come in handy for you. Stay tuned!

Importance of Funding for PhD Candidates

Funding refers to the provision of financial resources, in this case for a research project, which is fundamental for its success. These resources can be obtained from various sources, including state funding or financial support from the commercial sector. The importance of funding cannot be overstated as it determines the scope and potential of the research. Let us look at some of the few importance of funding for PhD candidates.

  1. With quality funding, the chances of a research project achieving significant and valuable findings are greatly enhanced. While without adequate funding, the research project is highly likely to be constrained to a small-scale endeavor with limited or even no positive outcomes.
  2. Funding plays a critical role in materializing the lengthy 3-4 year research period, as it covers essential aspects such as tuition fees and provides a living wage in the form of a stipend to PhD students.
  3. With the financial stability provided by doctorate funding, PhD students can concentrate on their research, allowing for a comprehensive and fruitful exploration of their chosen field.
  4. The availability of funding can be a crucial influence on a student’s decision to undertake a PhD and also the likelihood of their completing it.

Related: Introduction to PhD Funding: Everything You Need to Know

Demystifying Types of PhD Funding

Types of PhD Funding 1
Types of PhD Funding: Scholarships, Fellowships, Assistantships & Grants

There are several different types of funding for PhD studies, which can be broadly categorized into:

  • Scholarships
  • Fellowships
  • Assistantships and
  • Grants

Many students often use a combination of these forms of funding during their studies. Before delving into the various types of funding opportunities that are available for doctoral students, it is important to explain the distinction between ‘funding’ and ‘finance’.

  • Funding refers to money that is given to you free of charge and is not required to be paid back (such as a ‘scholarship’ or a ‘grant’).
  • Finance refers to money that is borrowed, and is required to be paid back with interest (such as a ‘loan’).

As a general rule, it is not advisable to fund postgraduate study through borrowing, as the long-term benefits are unlikely to outweigh the financial costs. Let us discuss these four major different types of funding for PhD studies in detail to help doctorate candidates know which one to go for and how to go about it.

  1. Scholarships for PhD Funding

Scholarships are one of the different types of PhD funding available for doctoral students.  Scholarships are monetary gifts and they are often based on merit and not on financial need. They are considered as an investment in a student’s future. Usually, the students must maintain conditions to keep the scholarship. The school providing the scholarship will have the authority to decide if the student is meeting the terms to retain the scholarship or not. The scholarship is a sum of money which is awarded to the student as a result of an achievement, this can be purely based on academic success.

Other scholarships can be based on future success and proof of leadership qualities. In this scenario, they are likely to choose a student who has shown potential in various fields outside the education system. Scholarships are also awarded to students who have shown athletic abilities, and this is often called a bursary. Student-specific scholarships provide monetary support to a larger number of students from underrepresented groups.

The terms and conditions of a scholarship can constantly change. It is defined by legislation in the US or by schools in the UK. This award may be higher or lower at any time during the student’s time in education. Some scholarships are a one-off award and non-renewable. The money given to the student can stretch to cover the student’s tuition fees and help towards living costs or other expenses in education.

Types of Scholarships Available for PhD Candidates

Scholarships are usually given based on a set of criteria. It can be based on the academic achievement and financial needs of a student. Other criteria can be based on a student’s heritage, such as African American, American Indian, Hispanic, etc. Other scholarships can be based on extracurricular activities or community service provided by the student. For example, volunteer work is valued for some scholarships.

As scholarships are becoming increasingly available to PhD candidates, it is important to recognize that many different types of scholarships are on offer. This variety can make it difficult to understand the nature of the scholarship itself and the value of the work that may be required. For the sake of this post, we will discuss the three major types of scholarships available for PhD candidates.

  • Merit-based Scholarships
  • Need-based Scholarships
  • Field-specific Scholarships
Merit-Based Scholarships

A merit-based scholarship is awarded to students based on academic performance, extracurricular activities, and other specific skills. Universities often offer a significant number of merit scholarships to attract the most talented students. Normally, these scholarships do not require an additional application as all eligible students are automatically considered.

Need-based Scholarships

Need-based scholarships are awarded depending on the applicant’s financial state and their eligibility according to the needs-based criteria which is established by the awarding party. PhD students in all fields are eligible to apply. Each scholarship has different criteria as some are based on social background, where the student’s family resides or the student’s nationality or ethnicity. Others are based more on the individual circumstances of the student such as disability, other dependents or previous education.

These scholarships can also differ in the format in which they are paid to the student. Some may pay the fees directly to the institution on the student’s behalf, and then pay an allowance to the student if they are successful in gaining a place on a PhD. Other scholarships may pay the allowance directly to the student to cover fees and maintenance.

Field-specific Scholarships

Field-specific scholarships are awards offered by individual academic departments and programs. These scholarships are tailored to students within a particular field of study, such as the STEM field and this is where the largest number of PhD students receive their funding. Most often, when students are accepted to a program they are automatically considered for a scholarship of some kind.

It is important to be clear on the details of the offer so that students can understand if they are guaranteed funding for a certain number of years or if the offer is only for one year with the possibility of renewal. Students should also be aware of what is expected of them in return for the funding.

How to Find and Apply for Scholarships

  • Check with the faculty program advisor to see if there are any databases of funding opportunities that the university subscribes to, or if there are any departmental awards available.
  • The next step is to figure out what you are eligible for. This can depend on a variety of factors, including your citizenship, what country you are going to school in, and what stage of your program you are in.
  • Note the required documents and get them ready
  • Finally, check out how to apply on the application portal and submit your application either online or offline as may be requested by the funding party.

Related: Best Tips For Writing a Successful Funding Proposal

  1. Fellowships for PhD Funding

A fellowship is an award of financial support to a student pursuing graduate study. The most common fellowship award is known as a stipend, a cash award which helps subsidize a student’s living expenses. In addition, many fellowship awards assist students with other costs of education, such as tuition, required fees, and often the cost of purchasing health insurance.

Unlike a scholarship, which is generally an award of money for tuition, a fellowship carries the expectation that the student will complete a specific academic goal, such as writing a thesis, within a certain period of time. To this end, the most valuable aspect of most fellowship awards is that they allow students the opportunity to devote themselves fully to their studies, and the time and money provided by the fellowship serve to minimize other employment.

Fellowships are training awards that allow the completion of additional training in a particular academic field. Many fellowship applications are similar to the ones for academic training positions (e.g. postdoctoral research fellow, clinical/research training in a health profession) and the training is expected to lead to an academic or research career in the relevant field. As such, it is useful to think of finding a fellowship in a similar way to finding an academic job.

Major Fellowship Opportunities for PhD Students

Fellowships for PhD funding, while less common than scholarships or assistantships, can be a viable and prestigious opportunity for financial support. The major US-wide fellowship opportunities include the:

This is only a small selection of the fellowship opportunities available, and students are encouraged to research departmental, professional organizations, and private foundation fellowships in their specific field of study.

See Also: Top 10 Doctoral Funding Challenges and How to Overcome Them

  1. Assistantships for PhD Funding

Assistantships represent the most common form of support for graduate students at the master’s and doctoral levels, and they are available in almost all academic and professional areas. Assistantships are a type of aid, either financial or in kind, that requires students to work in their given field as an assistant as they earn their degree. There are various types of assistantships available which include:

1. Graduate Assistantships

Graduate Assistantships are general-purpose (need not be related to the student’s course of study) and are often, but not always, merit-based; they usually consist of about 10 hours of work per week. Graduate assistantships are an excellent form of support because they often provide professional development and training in your chosen field.

2. Teaching Assistantships

Teaching Assistantships require the student to teach or assist in teaching a course related to their field of study. Assistantships in the teaching field can be especially beneficial for your future academics, as they provide teaching experience and training under the supervision of the faculty.

3. Research Assistantships

Research Assistantships require students to engage in research projects that are directly related to their field of study.

The specific duties and qualifications for assistantships vary considerably from field to field and from one department or program to another. The type of work involved in an assistantship can range from cleaning glassware in a lab to teaching an undergraduate course. Primary motivators towards obtaining an assistantship are to gain experience and further one’s knowledge within their field of study. Requirements for being awarded an assistantship are usually just acceptance into a graduate program and are included with the acceptance letter for the school.

The award is often in the form of a tuition waiver and/or a monthly stipend. The tuition waiver will vary by school and can range from a small percentage to a complete waiver of tuition cost. Monthly stipend amounts also vary by school and by type of assistantship. Assistantship stipend payments are disbursed directly to the student and can be paid monthly, or on a less frequent basis, such as at the beginning or midpoint of the academic term.

Finding Assistantship Opportunities Within Your Field

To find graduate assistantship opportunities in your field, you will need to consult and draw on the network of academics and professionals that you have commenced building. Given that assistantships are usually funded from departmental or faculty budgets, the availability of assistantships will often not be widely publicized. Positions are often offered to students who are already known to academics in the form of “Would you be interested in doing a research assistantship with me next semester?”

Unless you have made an effort to get to know your professors and expressed your interest in securing an assistantship, you may never hear about potential opportunities. If an assistantship opportunity is not available, one could be created for you if you can persuade a professor of the value of employing your services.

If successful in obtaining an assistantship, remember that it is not uncommon for the terms and conditions of assistantships to be negotiated between the student and their employer. The number of hours worked and the rate of pay can sometimes be adjusted to better suit the needs of the student.

  1. Grants for PhD Funding

Grants are rewards of financial assistance, often in the form of a fellowship or scholarship, given by one organization for the benefit of a specific purpose. It is an award that provides financial support for research or study in a specific area. Such a reward is monetary and is used to fund a specific project. Generally, grants are funds that do not require repayment.

There are several types of grants designed to facilitate the completion of a PhD, and those who hold a grant have a better chance of completing a PhD within four years. Grants are accessed by an individual and provide a sum of money for a specific purpose. Funded by government, public sector agencies, private or non-profit organizations, grants are provided for students, welfare, economic and community development.

There are several grants available for PhD students specifically. The Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) offers a doctoral research award which provides $20,000 per year for 3 years. In selecting which students should receive the award, the institute looks for a candidate who can demonstrate academic excellence, research ability, and the capacity for independent thought.

Related: How to Write a Winning PhD Grant Proposal

Grant Application Process and Key Considerations

  1. Key considerations for applying to grants are to always ensure eligibility criteria are met. This may sound obvious but can avoid a lot of wasted time and effort on an application which is unlikely to be successful.
  2. Next, it is vital to find out the application deadline and whether it is flexible or fixed. If it is a fixed deadline, it is worth working backwards to plan out a schedule leading up to the submission date so there is no rush towards the end and the application can be thoroughly checked. If the deadline is flexible, avoid the common mistake of delaying the application. Always take sufficient time to prepare a good application.

This guide on types of PhD funding has taken the approach of breaking down the process of funding PhD research with the main focus on scholarships, fellowships assistantships and grants. This guide has mainly focused on full-time PhD candidates, who often get preferential treatment over their part-time counterparts. However, this does not mean that part-time students cannot apply for funding. It is just less frequent, and the values are often adjusted to reflect the longer time taken to complete the course.



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