10 Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs Nobody Knows About

Struggling for PhD funding? Let us look at some Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs Nobody Knows About in this article. Traditional funding sources such as federal and private grants, teaching and research assistantships, continue to become more and more competitive. A recent article in The New York Times highlighted student loans as an option, but with interest rates exceeding 6% and many students carrying undergraduate debt, it is untenable to finance a doctoral degree with loans.

Before throwing in the towel and reaching for a Master’s degree instead (sometimes unfunded, sometimes not a terminal degree), students should continue to seek out unorthodox funding sources, such as these Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs that may carry less prestige but can often be less competitive, less featured yet more lucrative, and cater to a niche market on the landscape of funding in higher education.

Why is PhD Funding a Challenge?

PhD students typically have trouble funding their courses. A PhD costs more than a regular degree because of the course length and research costs. There is a tight job market at the moment and more students are finding it necessary to have a stronger academic record regardless of the career they wish to enter. PhD study is, for many, a decisive first step on the academic career ladder.

The issue of rising costs and fewer opportunities for income during a PhD in some cases is resulting in students considering part-time study. Yet with the part-time jobs, even then PhD funding may be much more difficult to meet. There have been cases of students embarking on a PhD yet quitting due to financial difficulty. One common issue is access to a loan for postgraduates. High street banks offer little in terms of feasible loans and the university-based stipends are inconsistent and will not cover the course duration.

High fees for international students can also provide a problem. With the increase in overseas PhD students it is clear that a global platform for education is now more popular, yet the fees are often a lot higher and thus funding is more necessary. It is those students who have no funding or who purely and simply must have a PhD, who struggle the most and the first step in their struggle is cost.

The good news is that over half of full-time PhD students do not have to pay fees because they find paid work as a research assistant or find a job teaching. Usually, funding will be provided if a student has been accepted onto a PhD and sometimes this can be negotiated. If you are a first class student or a 2.1 equivalency you may well receive funding from Research Councils, universities or charitable organisations.

Top 10 Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs Nobody Knows About

10 Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs Nobody Knows About
Photo credit: istockphoto
10 Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs Nobody Knows About

Have you been applying for fellowships and the outcome has never been positive? This could be due to very high competition for the top PhD fellowship programs. But there is a relief right now, we have made a list of 10 Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs you may not have known about before now.

Now is the time to mention the fellowships that are the hidden gems; the fellowships that are targeted to specific minority groups; or the fellowships that are tied to a very specific area of study. These fellowships offer full funding to PhD students. I emphasize the full funding because many fellowships only cover partial tuition or research costs.

  1. The Andrew Mellon Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Completion Fellowships

The Andrew Mellon Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Completion Fellowship is the first on the list of Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs and is awarded to advanced graduate students who are in the final stages of writing their dissertations. The program supports a year of research and writing to help advanced graduate students in the humanities and related social sciences in the last year of PhD dissertation writing.

This program is aimed at students who have completed all requirements for their programs, except the writing of the dissertation, and whose work is of the highest quality. The total award of up to $25,000 includes a stipend plus additional funds for university fees and health insurance. This fellowship must be held for a minimum of nine months and a maximum of twelve months during the academic year.

  1. P.E.O. International Peace Scholarships

The P.E.O. Sisterhood is an international women’s organization with a focus on providing educational opportunities for female students worldwide. The P.E.O. International Peace Scholarships provide up to $10,000 for women from other countries who are pursuing graduate study in the United States or Canada. The maximum amount awarded to a student is $12,500, which can be used in the United States or Canada for a year of study.

If you are awarded the scholarship and decide to stay for a second year of study, you can reapply for the scholarship and may be granted additional funds if your circumstances remain the same. The maximum amount awarded to a student is $10,000, which can be used to pay the costs of tuition, books, fees, insurance, transportation, room and board as it pertains to your education.

This scholarship requests that you prove your intent that your education will be used to further international understanding and friendship. The eligibility criteria are limited to females, but there is no restriction on age and the scholarship is not based on financial need. A student must be a national of a country other than the United States or Canada and hold a valid passport from that country. She must have a 4-year bachelor’s degree and be enrolled in a graduate program in the United States or Canada.

  1. The Ford Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowships for Minorities

This one may not be categorized among the Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs, but due to its offer, we have included it. The dissertation research fellowships provide financial support to doctoral students who are in the stages of conducting research and writing their dissertation. Funded by the Ford Foundation, the fellowships were established to increase the presence of under-represented minorities. Funding is targeted at minority students in an array of fields in the natural and social sciences, as well as in the humanities.

The institute will award $25,000 to stay open for 1 year. This small stipend is designed to meet the many differing needs of students as they complete their thesis work. Awarded to individuals of superior academic records who possess the ability to articulate well and who are working on a beneficial project. This opportunity has been sought out by many and has had an increase in application numbers in recent years. The program is extremely flexible and allows for deferment of the award within a two-year period.

  1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate and Global Change Fellowship

NOAA Climate and Global Change (CGC) Fellowships have been awarded for research in several scientific areas that contribute to NOAA’s mission. These fellowship awards create opportunities for PhD graduates to engage in scientific research focused on the understanding of Earth’s climate system and the challenging problems and decision-making processes associated with climate variability and change. The salary is $57,500 in the first year and $60,000 for the second year.

The CGC Fellowship seeks to train the next generation of researchers in the Earth system sciences by providing for advanced study in the fields of global and climate change. The program is designed to encourage the recruitment and training of interdisciplinary scientists from a variety of fields in the oceanic, atmospheric, and related Earth system sciences.

  1. The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans is targeted at immigrants and the children of immigrants, to help them maximise their contributions to US society, culture or their academic field. The fellowship provides up to $90,000 in support to immigrants or the children of immigrants who are pursuing graduate study in the United States. Either the applicant or the applicant’s parents must have been born outside of the US.

Successful candidates are expected to display a commitment to the values and practices of the American society including a willingness and ability to make a meaningful contribution to the nation. It is expected that the selected fellows will have a significant impact on the United States through their research.

  1. The American Association for University Women (AAUW) International Fellowships

You may have heard or learnt about the AAUW international fellowship, hence it is assumed it is not one of the Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs. Well, you are right, to some extent, but how many people are aware of it? The AAUW has a long and impressive record in promoting education for women from around the globe. This fellowship is a great opportunity for those who are looking for the chance to complete their first doctoral degree or find the funds to pay their tuition for further studies.

Applicants must be recommended by a US institution. Institutional representatives will assist in determining if their local deadlines are earlier than the Aauw deadline for submitting the required documents to the institution as an institutional representative so that the applicant can be considered for nomination. While these fellowships may not offer the highest stipend, the experience of the fellowship is well worth the application.

  1. The Henry Luce Foundation American Roots Fellowship

This fellowship is often competitive and several students across the country apply annually, yet many miss the opportunity to consult with the Foundation because they are unaware of it. Luce scholars enjoy a mutually supportive community and become integral members of the Luce intellectual network. Several fellows have gone on to successful careers in the museum world as well as academia.

Luce is very open to helping students determine how a fellowship might be useful to them and their project, and how their project meets the criteria for a Luce fellowship. This fellowship offers up to $50,000 to PhD candidates at a US university to support historical and archival research on significant topics in American art.

  1. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) Dissertation Completion Fellowship in Translational Research

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) is another excellent source of funding in the amount of $17,500 with a possibility of up to two years of renewable support. The BWF awards these fellowships to predoctoral students who are in the research phase of their PhD training and postdoctoral fellows. The objective of the BWF is to prepare and support future leaders in translational research, a scientific approach that is focused on the development and rapid implementation of new diagnostics and treatments to improve patient health.

With no guidelines on the research topic, students can design a project that interests them and is relevant to their field of study. This point is significant as funded research leaves a nice chunk of preliminary data to work on for the future, and also makes for an excellent resume booster when a newly trained doctor is looking for employment. These fellowships are open to citizens and permanent residents of the United States and Canada at degree-granting institutions that are AAHC member institutions.

  1. The Whiting Foundation Fellowships

This fellowship is aimed at doctoral candidates in the last year of the PhD in all humanities disciplines. The award is intended to replace the candidate’s need to teach or work outside the home in the final year and facilitate the writing of the dissertation. This is an $18,000 stipend to be used for the candidate’s last year of work on the dissertation. Easier to quantify in that it provides a living stipend for one academic year, this type of fellowship is what the Whiting Foundation has been traditionally known for.

The Whiting Foundation supports talented and promising humanities scholars who are in the final stages of their doctoral work. The Whiting Foundation Fellowships are intended to further the development of scholars and to help ensure the continued contribution to scholarship and teaching in the humanities.

  1. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA)

The last on the list of our 10 Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs Nobody Knows About is the NIH-NRSA. This is a wonderful fellowship that allows a student to be associated with and funded by the NIH while still retaining maximum freedom to select their own scientific research area.

This PhD funding opportunity is a very established one and there are actual “how to” and success stories articles written specifically from the NRSA experience. This is a 0-7 year award which is automatically renewed every single year provided the student is making satisfactory progress, which means an awardee struggles less with continuous applications and uncertainty. A pre-doctoral awardee receives a full 2 years of funding.

At the moment it is a little less clear how much post-doctoral funding an incoming grad student can receive; historically it was also 2 years. One common thing about this fellowship is, that a student supported by an NRSA feels and acts as though they are a fully employed scientist, not a student. This distinction can be visibly seen between students receiving NRSA funding and others.


It’s tough out there for a PhD student because there’s never quite enough money, and much of what there is comes with tight restrictions. However, there are alternative funding options even if they are a little difficult to find. Here we have discussed a few of the Unpopular PhD Fellowship Programs Nobody Knows About.

These fellowships are likely to be most useful to those with minimal financial commitments and who are pursuing a career in academia in a subject that appeals to the foundation providing the award. If you do manage to get a few hundred or thousand dollars that can be used at your discretion without too many strings attached, you may avoid university teaching and have a more productive summer, and that has to be worth something.


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