Thursday, November 17, 2016

Q&A: Self-funding your PhD

It's time for another Q&A session. Some time ago, I received the following question from a reader:

Dear Dr. Lantsoght, I'd like to ask you about the funding issues relating to PhD studies. Some PhDs are advertised as 'for self-funded students only'. What does that actually mean? Is it referring to funds as in, I'lll have to pay for international fees by myself (a non-EU student looking to study in UK) or fund as in I need to scout for...a grant? bench fees and all? Thank you!!

While I'm not entirely sure about the UK, I'll reply your question from my perspective - having done graduate studies in the United States and the Netherlands.

First of all, self-funded PhDs in the Netherlands are extremely rare, but I know one person who was looking into the option. A PhD position in the Netherlands is traditionally combined with becoming an employee of the university, including salary and social security and all that. A Dutch PhD program is research-only, so no coursework. As a result, Dutch universities do not charge tuition and fees during the PhD - it really sits apart from Master's studies. So, if in the Netherlands, you want to bring funding for a PhD by self-funding your PhD or by bringing funds through a private company, you will need funds that will cover your salary, your office space, the university overhead, the use of lab equipment, the cost of your experiments... It gets extremely expensive really fast.

In the United States, a PhD program is the continuation of a Master's program, and the program will contain coursework, a qualifying exam, a proposal stage and then the dissertation and defense. In an American PhD program, you need to pay tuition and fees. You can either pay for these yourself, or you can find a position as a research or teaching assistant, which will cover these costs and will pay you a small stipend to pay rent and food. Again self-funding is rather rare, although I think it is maybe more related to the prestige that comes with getting a scholarship or teaching/research assistanceship. I've only once heard somebody mention that his parents funded his MSc and PhD, but I'm not entirely sure if that also meant that all the costs for using the lab and office space and so on had to be paid by the student.

As for the UK, I really can't tell - so I hope some of my UK-based readers might want to chip in on this topic? Has anybody self-funded their PhD? How was your experience?


  1. I self-funded in the UK but I was awarded my PhD 10 years ago and the situation was very different then. I wouldn't be able to afford it now, I don't think. More recent info here (read the comments, too):

  2. There are many many self-funded student in the UK, particularly in the Arts and Humanities as there is very little government/company funding for these. In the Sciences it is slightly better, but there are still people who self fund.

    To self fund you would need to pay tuition fees for the year, and of course your own accommodation etc.

    Sometimes people self-fund for a year hoping to get funding for the other few years of their PhD.

  3. Thank you for your input! In the Netherlands, I've never met anybody who self-funded, and in the USA only one person - but every country is different in that regard.