If you are looking for funding, one of the seven Research Councils might just be able to lend you a hand.
The Research Councils are the most important providers of postgraduate funding in the UK. Aside from the Arts and Humanities Research Council AHRC, theres the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).
Collectively, the aim of these government-funded organisations is to support the general development of various disciplines to deliver investment for society. This means that some of the £600 million-ish they spend annually goes towards providing general support for research for example, providing training or facilitating knowledge-sharing among academics and researchers.
All seven funding councils annually compile a reviewed list, published in the spring, of approved programmes on which they will offer studentships (the lists are available on the councils websites, which appear at the bottom of the page).
With the exception of AHRC and ESRC schemes, you should not apply directly to the Research Councils. Typically Research Councils allocate funding to individual departments and institutions, and you should apply directly to the department in which you want to study. The department then selects the best candidates.
Departments will usually begin advertising their studentships for the following October in October/November of the previous year. Prospects.ac.uk provides a gateway to the Research Councils studentship pages as soon as the lists are available.
Deadline for applications
Competition for Research Council funding is intense and if you are hoping to secure funding it is vital that you get your application in as soon as possible. Deadlines for the Research Councils differ but if its the ESRC or the AHRC you want some money from, you must have your applications submitted by the beginning of May 2007.
If you are banking on funding from the MRC, NERC, or the PPARC, there is a little more time, depending on the arrangements in university departments. The deadline for these three Councils is in July. Deadlines for the BBSRC and the EPSRC vary, so it is advisable to keep an eye on their websites.
As far as general requirements go, any students with a first class or 2:1 degree who have been full-time resident (ie not just as a student) in Great Britain and Northern Ireland for three years prior to their application are eligible for a full award. Students from Scotland can apply for one of a small number of studentships that can be taken at approved institutions anywhere in the UK. Students from outside the UK but within the EEA can apply for an award that covers tuition fees, but wont be able to receive a maintenance grant.
Research Council awards usually cover both course fees and a maintenance grant (usually referred to as a stipend). In almost all cases, applications for studentships are made through the institution at which you are studying, rather than to the Research Council itself.
Competition for Research Council funding is tough but if you meet the eligibility criteria you have as good a chance as anybody else of getting some. Get as much information as you can and make sure that you know the ins and outs of the requirements.
Dont make the mistake of thinking that because everyone is applying for Research Council studentships, you shouldnt bother. If everyone thought that, 10,000 or so awards would remain unclaimed every year.
Ria Weston is studying for a PhD in Physiology at the University of Manchester, which is being funded by a BBSRC award and sponsorship from AstraZeneca.
During my industrial placement year at Christies Hospital I was assigned to and completed a research project, which in turn inspired me to pursue a career in scientific research.
Another influencing factor was that the PhD included industrial sponsorship (AstraZeneca in my case), which enables me to gain experience working in a pharmaceutical research lab, whilst studying for my qualification. This allows me to build on my knowledge whilst gaining hands on experience in industry.
The Faculty of Life Sciences website advertised the PhD as a funded position, and after competing against other candidates at interview stage, I was awarded the position with funding. I receive a £12,000 per year Doctoral Training Award (DTA) from the BBSRC and £3,200 per year from a CASE award, which is given by AstraZeneca.
Students studying on the PhD Physiology course are also encouraged to take part in undergraduate practical classes, for which I get paid £12.50 per hour. Prior to this, during my first year, I worked part time in a bar, which involved working two weekday evenings and one day during the weekend.
Due to the nature of the course, I have greatly improved my scientific writing and presentation skills, as I am now expected to write and present to a certain standard, suitable for international publications and national conferences. I have also built on my ability to work independently, due to the need to plan and carry out my own experiments.
When I graduate, I hope to get a post-doctoral research position in either a university-based research lab or a pharmaceutical lab. I recently attended a PhD student careers day, where a number of career options were presented to me, such as scientific media, patent law, teaching, clinical trial management, medical writing, pharmaceutical research and biotechnology development.
Postgraduate study did not cost me anything due to funding I received, which covered my fees, living and transport costs. My advice to anyone considering postgraduate study is that they should always look into obtaining funding from governmental or industrial sources, as there are a number of funded positions available each year. I feel that any postgraduate study will enhance a persons CV, especially at an institution such as the University of Manchester.