The path to doctoral funding is littered with Google searches, open calls, and endless talks with friends, colleagues, and contacts. So what’s the key to finding and securing funding? PhD fellow Ayla Bonfiglio shares her own backstory, along with her (proven) tips for success.
The doctoral candidate is at a stage in his or her academic career when early career scholarships are not yet applicable and larger-scale projects with core funding are inappropriate and likely to be unrealistic. What remains are funding opportunities tied to existing projects, meaning that one’s dissertation’s scope is predefined; highly competitive fieldwork-specific scholarships; smaller institutional bursaries; and lesser-known competitive funding opportunities through private foundations.
While there are independent blog posts and development officers that provide internet links and information on grants, it is difficult to wade through all of the information that is out there, to find the opportunities that one truly qualifies for and that meets one’s own research needs and timeline. For research involving significant multi-sited fieldwork, like my own, it can be more of a challenge to know where to look and what institutions to approach to find funds, given the greater amount of funding required and the prolonged timeline within which one must work.
During the second and third years of my PhD research, I will have to conduct approximately 300 semi-structured interviews with refugees in higher education programmes in Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa. This requires extended stays and complex logistical planning in each of these locations. Local research assistants and translators must be hired, local institutions must be affiliated with, respondents must be compensated for their transporation costs, and national ethical review boards must be applied to and all of their procedures must be followed, to name a few. All of these steps or measures require funds.
At the start of this year, I was awarded 2,700 euros in funding through the Limburg University Fund (SWOL), Maastricht University’s fund for challenging projects which contribute to “an enterprising knowledge economy”. Shortly thereafter, I was awarded a grant of 33,000 euros from the Porticus Foundation, which was recommended to me over coffee with a friend and former colleague who was also searching for funds. (Incidentally, Porticus, an international charitable foundation that supports projects related to education, society, faith and care, had not shown up in any of my Google searches).
Through this ongoing process, and from past experience at the University of Oxford’s International Migration Institute (a project-based research institute where we, as researchers, had to raise our funds) I have learned that, first, one shouldn’t get discouraged over the course of this challenging and seemingly chaotic search. Perhaps similar to the search for employment, one may send out numerous speculative emails or applications, and for every 10, five are replied to, and of those five, perhaps .5 is successful – since one rarely gets the full amount requested.
Second, being systematic and multidimensional in my quest for funds was crucial. I kept track of every institution I applied to, what sector they belonged to and how I found them, the gaps in my searches and potential ways to fill those gaps, the type of application required, when I needed to follow up, etc.
Lastly, sifting through information on the internet was not enough and, at times, deflated my confidence. Meeting colleagues, supervisors, faculty members, and acqaintances in my larger network, either in person or over Skype, and giving presentations and getting feedback about my work at available fora, opened my search to new avenues and gave me invaluable insight. Thank you to those people! If you are reading this and just starting this process – good luck! If you have already gone through it – would you care to share your experiences?
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