A PhD studentship is a highly competitive scholarship for Doctoral students, guaranteeing them a partially or fully funded place on an often pre-determined PhD project

Who awards PhD studentships?

PhD studentships are most commonly awarded by Research Councils UK, in the form of Research Council grants, and individual universities, in the form of scholarships and bursaries.

However, many professional bodies, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), and The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), also fund Doctoral research in collaboration with universities nationwide. The same applies to many charities, foundations and trusts, such as:

  • Action Medical Research;
  • Alzheimer's Society;
  • British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG);
  • British Heart Foundation (BHF);
  • Cancer Research UK;
  • Diabetes UK;
  • Rosetrees Trust;
  • The Leverhulme Trust;
  • Wellcome Trust.

Cooperative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE), meanwhile, can be part-funded by any non-academic body. These four-year PhDs require the student to work at the organisation for at least three months.

How much can I receive?

Many PhD studentships, including those offered by universities, professional bodies, or charities, foundations and trusts, provide three years of funding paid at a similar rate to the Research Council grant:

  • Fees-only studentship - These cover a student's tuition fees, plus any associated project and training costs.
  • Full studentship - These add a non-repayable, tax-free maintenance grant known as a 'stipend'. This is currently worth a minimum of £14,296, and can be used towards living costs.

For example, a Bournemouth University PhD studentship includes tuition fees for three years and a maintenance grant of £14,000 per year, plus associated costs such as fieldwork and conference attendance.

However, you should be aware that some PhD studentship recipients are required to teach undergraduates. While this provides an excellent opportunity to gain vital employability skills, it can also be hugely time-consuming. You must be satisfied that tutoring won't negatively affect the quality of your research before accepting your place.

Is my programme eligible for a PhD studentship?

PhD studentships can start at any time of the year, but most begin in September, October or January. Some institutions have fixed timescales; all PhD studentships at Ulster University, for example, begin in September.

Certain types of PhD, for example Professional Doctorates, may not be eligible for a PhD studentship. The same applies to part-time or distance learning options.

Am I eligible?

Most PhD studentships demand that applicants have a Bachelors degree at 2:1 or above, plus an appropriate Masters degree.

Those who already possess a PhD are often ineligible, while some PhD studentships are limited to students fitting certain criteria; for example, from a disadvantaged background, from a certain country or of a certain ethnicity.

While most PhD studentships are open to all European Union (EU) nationals, non-EU students may find that securing funding is much more difficult.

How do I apply for a PhD studentship?

The application process can be lengthy, and competition is always fierce.

Some PhD students will be automatically considered for financial support once they're accepted by an institution; however, many have to make separate applications. These are usually made directly to the university - even for those studentships from Research Councils UK, professional bodies, or charities, foundations and trusts.

You'll typically be asked for your PhD application form, a research proposal, a cover letter and your references. After the institution has reviewed your application, you may be invited to interview.

Throughout this process, the university will scrutinise what you'll bring to the institution. Applicants at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), for example, are judged on:

  • the quality of their research project and how it connects with research currently being undertaken at the institution;
  • their calibre and academic qualifications;
  • whether the research can contribute towards the Research Excellence Framework (REF), meaning that interdisciplinary research will be preferred.

How do I increase my chances of getting a PhD studentship?

You can improve your chances of success by:

  • asking a friend or family member to proofread your application;
  • carefully choosing your referees, ensuring that they'll speak positively of you;
  • discussing your draft application with a relevant academic;
  • explaining how your work will be unique and innovative;
  • following the funding body's guidance regarding word counts and formatting.

What are the alternative methods of PhD funding?

If you're unsuccessful, there are several other forms of PhD funding that you could consider. These include: