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01/21/2022

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Tuomas Tahko

I understand that the question concerns PGR / PhD funding in particular (UKRI / AHRC also fund research projects for all level of academics).

It's important to know that the AHRC funding for PhD students is divided into geographical regions. For instance, my institution (Bristol) is part of the South West & Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW DTP) of 10 institutions. Each of the DTPs have their own peculiarities, but many of them require cross-institution supervision within the DTP.

Anyway, to answer the question about competitiveness, this also naturally varies across the DTPs. I can only speak to the SWW DTP. The success rate in the last round (the first fully open to international applicants) was quite low, perhaps in the range of 7%. So, these can be more competitive than some major research grants. However, philosophers did reasonably well in that round; the correct choice of supervisors matters a lot.

Regarding the second question, I don't think that being funded by a DTP has any real significance for the job market. What matters is that the PhD granting institution is reasonably good and, (again) even more importantly, that you are working with the right supervisor(s). But these considerations are often trumped by the fact that it's difficult to enter the job market if you can't afford to complete the PhD on a self-funded basis...

I would advise to direct these questions to the prospective supervisor(s), who will be in a much better position to answer regarding the specific DTP and circumstances.

UK PhD Holder

I'm from a European country which is not Britain but I did my PhD in the UK. I was funded by my UK university rather than the AHRC. I never got the impression that anyone cared at all about where the funding came from. What however did matter, according to most everyone I spoke to there, was that you were funded.

More generally, I always had the impression that a "real" PhD in the UK is one where you are funded. This is because funded PhDs are analogous to PhDs in other countries where the norm is that they are funded by default, so the de facto difference between non-UK PhDs and UK ones is that you have a one-step application process in other countries but a two-step application process in the UK (i.e. first you apply to get in, then for the funding, but you haven't *quite* got in until you get funding). If anything, doing a self-funded UK PhD rather risks making you look like you are buying yourself a degree.

One thing worth mentioning, however, is that UK PhD students are paid very poorly in comparison to PhD students in many other countries (ceteris paribus, e.g. unless they get extra grants on top of their funding). So if you are considering going to the UK in contrast with another country, it is very likely that the other country will have an edge there.

Counter-point

@UK PhD Holder - you are right about the application procedure, but, as someone who did not secure one of the funded places for my PhD and who worked part-time throughout to pay for it, I think you are wrong about the perceived 'realness' of the PhD. No-one cares how your PhD was funded, be it by AHRC, the uni itself, or self-funded.

Being funded might carry other benefits of course. More money to travel to conferences, more time to work on your research. But, I've never come across anyone that thought I'd 'bought' my PhD (thankfully - how horrible would a person have to be to think that?!? I did all the same work, while having a part-time job, and my PhD was examined the exact same way as those with funding).

Anna

I also did my PhD in the Uk. I agree with Counter point that an unfounded phd is the same as a funded one and that looking down in on the former is silly. But I also agree with uk phd holder that the perception is present among some people. However, the important point for the OP is that no one knows whether you are funded or not, even during your program, and certainly when you’re on the job market. An unfunded phd and a funded one look the same on the cv. Some people mention their funding on the Awards section of their CV but it’s nowhere near common enough that it’s absence will lead someone to infer that you weren’t funded (For instance, I had a good funding package but I don’t think I ever listed it on my CV)

Tuomas Tahko

I'll add to the above points that it really doesn't matter *who* funded your PhD. I also did my PhD in the UK and was partially self-funded and partially funded by private foundations. Back in the day, the full AHRC funding was only available to UK students anyway. But this has made absolutely no perceivable difference in my career.

UK doctoral student

Put it this way. Not a single DPhil student at Oxford has been awarded AHRC funding for the last 2 years.

In answer to your second question, and echoing UK PhD Holder, I do think it is somewhat important that you are able to attract at least some funding. Maybe not because an unfunded PhD is less "real", but because the "ability to attract external funding" is often an essential or desirable feature on job descriptions in the British academic job market. But it's not clear whether this could offset the reputation of your PhD-granting institution.

Counter-point

Perhaps the perception that unfunded PhDs are less 'real' is present in some. Thankfully, I've never come across these people. If it does exist, that's (yet) another example of how toxic and elitist our profession is.

Ability to attract external funding is important for job applications, but I've sat on a number of interview panels now and I've never heard someone try to use PhD funding as an example of an ability to attract external funding. Getting PhD funding is very different from getting project grants later in your career. Also, most entry-level posts (including permanent posts) only ask for the *potential* to attract external funding, so this can be shown independently of any PhD funding. I would agree with 'UK doctoral student' that place and getting the right supervisors are more important (especially given how short UK PhDs are, and the lack of US-style coursework requirements in most places).

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