One of the defining features of my PhD journey is that I chose to self-fund my studies. I know, I know, who is crazy enough to slog it out for 60+ hours a week, sacrifice weekends, family events, free time, leisure reading (and dare I say it… sanity?), AND choose to pay for the privilege? Not many people I have since found out, and for very good reason: it’s not easy! Self-funding your studies (and in my case fundraising from grants and other sources to raise the money I need to do my research) seems to be a topic among postgrads which stimulates quite a debate. When I tell other students that I self-funded my work, the response is mixed, but the most common reaction tends to be along the lines of, “Oh wow, I could never have done that!”. I disagree. In fact, you could have done that, if you were really motivated. I read a great quote once, which said “If you want something badly enough, you make arrangements. If you don’t want it badly enough, you make excuses.” It couldn’t be truer, and that’s why I made my PhD happen by raising the money I needed to do it.
Self-funding your PhD isn’t easy, but it’s a unique experience that will equip you with a whole range of skills that you may not have otherwise developed. However it obviously comes with many costs (financial and otherwise). So here is my list of the pros and cons of self-funding. This list is not exhaustive, but I hope it gives you some idea whether or not you want to start on this journey.
As you can see from the list above, self-funding your PhD is quite simply the best idea ever! Or is it?
I hope the above has provided some insight into the rocky road of self-funding, and please take my mock cynicism with a shovel of sodium chloride. It’s a journey and a struggle, but one which repays you greatly with feelings of achievement, self-confidence and additional skills that you may not have otherwise been able to develop. In hindsight, I recognise the valuable skills and experience that I gained through the endless hours of grant writing, report writing and presenting information to funders, but I also acknowledge the weeks and months of time I spent doing those things that other (funded) students would have been b̶r̶o̶w̶s̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶f̶a̶c̶e̶b̶o̶o̶k̶ dedicating to their PhD work. Choosing to self-fund has shown me that I can successfully launch, run and operate a field research project independently, I’ve learnt an incredible amount and it’s given me more confidence in pitching ideas, selling myself and having the confidence to stick with my convictions.
So, if I had my time again would I choose to self-fund? That’s not an easy question to answer. Instead, I will turn to a man who had a much more elegant way with words than I, and leave you with a few modified verses of Frank Sinatra’s 1969 hit, “My Way”:
– Frank Sinatra, 1969
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way
For what is a PhD student, what has he† got
If not his own conviction, then he† has naught
To say the things he† truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
Yes, it was my way
†Don’t sue me for upholding gender inequality in science, these are Fred’s words, not mine. Blame him.