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First, I am aware that there are already several posts about self-funding a PhD. I'm posting this question, however, for the following reasons:

  1. Many threads are mostly about US schools, whereas the PhD I'm considering is in the UK.

  2. Also it is sometimes unclear what exactly counts as 'self-funding' - if I can teach to earn some income, am I still self-funded? Again, I understand that in North America, normally an offer of admittance includes a TA contract in some form, while this is not the case in the UK. So an unfunded offer in the US might look quite different from in the UK. Also, I do have funding to pay the full tuition fees and teaching is available, so at least I won't go into debts.

  3. Many questions are about PhDs in science and engineering, while my field is in social sciences/humanities.

  4. A lot of questions were about how a self-funded PhD is perceived both by funded peers and after completion in the job market. This however is not my main concern.

  5. I have to decide between a job offer and a PhD, rather than between two different PhDs one funded and another unfunded, for example.

I am not wealthy, but I can manage by combining teaching with family support for the next 3-4 years. The average income from teaching for TAs in the UK was about £400 per month in 2012, so while it might be slightly more than that now, it's certainly not great. It's just enough to survive on (combined with family help). The university I was accepted at is a non-Oxbridge Russell group university. My potential supervisor has been very happy to help me with scholarship applications and answer my questions. Also the fit in terms of research interests is great.

I also have a decent job offer in the public sector in the UK. I could take the offer and quit in October to start the PhD, but I'd rather not do that because it'd be somewhat unethical to take the offer knowing that I'll quit in a few months. The job itself is unrelated to my academic interests, nor is there any way I can come back to academia through this job. Of course, I could stay in this job and reapply for full-funding although there is no guarantee that I'll get any funding at all, even the tuition waiver I have, next time. In any case, if I accepted this job offer, it wouldn't be because I am enthusiastic about the job itself; it'd simply be so I can make a living until I can do a PhD. My career goals might change and new opportunities might arise, but for now I am set on staying, or at least trying to stay, in academia.

What advice would you give to someone in my situation? What I tell myself is that I'm relatively young (early 20s), so investing in my goals at this point in my life is not terribly foolish. I would have felt a bit differently if I was, say, 30. But I do feel a little foolish to turn down the job offer. After all, a year of work experience can't be that bad even though the work itself is not terribly interesting. Should I take it, turn down the funding offer, and reapply?

Edit: My question is: Assuming that my goal is to stay in academia, should I take the partial funding offer and do the PhD this year, or decline this funding, take the job offer, and reapply until I get full funding?

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    What makes you think your chances of getting full funding will be better next year? – Dawn Jun 14 at 18:13
  • Hi Dawn, I don't in fact think so, and that's one of the reasons for taking the partial funding offer. This however was the first time I applied for PhD funding, and I got to learn how to write a research proposal that has a chance of securing funding. So probably my chances are slightly better next year. – Pingupingu Jun 15 at 8:43
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  1. "self-funding" just means you're responsible for paying that part, whether it's fees or your day-to-day living costs. They don't care whether that's from part-time work or previously earned money, or from getting one of the other scholarships you're applying for.

    • I will add as a caveat they may ask for proof of your ability to self fund, but since you say you have savings / family support and the dept itself is offering teaching hours this shouldn't be an issue
  2. PhD funding in the art/social sciences/humanities is difficult to obtain in the UK, getting full funding will be eye of the needle stuff from what I get told

  3. I've never seen a CV where the phd funding source was asked for, I don't mention it (EPSRC) on mine

  4. Can't make that choice for you. I can say I gave up a job for a phd (less money) and my circumstances sound similar - i.e. young and no family to support.

One question I have is what is the situation with tuition fees? At one point you mention having a tuition fee waiver - is that a full waiver or part? It makes a difference, if you had a full phd scholarship in the uk you'd expect your tuition fees paid and a 15K annual stipend. If you're say 50% funded, you'll get a 7.5k stipend which is tight (depending on where your university is, I did mine 20 years ago and the full stipend was then only 5K :-( ). Anyways, if the tuition fee waiver is only partial, they will expect you to pay half of it, that would be typically around half of 4K (2k). If that comes out of your half stipend, you're down to 5.5k - or what I was struggling on 20 years ago. Your 400 a month for teaching might buoy you up a bit, but bear in mind this will be term-time only. So this is the economic question. If you can afford that, then it's down to where you really feel you want to be - getting a phd or working. Don't overlook the fact social life is usually better at university - a big part of what made me go back.

Also re: the job, if your part-funded phd would start in october, well you'd be handing your notice in as soon as you arrived if it's a typical 3 month notice period. I'll hazard a guess though that they have a probationary period for new starters (most places do) so they could wash their hands of you at next to no notice at any time in the next 6 months or so. And guess what, you can do the same. My attitude is, if that's the case you might as well take the 3 months earnings.

  • Hi mgraham, thanks for your suggestions. I don't have to pay any fees but there's no stipend either. You are probably right about the job - I could have just quit after the first 3 months and this might have been acceptable since it's a probational period and I could simply say that it was not what I was looking for - but I had to give my response yesterday and I said no. I wasn't exactly hoping that people would make the decision for me, but listening to other people's perspectives helps! – Pingupingu Jun 20 at 13:29
  • ah, so you're doing the phd this year then? – mgraham Jun 21 at 13:43
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    Yes, that's what I decided. The prospect of waiting for another year and reapplying put me off taking the job. Applying for PhD funding was itself a full-time thing and I realised I don't want to repeat the experience! – Pingupingu Jun 21 at 14:47

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