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I am a second year PhD student in Australia in the field of preclinical medicine.

It has always been the norm for my PhD that I myself apply for grants/stipends for my salary so that I can afford to live whilst doing the PhD. Last year I had two scholarships which just about covered the cost of living for me and my family. This year it looks like I've lost half of that, possibly coronavirus-related, which means I am likely to be losing about $20K AUD a year on my outgoing cost of living, but I will still have the other grant money coming in. I could also work part time but that would be detrimental to the PhD.

My supervisor has always been very supportive in me applying for grants and he is extremely forthcoming with money for any consumables, expenses or project costs at all, but never directly for salary. For salary I am expected to just apply for grants as I go and as and when they come up. Sometimes I get them, sometimes I don't. I have one from a funding body which is potentially for the whole of my PhD but not 100% secure after year 2 and not enough on its own.

I was also instrumental in writing and winning a $100K AUD grant for my supervisor which was a project (not salary) grant, as stipulated by the funding body. My supervisor is great in many ways but I do feel that he is getting a lot out of me being his PhD student.

  1. Is it normal to be applying for the money you need to live off 'on the fly' like this as you go through your PhD?

  2. If I end up with a deficit because I could not get funding for a certain period of my PhD, is it legitimate to ask my supervisor to pay me some salary funding out of his funds for the project, which seem to be fairly extensive. He does not have to pay his own salary because he is on a permanent contract with the university who pay it directly.

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  • These questions (both "if it's normal here" and "what are funding options") have a lot of specifics that only people in your institution would know; ask your supervisor or some other respected/experianced colleagues.
    – Peteris
    Apr 19, 2020 at 23:08
  • So the is it normal is really referring to whether it is "normal" across the world and in other institutions for a PhD student to be in such an uncertain position. I have been told that in many places, there is a stipend attached to the PhD programme and I would like to get some opinions about this. It feels unusual that the PhD could fall through at the drop of a hat because funding is being gathered moment to moment. The second part is not asking specifics of what funding is available to me but rather whether others feel that it is appropriate to ask my supervisor to fill a new funding gap.
    – croc7415
    Apr 20, 2020 at 9:13
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    As a physics PhD student in the UK, this situation sounds very abnormal. I have never heard of someone having to constantly apply for grants to support themself. Were you aware of the situation when you accepted this PhD place?
    – astronat
    Apr 20, 2020 at 10:16
  • I was aware of the situation, but I managed to obtain two scholarships for a fair amount of salary initially, the subject was 100% what I was looking for and I had (and still do have) a good relationship with my supervisor. He was (fairly) honest that I'd be looking for grants where I could get them and he's perhaps a bit gung ho and is the sort of guy who just says we'll find something don't worry. The achievements of the PhD are coming in pretty well. There's more I could say but I guess the point is that it wouldn't be rude if I went to him and said look can you cover me for the deficit!
    – croc7415
    Apr 20, 2020 at 10:59
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    @croc7415 - Your edit provides an answer to the question. It is fine to answer your own questions, so I'd suggest you remove the edit and put it up as an answer directly.
    – Jeroen
    Dec 10, 2021 at 8:50

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I am now coming to the end of my PhD so I know a little more about this. It turns out that it is considered abnormal to do a PhD without funding secured (i.e. applying for funding as you go and hoping for the best). My PhD was a success and I managed to win enough prize money and funding to more-or-less break even on the cost of outgoings. My advice based on my experience (embarking on a PhD without the full cost of outgoings covered for the whole project, and without any funding coming from my supervisor) is that it can be done, as long as you accept the pros and cons of this approach. Ultimately the risk is that you don't win enough funding to keep afloat, so you should be prepared for what you will do if that happens. You should also publish everything as you go, because at least if the PhD falls through due to lack of funds you will have your publications and these have value. You also have to appreciate the dynamic between you and your supervisor will be different if they are effectively getting your labour for free (i.e. they or their lab are not paying you). If you want to be free to do what you want and run your project however you want, this model will swing in your favour but you have to be careful you don't get exploited. So it depends on your circumstances and what you want. Personally, I'd do it like this again, because I was a freer agent than most PhD students. However, it was significantly more stressful feeling like the PhD might fall through at any moment.

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