I have already completed my undergraduate and masters studies in continental Europe (engineering/natural sciences, very applied field) and am currently applying for PhD positions starting autumn 2023.

Most of the research projects I am interested are advertised as being funded by private partners. As far as I am concerned one is still expected to pay fees for the PhD despite working on developing technology for these parties. I find this very odd first of all, this is very different to continental Europe, where even master thesis students are commonly paid by the industry partner benefiting from the intellectual property.

I am still interested in applying at two UK universities though as I would find this academically interesting. I have seen there is some competitive funding schemes one can apply to (scholarships by the university), also covering the horrendous study fees for EU students. However, for these one needs to apply together with the potential supervisor.

So I am wondering whether it is appropriate when writing the potential supervisor to mention straight away that one is only interested in the position if an application for funding is successful? I am also wondering how this will be seen by the academic and whether this is uncommon. Taking debt to work on these projects is not an option for me, given offers at other locations where one receives a full salary.

  • A note of big caution: I find this very odd first of all, this is very different to continental Europe you will not travel very far, if you keep on comparing an hypotetical situation favorable to you with the potential situation you are ending up into. What you think will transpire when you talk with PhD advisors, even if you are not saying it, and no one will be amused by a candidate like that.
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 12, 2022 at 10:12
  • Funding is essential for a PhD program. Generally, you apply for funding together and supported by the supervisor. Moreover, when searching for a PhD position, normally, the supervisor will know through which channels you can be funded. A PhD student has a salary and does not need to pay the industrial partners. It is the other way around... Please check your sources of information carefully and choose wisely. Sep 12, 2022 at 11:44
  • What you think will transpire when you talk with PhD advisors, even if you are not saying it, and no one will be amused by a candidate like that. Yes I am aware of this,. Actually the very reason why I asked this question to begin with, to make sure I do not upset/annoy anyone. @EarlGrey
    – user157409
    Sep 12, 2022 at 13:56

2 Answers 2


As an academic at a UK university in my experience it would be more unusual to have someone contact me regarding a PhD position who didn't need funding. But I think it's always good to be clear about this in the first contact email.

However, to differentiate yourself from others who are also seeking a funded position it would be great to have researched scholarships which you believe you would qualify for and identify these in your email. This would certainly get my attention. Also make sure to make it clear why the person you are contacting is the right supervisor for you. For example, by noting how their recent research (read some of their papers) is applicable to what you want to study.

There can sometimes be internal funding opportunities available which aren't advertised (yet) that a supervisor could access for the right student. So making a good impression in your contact email is important.


I think it is reasonable to show commitment, i.e. you will do your best to win the scolarship, as well as leaving the door open with the advisor to co-operate to obtain alternative fundings.

You should ask yourself: do I need the fundings to work with this advisor or do I need this advisor to get the fundings?

Keep in mind that none of the questions is intrinsically right or wrong, but you should aim at very different PhDs advisors depending on your choice: if you have a great idea to develop independently, you need the advisor to get the fundings (any advisor, actually, to be more precise), if you like the group and the problem tackled by potential advisor X, you need the fundings to work with the advisor (any fundings, actually, to be more precise, it may be that the advisor and you are able to put altogether a patchwork of funds ... ).

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