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Here is my story. I am an international student intending to pursue a PhD program in Australia. I have found a potential supervisor. I showed him lots of enthusiasm about how I really wanted to work with him. He agreed to supervise me and encouraged me to apply for a university scholarship, and I did. The result will be out in a month.

However, recently, my family has gone into a financial problem. It probably makes it impossible for me to do research there without financial assistance. He won an Australian Research Council grant last year.

Should I inform him about my financial situation before I receive the result? Should I ask him about potential sources of money to cover my living costs, e.g., RAship?

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    Hi! Could you please add a few more details; in particular, would this PhD be a paid position?
    – Stef
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 11:57
  • As an Australian with a PhD I was under the impression you cannot enroll in a PhD program that isn't funding. In general though the standard PhD scholarship isn't a lot of money relative to the cost of living in most Australian cities. Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 23:41
  • You can get more than the standard in many cases (particularly if you're an Australian citizen which obviously isn't the case here), and often a top-up as well (the CSIRO for example often awards top-ups). Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 23:43

5 Answers 5

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Never enroll in a PhD program if it is not paying you a living wage.

It is very unlikely that an Australian university will allow you enroll in a PhD without getting paid. Check housing costs! The pay will be terrible compared to other jobs in Australia.

The time to discuss your financial needs is after you receive an offer. There is always a (very small) chance they will offer more than you need if you have not told them.

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    This this this. Not only for your sake, but for the sake of all other aspiring PhD candidates. A PhD is a job and should be remunerated as such. Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 9:11
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While it is difficult to predict the outcome or response, it would probably be a mistake to withhold the information if it affects the likelihood that you can begin studies.

Be careful how much information you reveal about your family, though, but make it clear that you will need something like full funding, no matter the source, to begin studies.

It might not make any difference, depending on how much say they have in funding or what funding sources they might control. But it at least gives them information they need about the future.

Good luck.

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    Yes, you do not need to give lots of family details, ... just say that you need full/adequate funding. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 18:52
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These answers cover a wide range!

Here is another perspective.

Imagine that the potential supervisor is a human being.

More specifically, imagine that you are in that position. Imagine that you are trying to choose between two potential students. One will be less interesting to work with. The other will be more interesting to work with but (like you) is an “interesting situation” which will involve thinking about funding, finding sources of it, wondering whether the money will come through and so on.

Which one would you choose?

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So coming back to your own situation — you acted honestly given your financial situation at the time you applied. So nothing wrong there.

Your financial crisis could have come at any time. It could have happened in the future: say, just after you got the offer.

FOR THESE REASONS I would say, don’t complicate the selection process. Let it proceed normally. If and when you are chosen, then say “Since I applied, such and such a situation has arisen” and see what happens. Nothing dishonest or unreasonable about this. And even if nothing is possible at this particular moment in time, you still have a status of “we liked this candidate but circumstances got in the way” - which may not be such a bad thing in the future.

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It is usually a bad idea to try to do a PhD candidature with no financial support (except for a person who is independently wealthy) and supervisors are well aware of this reality, so they will not be surprised if an applicant who is accepted for the candidature but denied a scholarship decides not to take up the offer. Having said that, it is still useful for a supervisor to know in advance if there are any impediments to having a student start a program of study. Consequently, I see no reason to defer telling your supervisor that you will only be able to undertake a candidature if you receive a scholarship or some other form of financial support to cover your living expenses. Feel free to ask about alternative avenues for funding if the scholarship offer is not forthcoming, but do not assume that he can fund you as a research assistant out of his own research grant. It is best to have these conversations earlier than later.

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I would say, just wait for the result for now. Your future advisor may have asked other students to apply as well. So, waiting for the result is a good approach before talking about hardship or other personal issues. If you get accepted, then they will send you an offer letter with all financial incentives or stipend details. Most likely, the stipend will cover your expenses; you can figure this out once you read the letter. That might solve your problem even without talking about your hardship. Otherwise, you can talk about your hardship after receiving the offer letter and negotiate. There may be other opportunities such as fellowships/grants available in the university you applied which can be additional money and your advisor can help you to apply for those. For now, just wait for the decision.

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