I'm applying to do a PhD in Computer Science at a UK university. While I'm up for some funding I've been told it's very competitive so I shouldn't count on it. That's fine, and I'm prepared to self fund.

However my PhD proposal will require wearable tech, and my supervisor had advised that I think about having a group of 15 or so in the initial test stages. Does anyone have any experience of whether or not I'll have to purchase this myself, or if this is something the university will help cover the cost of? I appreciate it's probably the former, but it's something I need to know prior to starting.

On top of the PhD costs it could easily be another £3000 or so in order to buy all the tech - so I'll need to work out whether I can afford it!

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    As an aside to the answers, you could potentially also contact the manufacturer detailing your project and see if they would be willing to provide a reduced cost/bulk order for your research. That would make it easier to cover the costs.
    – Compass
    Apr 13, 2015 at 14:50
  • You may not need to purchase the equipment, it could be possible to select a test group who already own the devices you need, of course depending on what it is exactly you are researching. Apr 14, 2015 at 1:24
  • 2
    @Compass even better than "reduced cost", they might sponsor you, if they think this could be a nice advertisement for them.
    – o0'.
    Apr 14, 2015 at 7:38
  • @Lohoris That's a separate legal issue that becomes a possible conflict of interest thing that would require a lawyer. A reduced cost without any expectations is much easier to argue as no conflict of interest than an actual "Hey, Inlet sponsored us!"
    – Compass
    Apr 14, 2015 at 14:01

5 Answers 5


As a student, you should not be required to fund equipment purchases yourself. Rather, it is your supervisor's responsibility to work with you to scope a project that is within the funding that they wish to allocate to it. So if your supervisor wants to do a study with 15 people, your supervisor needs to have a sufficient budget to support it. Otherwise, you might end up, say, doing your work in simulation instead, which is much cheaper but less convincing in its results.

Now, some students do buy small things themselves, especially if it is a low-cost "toy" that they want to play with themselves (e.g., a Raspberry Pi or a phone sensor pack) and they don't want to go through the delay and hassle of university purchasing. That's an exception, however, and certainly not to be expected for a multi-user study.

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    When it's the supervisor's responsibility to scope a project that is within available funding, this may easily result in requiring to significantly alter the topic to fit the funding limits. If funding is not available, then a completely reasonable result may be "to do X properly, you'd need a sufficiently large study group and $X of tech that we don't have; so if you can't self fund it then you can't do proposal X and you'll have to do Y or Z instead even if that's not what you want or intended when applying".
    – Peteris
    Apr 13, 2015 at 18:03
  • is this based on experience at a UK university, whilst doing a self funded phd ? As I think its totally wrong to assume that (speaking as someone who ha sbeen through a couple of funding rigmaroles with UK universities). And on top of that, the ethical question is there - if the PhD is self funded, why should the university pay for any equipment, thats the point of self funding isn't it - actually providing the funds required to complete the phd ? Apr 14, 2015 at 12:22
  • @NimChimpsky There is a fundamental ethical problem with a professor setting an equipment budget that a student is then required to pay for, due to the power imbalance in the relationship. A student can have a reasonable expectation of the commitment they are making when choosing a self-funded Ph.D. But if a professor says, "By the way, you also need to pay an extra £100,000 for equipment" that seems to me to be a clear abuse of power, because the professor is not suffering the financial consequences and has such a wide degree of freedom in scoping the project.
    – jakebeal
    Apr 14, 2015 at 15:12
  • @jakebeal "with a professor setting an equipment budget " that has not happened here though. Its the OP who is setting the requirements and self funding. Have you got any experience with self funded PhDs in the UK ? No one has said by the way its $100,000. The OP has stated its £3k, and its in their self funded proposal. You are answering a question, that has not been asked. Apr 14, 2015 at 15:19
  • @NimChimpsky It is not the OP setting the requirements: the OP says "my supervisor had advised that I think about having a group of 15 or so." To me, the principle of not using students as a substitute for funding agencies is very important for avoiding abuse of students, which I illustrated with the £100k figure. You, on the other hand, have accepted what I find to be a fundamentally unethical principle, and are just haggling about the price.
    – jakebeal
    Apr 14, 2015 at 15:33

Typically you would not pay for the research equipment you need out of your own pocket in order to complete your studies. I would establish that this is the case up front with your potential advisor before you get started. It would be pretty unusual to put the costs of doing the research on a student.


Contrary to the other answers, I think you should be prepared for the possibility of having to fund this yourself.

Money for this kind of equipment has to come out of some budget/pot of money somewhere. Typically funded PhDs come as part of an external research grant or are perhaps funded internally by a university, but either way equipment costs should have been considered as part of that funding.

If you're self-funding your own PhD then there's no obvious place like that to look for the money. It might be that your supervisor can find some money from her own research grants or you can apply to somewhere for the money. Or it might be that it's effectively funded by your fees and the university/department will be prepared to pay for it directly. But I don't think there are any strong guarantees and if the equipment will be necessary for your PhD then you should either clarify this up front or come prepared to pay for it yourself.

  • this should be the correct answer Apr 14, 2015 at 12:23

Since your potential supervisor has said that the university funding shall not be enough, I am translating that to no funding available. Depending on the university many options are available for you. If you are studying at any Scottish university, then Interface Scotland can help you. To get funding, your research has to be tied with a business organisation. A business can also initiate Knowledge Transfer Protocol (KTP) support and then you can do the research for it.

Apart from these two options, you can approach some IT firms if they want to fund your research and have the IP. What strikes me most is about your motivation for self-funding. Universities generally provide three-years funding, but your PhD research can take four or five years to complete if you do not have an 'original contribution' by three years' time. You need to calculate that and think how will you feel when you complete PhD in 2020. You shall have less savings if any, and you shall be offered a starting salary of a lecturer. It is only financially viable if you finance your studies through a scholarship for the first three years. Otherwise, self-funding can be a great challenge. My, recommendation is you calculate every expense in Excel till 2020. This shall clarify your future course of action.


The fact its a self funded PHD means yes I would think you would be expected to pay for equipment. I think every case would be different in such circumstances ... but I can't imagine many university budget holders being prepared to give you money for nothing. However, I could quite easily see a supervisor/dept entering into some quid pro quo arrangement (eg tutor undergrads for 10 weeks and we will get you X laptops or whatever).

Definitely don't assume it should be paid for, you are self funding so you need to arrange funding for everything. I have to assume that the people posting answers here to the contrary have experience with academic projects where the funding was from the university/research grant where the opposite is true.

(I've worked/studied at four different academic research institutes all based in the UK).

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