When asking for an opportunity to do a PhD with a professor at a foreign university, he replied:

As a prerequisite you would need to take care of your own funding to cover the costs of your entire PhD project (4 years, cost of living, housing etc.). If you have such funds I would be happy to discuss with you the possibilities.

However, I don’t have any money to cover the cost of living. How can I answer him politely to impress him?

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    You could ask him what opportunities he recommends for obtaining funding?
    – user38309
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 11:02
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    There is probably nothing to say. As I understand, his answer was really "I cannot have any funds for taking you as a PhD student". You could try @schester approach but I would not be too optimistic.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 11:04
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    why would answering politely impress him? that shouldn't be your goal ...
    – user428517
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 22:32
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    I think the way to impress this professor is to say "I found a big chunk of funding." In general, being poor is unimpressive.
    – emory
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 10:37
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    I don't think "impress him" means what you think it means. Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 12:21

9 Answers 9


As a prerequisite you would need to take care of your own funding to cover the costs of your entire PhD project (4 years, cost of living, housing etc.). If you have such funds I would be happy to discuss with you the possibilities.

This is the professor's polite way of saying, "We do not have funding to support you as a student. If you obtain your own funding let's discuss further, otherwise there is little reason to continue this discussion."

I don’t have any money to cover the cost of living.

Then the appropriate response is, "Thank you for your time and consideration. Please keep me in mind if a funded position opens up in the future."

How can I answer him politely to impress him?

It sounds as though you'd like to respond in a way that causes him to allocate cost of living expenses to you. I doubt the likelihood of that - if there are funded positions available, professors typically allocate them and notify students for them first, then once the positions are filled notify those that didn't make it that they have none available, and self funding would be the only option. So chances are good that he simply has no funding to afford taking you on as an expense for their program. It's also possible that they don't fund PhD students at all in their program.

However, if you have some knowledge that they do have funding and are simply not impressed enough by what you've presented so far to allocate some for you, then your options are limited. You need to sell yourself and help them understand that your ability, talent, and skills are well above average and would be an asset to them that would be worth paying for.

How you would do that really depends a lot on your program and area of study. Further, if you had more to show them, you should have done so well before this point. Trying this now once they've already made their decision has a lower chance of success than impressing them when you first apply.

All that said, there's another option you might want to consider: bring your own funding with you. It's not easy, but you may be able to write a successful grant proposal for them that gets them the funding they would need to fund the first part of your PhD. You may have to do this a few times during your time there to continue your education. Honestly, this method also has its risks, as they would have to cooperate, and they would have to allocate the funds received - not all of which would go to your education.

If this educational institution is particularly important to you and you have to get into their program, you might consider some of these options. You might, instead, have a better chance with a different institution, though. Lastly, it's reasonable to take a year or two off from education, get a job, and save money. Industry experience in your field can be quite valuable to some PhD programs and might give you a leg up on the competition the next time you apply, and if not you should be able to bring some self-funding to the table. In some industries you may be able to make contacts and network with people in a way that makes you more valuable.

Don't get too caught up in having what you want right now - getting a PhD later in life isn't a disadvantage. It's more important to have good evidence - research, papers - of your skills than it is to have done it earlier.

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    Put more strongly: This is the professor's way of saying that they don't really want you. Look elsewhere.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 18:00
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    @jeffe I don't think that this is true in general. Some professors really do not have funding. I myself would use a different phrasing (at least I would drop the "happy" or even the whole last sentence).
    – Dirk
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 18:23
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    @JeffE This is definitely not necessarily true. Without knowing the country there is really nothing to say. Certainly in the UK, most PhD students that I have found have funding coming from sources that are not the supervisor - whilst the supervisor would (normally) help with funding application they often do not have funding themselves.
    – ssmart
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 18:32
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    @ssmart if the professor wanted the OP, the professor could have referred OP to possible funding sources.
    – emory
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 18:35
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    I think we're picking at nits here. We cannot determine the level of desire the professor has for the OP given what was written. We can suppose one way or another, but if you believe you have a valid interpretation of the professor's response that would help the OP, please submit an answer rather than arguing about differing interpretations in comments.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 18:46

Look for a different opportunity

As the original mail states, they are not offering you funding and own funding is a prerequisite - this means that if you can't cover those costs, then the discussion is over, and it is worthwhile to discuss any other details only "if you have such funds", as per the original response.

This doesn't mean that you should abandon the issue - however, it does mean that you should look for PhD opportunities in other universities that may have funding available for you.

  • I think you mean it is not worthwhile to discuss any other details?
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 16:37
  • @reirab clarified that sentence.
    – Peteris
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 19:24

Unfortunately, there is not much to say to him/her. Professor, is pretty much clear that responsibility of costs of living is up to you to resolve, You can ask him if he knows any funds that you can apply, or if uni have special fund for this kind of situations, or to check by yourself if you are entitled to any kind of social benefit, security, welfare? worth checking,

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    +1. I would even say that the OP has been fortunate that the professor is so open at this stage. It would actually be worse to have long discussions, and perhaps even acceptance on a PhD programme only to discover later that it isn't funded and have to turn it down. My University certainly also required proof of funding after acceptance so this isn't unusual either. @maryam, by all means ask the professor about funding opportunities, but it sounds like you'll have to look elsewhere, and that's not a reflection on you, that's just life. At least you found out earlier rather than later.
    – zelanix
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 14:48
  • yes, I agree with you @zelanix I am not sure if you are referring to USA system, as far as I know most PhD positions in Europe are similar to employment contract. I am not quite sure why OP apply directly, even though maryam dont have sufficient amount of money to cover cost of living. Personally, I find OP action strange, but doesn't necessary mean that it is wrong what OP did. maryan next move should be to find appropriate fellowship and grant to cover that kind of expenses, or a sponsor
    – SSimon
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 15:29

As someone who has to respond to similar requests regularly, the statement seems quite unambiguously to be read the following way: the recipient is "happy to discuss the possibilities" - which means, they do not brush you off entirely. However, they do not have the money to fund you, and it is likely that they would have pointed you to a local funding opportunity if they had one they could offer you.

So, either you bring your own money (which means, either being self-funded, which is usually not ideal, as it puts you in a weak position, or getting some studentship from your country, club, network, which is usually better - especially if the studentship involved an element of competition, e.g. nation-wide, as it shows that you were considered worthy of passing a money-worthy hurdle).

There are no "magic words" that would work to "impress"; if you have publications, grants, achievements (e.g. successful participation in relevant competitions), relevant business experience (e.g. tech startup if in a technical field etc.), or similar, these can work in your favour. However, they should have been in the CV in the first place. If you sent no CV on first contact, then a mail highlighting some of these achievements (brief!) may also help to kindle additional interest.

Be careful not to "nag", though. Sometimes, if the biography is strong enough or close enough to their interests, they will ask you themselves to continue being in touch in case a funding opportunity appears. However, make sure you look also for other opportunities, don't lock in on only this one.


Already well covered.. but I'll throw in my 2 cents.

1) This is probably not a sign that the prof "doesn't want you" as some are saying. If they didn't want you they would not have written to offer to begin with. They simply don't have funding to cover living expenses.

2) The suggestions of seeing if there's any way to get money in the area is the best suggestion I think. Appealing to the professor is unlikely to help, they simply don't have the money or they'd already let you know they could chip in on expenses. But, see the next paragraph -- I would ask the prof what he knows about the available student jobs, most universities have quite a few that pay well enough to cover expenses.

Besides the regular jobs you may find anywhere (or not, depending on the local economy) like waiter/waitress, dishwasher, working at a grocery store or gas station, etc., universities also tend to have their own student jobs. Some secretarial jobs, some laboratory jobs (either directly running the experiments if it's in your topic of study, or washing/trying test tubes, laying out equipment so it's ready to run the experiments, etc. otherwise.) Also TA "Teachers Assistant" jobs, which amount to interacting with a professor's students on the professor's behalf. The professor (almost) always teaches the class... but beyond that, some professors keep extensive office hours to talk to students and rely less on TAs, some professors really want to only do research, do teach the required number of classes but have TAs do literally everything else.

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    This is true, but it should be noted that TA jobs are usually considered a form of departmental funding. If the department had TA positions available to the OP, the letter from the professor would have mentioned this opportunity. The fact that it said "you must self-fund" suggests to me that the professor does not expect TA positions to be available to this student. Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 23:39
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    If the professor did want the student, the reply would be more along the lines of, "I don't have funding available but I'll try to find some. Also, is there any possibility that you could fund yourself?" Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 9:32
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    This isn't an "offer" -- it's a prelude to a discussion. Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 16:37

I disagree that your professors response is saying 'go away, we dont want you' (it is one of the possibilities, but there are many others).

So, depending on whether you are a 'cup half empty' or 'cup half full' kind or person, you can reply in multiple ways.

(DONT DO THIS!) Cup half empty: give up and answer: 'I cant afford cost of living, thanks for clarifying'

But being a 'cup half full' kind of guy, I would be tempted to look for the positives and do some research into finding a sponsor for your phd (outside of professor).

Have a look at companies that are doing the same sort of research your phd is covering. Even better, what companies would find your research beneficial in business?

Once you find a few, contact them and basically sell yourself and your skills to them. If they finance some or most of your cost of living, they could get you as a employee/future researcher after your PhD.

That way, you can go back to your professor with a response turning his negative answer into a positive - at worst case, you can show him you have tried to do something for yourself - which will impress him!


By accepting all earlier comments and answer I would like to add that

What is Phd domain? and which country is it? Considering earlier dimensions of conflicts between Iran and West particularly USA, a professor may not want to find himself in such a position where he/she helps a student not only in Phd but for finding funding too.

To impress him and reach almost to a miracle; you could show how extraordinary you are through some theory developments, publications etc.

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    This is unnecessarily negative regarding the effects of larger geopolitics on individual faculty. I've taken on students from the Middle East (including Iran) because I know that now and in the future, we need more connections and understanding between our citizenry and scientific organizations.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 21:22

As a prerequisite you would need to take care of your own funding to cover the costs of your entire PhD project (4 years, cost of living, housing etc.). If you have such funds I would be happy to discuss with you the possibilities.

This response sets off alarm bells for me. The reply does not refer to outside academic funding/grants, but specifically "if you have such funds". I had a friend of foreign descent who said that college officials where he went (in U.S.) always assumed that students from the Middle East were wealthy princes by default (e.g., bursar always surprised he didn't pay his bills fully in cash). Also, I had an extended family member (in U.S.) who I think poorly chose to reveal that they didn't have undergraduate debt, and thus in the PhD program was given less support, and ultimately had to leave the program unsuccessfully after several years.

In my limited experience, self-funding does not give the institution the incentive to actually graduate the student, and it sounds like this is what the professor in question may be fishing for.

Some prior questions on self-funding:

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    i don't think the prof is fishing for anything. OP specifically requested the opportunity, and the school doesn't have funds for any more phd students. the prof is offering a solution for if the student still really wants to enroll in the program.
    – user428517
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 22:38
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    Anybody who thinks that Iran is full of wealthy princes obviously didn't notice that the Iranian monarchy was overthrown more than 35 years ago. I think you're reading far too much into the words "If you have such funds": nothing there says personal wealth and I would interpret it as talking about funds from anywhere including, for example, scholarships from the asker's government and other organizations that fund students. Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 9:28
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    I also suspect that your friend's experiences were based on students from Middle Eastern countries typically paying bills in cash in the experience of the college officials he met and that the "wealthy princes" thing was a borderline-racist (or, at least, culturally insensitive) joke, rather than a statement of their literal beliefs about people from the Middle East. Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 9:29
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    I've met a lot of PhDs that were self-funded - that is not that they paid from their own pockets ("princes"), but that they had secured independent government funding, such as CSC scholarships from China.
    – akid
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 8:33

Apparently the professor / university is not able or willing to cover these costs.

I would look for ways to fund this myself first.

Depending on countries of origin / study and personal student situation there may be programs designed to help.

If own research doesn't turn up something or if there is hope that the university may provide assistance the professor or university can be involved as well. They know students are at the beginning of their professional career and have limited funding usually, so the very least they'd be sympathetic and willing to give pointers.

An obvious route is also to take on part time work while abroad.

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