I am thinking of self funding a PhD in Applied Mathematics at either the University of Oxford or Cambridge. Would employers, both for academic (postdoc etc) and industry (research) jobs think less of a PhD holder if he or she is self funded?

E.g. Would they feel that because I failed to secure funding for their PhD, I am inferior to students who did? Although I am planning to self fund to UK schools, it would be nice to hear about views from across the pond (USA) as well.

  • 23
    Unless you're quite wealthy and able to drop a hundred thousand dollars without it being a big deal, unfunded Ph.D. programs are generally a terrible idea. If no one is willing to pay you grad student wages now, what makes you think someone's going to be willing to pay you a higher salary at the next step? Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 18:33
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    Why not skip grad school and get a job in industry. You can spend that money on a fancy sports car, etc.
    – emory
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 19:06
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    Noah Snyder makes a very important point. I agree with the answers below that nobody will hold self-funding against you later (they probably won't even know about it). However, in mathematics, funding is the default and graduate admission without funding is a very bad sign (it means nobody has faith in you but they are willing to let you spend your own money if you want to try). I would not recommend accepting any offer without funding unless you are certain you would not regret trying even if you were unable to get a job that uses your degree. Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 19:42
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    I'll also note that there are countries/educational systems where self-funding is strongly discouraged, and some where it is even almost prohibited (France is an example). And, as others have said: Don't do it. Really, don't. If you have that kind of money, put yourself through another year of studies and just get funded the regular way next year/semester.
    – F'x
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 20:27
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    Going into debt is a form of self-funding. By not self-funding I mean the school is covering your tuition, fees, health care, and paying you a living wage in exchange for at most a light teaching load (in CS I'd expect very light teaching). That said, if you're sufficiently in demand as a consultant that you can earn 50K/year working 15 hours a week, then by all means do that instead of teaching sections. Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 15:50

4 Answers 4


There's nothing on your CV that needs to indicate exactly how you were supported during your Ph.D. In fact, if you were self-funded, and managed to get an occasional fellowship or other form of support, that's a plus !

All a recruiting committee should (and does) care about post-PhD is the quality of your work (for faculty positions there are additional issues). No one cares about how you were paid to do that work.


Self-funding alone need not be visible in your applications and is unlikely to hurt in any case. That said, getting outside funding is likely to help and you should pursue it if you can.

First, it's not clear how any potential employer would know that you were self funded. Although it's normal to list fellowships or funding that you have received, it's just not normal (in my experience) to list the amount of money you received from a particular fellowship/grant unless it was a very public award.

That said, a list of grants, fellowships, and outside funding will help build a stronger CV. One thing many search committees are looking is a demonstrated ability to bring in grants and funding. Although that can be hard to discern in a graduate student/post-doc, the ability to apply for and get student fellowships can bring a little comfort. Being able to point out in your coverletter that you've thought about grants will inspire a little confidence in your application.

But the standard answer to questions of the form "does x matter for the job market" still applies. The quality of your work, your publications, your letters, and many other things will weigh much more heavily than the fact that you don't have fellowships that others do.


In theory I would say self-funding shouldn't hurt your employment chances, as there's not necessarily a reason to report how you were funded as a PhD student.

That being said, I have found that some people who have an external funding source not tied to a particular project/professor/etc. have two major problems:

  1. It's not particularly urgent that you find a project to fund you, which means there's more time spend exploring, "finding yourself", concentrating on classes, etc. This is a double-edged sword - it can slow things down.
  2. It's hard for any particular professor to "take ownership" of you - responsible for funding generally comes along with feeling responsible for other things as well, like your aforementioned progress. There's also less pressure to get involved in the early stages of grant writing, since you don't need to worry about it.

Those aren't necessarily reasons not to self-fund, but it's something to consider. None of those will impact employment chances, but they can effect your experience in ways that have downstream effects.

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    Your second point doesn't really apply in the UK, at least in the subjects I know about. A student is admitted to do a PhD with a specific supervisor, and the funding doesn't as a rule come from the supervisor but from a research council (in a 'generic' way: the research council will fund a certain number of PhDs for each department) or the university.
    – Tara B
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 11:54
  • @TaraB Agreed - it was intended as a general supplemental answer to some already excellent ones above.
    – Fomite
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 20:05

First I have a couple of questions, and suggestions for ways to try to avoid self-funding your PhD:

Do you already have a Masters? If not, it could be a better idea to self-fund a one-year research masters and then try for funding for a PhD after that. That would not leave a 'gap' in your CV, except that probably it's actually too late already to apply for next year.

Have you actually applied anywhere else than Oxford and Cambridge for a PhD? If not, that may be the reason you were unable to obtain funding. There are a lot of other very good universities in the UK (which specific ones are the best will depend on your subject), and doing a PhD with funding at one of those would surely be better than doing one without funding at Oxford or Cambridge. Or if you were not set on doing your PhD in the UK, you could also choose a country (for example the US or Canada) where PhD students are offered funding as a matter of course.
By the way, if you only applied to Oxford and Cambridge, then Noah Snyder's point, which I think is a good one, doesn't really apply, since it's not the case that you couldn't find anyone willing to fund you, it's just that you didn't try enough possibilities.

It may be possible to apply for funding again once you have already commenced your PhD. I know a few people who self-funded their first year and managed to obtain funding for the rest (these were all in the UK). At least one of them is now a lecturer.

In my opinion you should only try this if you can afford to fund the whole PhD (i.e. don't take out a loan for it!), and even then only if you are very passionate about your subject.

Now to my opinion on your actual question:

You needn't mention how your PhD was funded in job applications, but I suppose that in applications for academic jobs in the UK, employers might notice if no funding source is mentioned. I highly doubt this would count against you at all, as what is really important for your first job after your PhD is the work you have done in your PhD (although an ability to attract funding is highly valued in academia!).

  • Thanks for the advice. 1) I have a UK masters. 2) I applied to the USA but things are not looking good. 3) I'm not sure about the USA but in the UK finding funding after starting is close to impossible (very very few exceptions).
    – Legendre
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 17:48
  • Ah, I should edit my answer to make clear that the examples I knew of of people finding funding after starting were all in the UK! They were all in maths, however. It might be different in other subjects.
    – Tara B
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 17:50
  • I am surprised that is the case! I asked around Oxbridge faculty + PhD students, and they unanimously tell me its near impossible to find funding after starting (in the UK).
    – Legendre
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 17:55
  • It's definitely not something you should go in expecting to be able to do, but if you do decide to self-fund your PhD, I definitely recommend still looking out for funding opportunities once you're in.
    – Tara B
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 17:56
  • Within the UK, did you only apply to Oxford and Cambridge?
    – Tara B
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 17:57

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