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Funded Ph.D vs self funded PhD from supervisor's point of view

  1. Mar 17, 2015 #1

    I am a graduate student, with a masters degree in physics but with no impressive marks so far.

    I am looking for a PhD position in the UK, so far without success.

    My question is If Supervisors prefere students who are self funded or students who are funded by the university ?

    Can anyone explain to me the Supervisor's point of view.Do they actually are trying to get as less PhD students as possible, ? Do they have any personal advantage taking self funded students or funded by the University students?
    I have dicussed the issue with many possible supervisors but I have the impression that i am missing a well kept secret.

    If anyone is actually working in an institution and can speak openly about some secrets , I would appreciate very much the reply.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2015 #2

    Quantum Defect

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    I am in the US, and am not entirely familiar with the way things work in the UK, but I suspect that the politics are similar.

    If you are a student who brings a Fellowship with her/him. You have a certain amount of autonomy. You can decide with whom you will work. Professors will be nice to you, as you are independent.

    If you obtain funding through the university, there was some process (in a smoke-filled room) that decided that you would get funding. This was determined with some knowledge of who you might like to work with. I.e. a committee is not going to admit 20 students, all with interests in galactic squirrelology, if there are only two professors in the department whose research is in this area. They will try to come up with some balance to support the variety of research areas represented in the school.

    Once all of these people come in, there may be pressures on faculty not to take more than their "fair share" of students -- the professors have to live with their colleagues long after you have graduated.

    Longstory short: University money: strings will be attached, not all of which will be visible to you, the lowly graduate student; "Outside" money: the graduate student is in a better position to call the shots.
  4. Mar 17, 2015 #3


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    EDIT: Quantum Defect beat me to it and my experience is not UK specific either.

    From a supervisor's point of view taking on a student is a substantial committment. The supervisor commits to mentoring a research project, which means regular meetings, ensuring the student is properly trained on any equipment that will be used, guiding the student's reading, and reading and providing feedback on just about everything academic the student writes. And although a student is generally expected to put the project together him or herself, the supervisor needs to be involved enough to understand what the student is doing and give feedback on the process. He or she will also serve on a supervisory committee and may help the student to prepare for exams.

    In exchange the relationship can come with benefits for the supervisor. A good student will ultimately help to push shared research interests forward. This can result in co-authored publications, presentations, patents, and down the road can lead to further collaborations. Student mentoring can also relieve the supervisor of some teaching duties and when the student is successful, can factor into academic promotion. On the other hand, a poor student can become a massive time sink, particularly if the student fails out or takes the place of other more productive students.

    To answer your question, with respect to "self-funding" you have to be clear on definitions. Students can come into a school with external funding in the form of a scholarship. In Canada, an NSERC scholarship might be an example. Such scholarships are awarded for high grades, high academic potential and are can be based partially on the assessment of a research proposal. These "self-funded" students are generally very welcome, as they come with a high likelihood of being successful and require little-to-no funding from the department.

    On the other hand students who "self fund" by paying for themselves will generally not get the same welcome because they are not generally seen as coming in with the same potential to produce. It's true the department doesn't have to spend (as much) money on them, but they can turn into massive time sinks. These kind of acceptances will depend on the specifics of the student and the supervisor. In many places, an acceptance without funding is a form of a polite rejection.

    As a student, it's also important to ask yourself if you want to end up in that latter kind of a situation - particularly if all your peers get departmental funding or external scholarships.
  5. Mar 17, 2015 #4

    Quantum Defect

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    I took "self-funded" to mean something like the NSERC example, but I can see how it might mean out-of-pocket by the student. I entirely agree with @Choppy about the kind of self-funded students that @Choppy describes. It is like someone offering you a 14th century castle, sight unseen. It sounds like a great deal, in th eabstract, but it could be a huuuuuge headache if there are issues with it being a safety hazard, on some list of historical treasures, etc. As a professor, you could be committing yourself to all sorts of problems (using up your time) that you are not anticipating, if you were to accept the student/castle.
  6. Mar 17, 2015 #5
    Thank you for the reply QuantumDefect .

    Choppy: "It's true the department doesn't have to spend (as much) money on them".
    Well , I thought that actually the University is (still) only going to gain money from their tuition fees (at least in the UK).

    "In many places, an acceptance without funding is a form of a polite rejection."
    Well, that's my personal, only real wish, since my marks are not good enough to hope for a funding.

    Yea in general its impossible someone to disagree with what you said.
    Thanks for the reply.
  7. Apr 3, 2015 #6


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    That will be your problem. Someone coming with their own funding is great for a department. However, if you haven't got excellent grades, then there is more of a risk that you will not complete your PhD. Since advising a PhD student takes a lot of time and effort, it is likely this risk is not worth taking.
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