To be honest, I don't really think there's anymore that can be said. Other than the things I mentioned, it's down to luck.
I'm just starting an MA and then going on to do a PhD (provided nothing traumatic happens inbetween!). I was lucky enough to get an ESRC studentship. I applied for the 1+3 but am only funded for the MA at the moment as the 1+3 went to somebody who did their undergraduate degree at the uni. I was told if i do well i will be in a good position to secure funding for the PhD as well. Therefore as i understand it, the basis for funding includes:
- a good research proposal with unique ideas/ insights
- it helps if you did your undergraduate degree at the institution
- a first or a 2:1 from your undergraduate degree
I would also say that competition is strong and it helps if a member of staff in the department you are applying to has a specific interest in the things mentioned in your research proposal. If they are going to supervise you, they want to pick people who have common interests OR different ideas.
Organisation is crucial so you need to get as much information as you can from the university you're interested in and the ERSC as well as perhaps talking to some staff in the department where you completed your undergraduate degree. The ERSC requires you to submit a proposal on the form you'll have to complete, as well as have references from members of staff, so i think you will have to definately write up a proposal.
I gather that some universities will apply for ESRC funding and some require you to do it. If this is the case when should one start applying assuming post graduate course starts in 2008? After you get accepted onto the course itself?