The Student Room Group

Do I have any chance of PhD funding whatsoever?

For as long as I can remember I've wanted to pursue a career in academia, and up until now I've done a really good job of getting there. I'm a humanities student and I graduated with the top marks in my subject (out of about 300 people - my average was around 80%). I then got a full scholarship to study a masters degree at Oxford - all good so far. I don't come from a wealthy background in the slightest so I could never have afforded a masters without funding, let alone a PhD.

I've just finished my masters now and I didn't get the distinction I was hoping for. Actually, I got a distinction in every single assignment bar one, which I still got 65% in, but because of the particular marking system on my course I ended up with a merit overall. (Frustratingly, I worked hard on my dissertation and it was my highest mark, but unlike most masters' courses where the dissertation is heavily weighted, mine was given the same weighting as any other essay.) I was awarded 69.75%, which might have been rounded up at some universities, but not Oxford.

I spoke to a tutor about my situation and while she was very kind and sympathetic, her final response basically boiled down to "even if we rounded it up, only people with much higher distinctions tend to get funding".

It's frustrating to know in my heart that if I hadn't gone to Oxford, the likelihood that I would have received a distinction in my masters is very high, but there's nothing I can do about that now - I've been awarded my grade and I'm not contesting its validity for an institution that was, after all, my choice. My question is, is there any hope left for me? I could never afford to do a PhD without funding, so if I can't get that, I can't do it. (I know there's no hope of a DPhil at Oxbridge without a distinction, but I don't mind that so much - I'd go anywhere I could find a decent supervisor.)

Some other bits of information: the 65 was in an area that is not my expertise, and very different to the area I would like to do my PhD in, while my distinctions are perfectly applicable. Also, one of the reasons I did poorly in that essay was because my coursemate - who was one of the loveliest people I met at Oxford - passed away that term under tragic circumstances, and her funeral was only a couple of days before the essay deadline. I didn't ask for an extension, as some people understandably did, because I felt for me personally it was better just to get it over with - I was, like every one else, devastated and just wanted it to be over. Between that and other things I had going on at the time I really was at breaking point, so I don't think it was the wrong decision not to get an extension, but I do think the overall circumstances affected my grade (particularly being 0.25% off a distinction). I don't want to take advantage of a tragedy by over-emphasising this in any application, though. Also, if my tutor is right then it really doesn't make much of a difference when most of my distinctions were still quite low (71, 71, 72 etc).

Any advice would be much appreciated! X
Original post by ingeardagum
For as long as I can remember I've wanted to pursue a career in academia, and up until now I've done a really good job of getting there. I'm a humanities student and I graduated with the top marks in my subject (out of about 300 people - my average was around 80%). I then got a full scholarship to study a masters degree at Oxford - all good so far. I don't come from a wealthy background in the slightest so I could never have afforded a masters without funding, let alone a PhD.

I've just finished my masters now and I didn't get the distinction I was hoping for. Actually, I got a distinction in every single assignment bar one, which I still got 65% in, but because of the particular marking system on my course I ended up with a merit overall. (Frustratingly, I worked hard on my dissertation and it was my highest mark, but unlike most masters' courses where the dissertation is heavily weighted, mine was given the same weighting as any other essay.) I was awarded 69.75%, which might have been rounded up at some universities, but not Oxford.

I spoke to a tutor about my situation and while she was very kind and sympathetic, her final response basically boiled down to "even if we rounded it up, only people with much higher distinctions tend to get funding".

It's frustrating to know in my heart that if I hadn't gone to Oxford, the likelihood that I would have received a distinction in my masters is very high, but there's nothing I can do about that now - I've been awarded my grade and I'm not contesting its validity for an institution that was, after all, my choice. My question is, is there any hope left for me? I could never afford to do a PhD without funding, so if I can't get that, I can't do it. (I know there's no hope of a DPhil at Oxbridge without a distinction, but I don't mind that so much - I'd go anywhere I could find a decent supervisor.)

Some other bits of information: the 65 was in an area that is not my expertise, and very different to the area I would like to do my PhD in, while my distinctions are perfectly applicable. Also, one of the reasons I did poorly in that essay was because my coursemate - who was one of the loveliest people I met at Oxford - passed away that term under tragic circumstances, and her funeral was only a couple of days before the essay deadline. I didn't ask for an extension, as some people understandably did, because I felt for me personally it was better just to get it over with - I was, like every one else, devastated and just wanted it to be over. Between that and other things I had going on at the time I really was at breaking point, so I don't think it was the wrong decision not to get an extension, but I do think the overall circumstances affected my grade (particularly being 0.25% off a distinction). I don't want to take advantage of a tragedy by over-emphasising this in any application, though. Also, if my tutor is right then it really doesn't make much of a difference when most of my distinctions were still quite low (71, 71, 72 etc).

Any advice would be much appreciated! X

Advice is to stop worrying so much and go and see what's available out there. I think you're either trying to convince yourself, or somebody else, that you're good enough to do it then I'd suggest either committing yourself or not, essentially. Do you have a plan B if you're unable to secure funding? How much research have you done to find suitable PhD spots?
I got a high merit from a top 10 in my msc and got funding from a different top 10 russell group for phd. You'll be fine.
Reply 3
Original post by 04MR17
Advice is to stop worrying so much and go and see what's available out there. I think you're either trying to convince yourself, or somebody else, that you're good enough to do it then I'd suggest either committing yourself or not, essentially. Do you have a plan B if you're unable to secure funding? How much research have you done to find suitable PhD spots?

That's fair, haha. I do a relatively niche subject and there are only really a handful of universities in the UK worth doing a PhD at, though there are more abroad which I need to look into. Oxbridge aside, my impression is that I'd stand a fair chance of being accepted - like I said, it's more the funding I'm worried about, and was hoping some humanities students on TSR might have some inspirational tales. Perhaps if I got a student loan, *and* a career development loan, *and* I did loads of part time work I might be able to make ends meet, though I'd have to rule out any London universities. But I don't think that would be a good idea - I already do a reasonably niche subject, as I said, so jobs are limited, and a lot of university positions specify that they want someone who can demonstrate their ability to attract funding (which I suppose I already have, but I think someone who'd completed a funded PhD would still have an advantage over me). Essentially I've concluded that funded is the only option.

You're right, though - I suppose the only way to find out is to apply. In the meantime I've already decided to take at least one year out to work and figure things out. Thank you for your advice xx
Reply 4
Original post by methylated
I got a high merit from a top 10 in my msc and got funding from a different top 10 russell group for phd. You'll be fine.

Thank you! I do know a few scientists with similar stories, but I know funding is more difficult to come by in the humanities, so I'm still concerned. But I really appreciate your comment :h: congrats on your funding!!
While it certainly sucks not to get that distinction in the master's course, I wouldn't let it put you off. I would say the fact that you had funding for the master's (at Oxford no less) is impressive - there isn't that much of it around, and it speaks to a strong track record, combined with your excellent UG results. PhD funding can be very unpredictable: even very impressive candidates with high marks all round sometimes don't receive it, while I've also known distinctly average students that manage to secure a scholarship. I would say make sure your research proposal is strong and compelling; have several tutors on board who can write strong references for you; get in touch with prospective supervisors before applying, to make sure they are in your corner, as often prospective supervisors are vital in the process of allocating funding, especially at institutions where you don't have any other connection.
Reply 6
Original post by ingeardagum
For as long as I can remember I've wanted to pursue a career in academia, and up until now I've done a really good job of getting there. I'm a humanities student and I graduated with the top marks in my subject (out of about 300 people - my average was around 80%). I then got a full scholarship to study a masters degree at Oxford - all good so far. I don't come from a wealthy background in the slightest so I could never have afforded a masters without funding, let alone a PhD.

I've just finished my masters now and I didn't get the distinction I was hoping for. Actually, I got a distinction in every single assignment bar one, which I still got 65% in, but because of the particular marking system on my course I ended up with a merit overall. (Frustratingly, I worked hard on my dissertation and it was my highest mark, but unlike most masters' courses where the dissertation is heavily weighted, mine was given the same weighting as any other essay.) I was awarded 69.75%, which might have been rounded up at some universities, but not Oxford.

I spoke to a tutor about my situation and while she was very kind and sympathetic, her final response basically boiled down to "even if we rounded it up, only people with much higher distinctions tend to get funding".

It's frustrating to know in my heart that if I hadn't gone to Oxford, the likelihood that I would have received a distinction in my masters is very high, but there's nothing I can do about that now - I've been awarded my grade and I'm not contesting its validity for an institution that was, after all, my choice. My question is, is there any hope left for me? I could never afford to do a PhD without funding, so if I can't get that, I can't do it. (I know there's no hope of a DPhil at Oxbridge without a distinction, but I don't mind that so much - I'd go anywhere I could find a decent supervisor.)

Some other bits of information: the 65 was in an area that is not my expertise, and very different to the area I would like to do my PhD in, while my distinctions are perfectly applicable. Also, one of the reasons I did poorly in that essay was because my coursemate - who was one of the loveliest people I met at Oxford - passed away that term under tragic circumstances, and her funeral was only a couple of days before the essay deadline. I didn't ask for an extension, as some people understandably did, because I felt for me personally it was better just to get it over with - I was, like every one else, devastated and just wanted it to be over. Between that and other things I had going on at the time I really was at breaking point, so I don't think it was the wrong decision not to get an extension, but I do think the overall circumstances affected my grade (particularly being 0.25% off a distinction). I don't want to take advantage of a tragedy by over-emphasising this in any application, though. Also, if my tutor is right then it really doesn't make much of a difference when most of my distinctions were still quite low (71, 71, 72 etc).

Any advice would be much appreciated! X


Oh my days. Of course you can get funding. No doubt about it.

I hadnt even finished my masters and got offered a fully funded PhD and I was on a Merit - no where near a distinction.

If I can, you defo can.
Original post by ingeardagum
For as long as I can remember I've wanted to pursue a career in academia, and up until now I've done a really good job of getting there. I'm a humanities student and I graduated with the top marks in my subject (out of about 300 people - my average was around 80%). I then got a full scholarship to study a masters degree at Oxford - all good so far. I don't come from a wealthy background in the slightest so I could never have afforded a masters without funding, let alone a PhD.

I've just finished my masters now and I didn't get the distinction I was hoping for. Actually, I got a distinction in every single assignment bar one, which I still got 65% in, but because of the particular marking system on my course I ended up with a merit overall. (Frustratingly, I worked hard on my dissertation and it was my highest mark, but unlike most masters' courses where the dissertation is heavily weighted, mine was given the same weighting as any other essay.) I was awarded 69.75%, which might have been rounded up at some universities, but not Oxford.

I spoke to a tutor about my situation and while she was very kind and sympathetic, her final response basically boiled down to "even if we rounded it up, only people with much higher distinctions tend to get funding".

It's frustrating to know in my heart that if I hadn't gone to Oxford, the likelihood that I would have received a distinction in my masters is very high, but there's nothing I can do about that now - I've been awarded my grade and I'm not contesting its validity for an institution that was, after all, my choice. My question is, is there any hope left for me? I could never afford to do a PhD without funding, so if I can't get that, I can't do it. (I know there's no hope of a DPhil at Oxbridge without a distinction, but I don't mind that so much - I'd go anywhere I could find a decent supervisor.)

Some other bits of information: the 65 was in an area that is not my expertise, and very different to the area I would like to do my PhD in, while my distinctions are perfectly applicable. Also, one of the reasons I did poorly in that essay was because my coursemate - who was one of the loveliest people I met at Oxford - passed away that term under tragic circumstances, and her funeral was only a couple of days before the essay deadline. I didn't ask for an extension, as some people understandably did, because I felt for me personally it was better just to get it over with - I was, like every one else, devastated and just wanted it to be over. Between that and other things I had going on at the time I really was at breaking point, so I don't think it was the wrong decision not to get an extension, but I do think the overall circumstances affected my grade (particularly being 0.25% off a distinction). I don't want to take advantage of a tragedy by over-emphasising this in any application, though. Also, if my tutor is right then it really doesn't make much of a difference when most of my distinctions were still quite low (71, 71, 72 etc).

Any advice would be much appreciated! X

You can get funding without a distinction.

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