How to avoid falling prey to the Cinderella syndrome

June 16, 1995

Colin McGuckin has some tips on ways to raise the cash for those summer sorties to conferences abroad.

It is that time of year again. The summer is coming and your PhD supervisor is heading off to another country to present your work. You are told there is not enough money in the departmental budget to pay for mere students to go globetrotting. You are annoyed, frustrated at the thought of slogging it out in the lab when your supervisor is off meeting the people whose names you only read at the top of papers.

But then you think: "I'll ask my research council to pay for me to go". For a split second you are happy again, until you remember they paid for you to attend that meeting in Birmingham last year and they have a rule of only funding your attendance at one conference in three years. You wonder whether there is any justice in the world. After all, it is your work, you slaved over it for months, why should you not present it yourself?

At this point most postgrads would resign themselves to spending the summer in the lab. But hope is not lost. Cinderella might well go to the ball and she will not even need the Fairy Godmother's help. There are many sources of external funding for all manner of weird and wonderful endeavours.

For scientists there are many organisations that can help. One of the best organised is The Wellcome Trust in London, which, with the Royal Society, produces useful booklets on funding in biomedical and veterinary science. The Wellcome Trust also provides an information service. For arts students there are the national and regional arts councils which may have information or be able to provide money themselves. For law students there is the Law Society.

Most university disciplines have their own learned society which students often join. To win grants from these societies you need to be a student member, which is normally cheap. I am a member of ten scientific societies and when I was a student they were a valuable source of grants.

Start looking at the free magazines most of the societies produce for their members. Information on scholarships and bursaries is often listed in these magazines and since they are specific to your subject, your chances of getting funding are increased.

There are other magazines: one, called Medical Laboratory World, goes to all medical laboratories in the country and has competitions with the Japanese company Olympus every year. I won Pounds 500 which enabled me to go to a conference.

Some very surprising organisations give out money. For example, who would think that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) gives money to biochemists? Yet some years ago NATO set up a scientific committee to promote research between its constituent member countries.

If you want to travel for a bit longer, perhaps spending all or part of your PhD in another country, try the Fullbright Commission, which has helped UK graduates carry out postgraduate studies in the United States for many years. The European Commission will help if you want to go to another member country. In fact there are grants and bursaries to help postgraduates study abroad in just about every developed country and many of these grants are more generous than the United Kingdom research councils especially when it comes to conference attendance.

Ethnic background is another relatively untapped source. Take for example the Irish America organisations in the US like the Ferris Foundation Scholarships which help Irish graduates to take up business studies in Washington. Another example is the St Andrews Society of the State of New York, which gives scholarships to those of a Scottish background. Britain may no longer be an empire, but its colonial cousins are still in touch and eager to help.

Of course, one of the best sources of information is your university library. Most have a book which could be described as a little gem if it was not an inch and a half thick. The Grants Register lists the names, addresses and even a few details on most of the bodies in the UK with money to dish out for everything from acupuncture to zoology.

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