Barely any of my school friends went to university, let alone wanted to work there. I was one of the few who went on to study at university. I also come from a low-income family with no history of going to university. I initially wanted to go to university after working at a school and realising that if I wanted to become a teacher I would have to get a degree.
After I went to Queen Mary University of London I decided that I really enjoyed research and wanted to work in academia. Of course, if you want to be a researcher then you have to do a PhD. I am due to start my PhD at the University of Glasgow later this year to continue my journey into academia.
I have been lucky to have received grants and scholarships, but it has been difficult at times. There are plenty of things I know now that I wish I had known when I started out.
You have to be really sure you want to do it
I would advise anybody who is thinking about pursuing a career in academia to do lots of research into it first. You have to be totally sure that it is for you. You have to remember, particularly if you want to do humanities, there will be more people with PhDs than places for researchers and you will be making less money than you might expect.
Also make sure that you are aware of the opportunities that might be available to you in your particular field. There might be more openings in one particular subject than another.
Find some funding
There are still scholarships at some universities, so it is always worth asking, but receiving them is a lot harder than it used to be. I was lucky enough to get a national scholarship when I was an undergraduate, but that is no longer available. When I went on to do my master’s, I received the Simon and Deirdre Gaskell Scholarship, which is also now defunct, from Queen Mary. My cohort were the final ones to be able to receive it. You can still find money to help you study but you might have to go looking in some weird and wonderful places.
More on studying for a PhD
Look for help from unexpected sources
There is a common belief that funding is reserved for a select few, but that is not always the case. I am a vegetarian, and for a while I was looking into the possibility of getting a grant from the Vegetarian Charity, of all places. It just goes to show that there is funding out there to help you, but you need to be open-minded about where it might be coming from. It’s always worth just looking around on the internet for various charities and societies that provide financial aid for students.
Be aware of changes made by the government
Studying for a PhD is not easy if you cannot get funding. However, there are changes to financing and funding all the time that might benefit you so it is important to stay abreast of these. A lot of people I speak to don’t even know about the Doctoral Loan, which allows postgraduates to apply for a loan from the Student Loans Company to help with their PhD. It might not be ideal to take another loan after accruing so much debt already, but in some cases it could be the best option.
Get a job…if you can
I had a part-time job when I was studying for my undergraduate degree and that really helped me out. I tried to do the same as a postgraduate but just found the workload too much. My job was during the day and didn’t really fit with a study schedule, so maybe it would be best to find a job that you know can work around your time at university. Although it is hard to balance both, it can be really helpful to have some money coming in, even if it is just to put your mind at ease.
Read more: Students: tips for managing your finances