Poverty for Postgrads Blog Discussion

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  • Agent_C
    Agent_C Posts: 565 Forumite
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    I am currently a self-funded Master's student and I have learnt the hard way that being talented and working hard are often just not enough to secure funding.

    I wanted to pursue a PhD and naively assumed that all I needed to do was to show that I could get good results and work hard, and funding would come my way. Despite being out of education for 14 years and working in a field that has no relevance to my current studies, I managed to come top of the class in my assignments, and am now on track to get a distinction. However, I haven't been successful in even getting nominated by my department for the few funding opportunities out there that would enable me to pursue my PhD.

    Instead, the students who have been put forward are getting nowhere near as good results as me, but have that kind of easy-going confidence that is largely the preserve of the middle classes. In other words, their faces fit. They also have youth on their side. I suspect that this is the case throughout much of academia: it is not a fair system. If you go to a job interview and perform well on the tests and give the best interview answers, you will most likely get the job - but this doesn't happen in academia. I am likely to find myself unemployed by September, while people who have by their own admission not worked anywhere near as hard as me will get £14,000 a year for 3 years to continue their studies.

    I would therefore recommend that anyone who thinks they can get funding on merit alone to think again, unless they are good at self-promotion and can 'talk the talk'.
  • bitsandpieces
    bitsandpieces Posts: 1,736 Forumite
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    Congratulations on the likely distinction, and sorry you haven't found funding for a PhD. Depends on what field you're in - but one often sees universities advertising studentships for open competition (or is there time to apply for a research council studentship at a different uni?)
  • melancholly
    melancholly Posts: 7,457 Forumite
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    i'm sorry you've had a bad time getting a phd - but don't feel too bad about not getting one the first time around. the best thing to do is apply to lots, at many unis, with many different supervisors. if you just aim for one, then it's very very risky! plenty of people take a couple of years to get a phd place (me included!).

    i think your post indicates a bit of a chip because of your background... sadly a phd place is going to be very dependent on a personality match... a supervisor wants a student they will get on with and that they think will work well within their research group. it's not just about degree results and if you 'expect' a place based on your great academic acheivement (which is in no doubt), you may portray an attitude that won't help you.
    :happyhear
  • Agent_C
    Agent_C Posts: 565 Forumite
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    Thank you - I think I have missed the boat for the research council funding this year, but can always try again next year. I am a bit limited as to where I can apply to as personal circumstances mean that I can't move to a new area, but there are a couple more universities in striking distance that I can try.

    I get on very well with both my supervisors and I know they are on my side and have confidence in my ability. However, both are based outside my immediate department and I suspect that neither has a great deal of influence within the department. I probably do have a chip on my shoulder, but it's come about from life experience. I have supported myself since leaving home at 17, including a struggle to afford to attend University the first time around. It has taken me 14 years to save up enough to continue my education - something that I'd have done immediately after graduating if I'd had the opportunity. It just galls me when people who already have money behind them can walk into funding opportunities, seemingly regardless of ability or hard work.
  • melancholly
    melancholly Posts: 7,457 Forumite
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    the choice of who gets studentships within a department is a hugely political issue! it's not just about the student, it's also dependent on the supervisors (e.g. if they got a student with that system last year then often someone else gets it the year after to spread phd students around the whole department).

    i think you need to apply to more than one phd place... it's madness not to. i also think you need to rethink your opinions of other students - i had some financial help from my parents as an undergrad, but that doesn't mean they could have paid for me to do a phd!! i also wouldn't have dreamed of asking them for that much money.

    the only other 'fact' that i have seen from being at 4 unis is that everyone who gets a phd place is highly academically able. they all have very good marks and there is just no way that unis would give places to those without ability. i've also seen enough students to know that getting a good exam mark and being a good researcher are not always the same thing. thinking so little of other students is not very attractive or particularly fair..... the fact that you paid for your masters after 14 years does not make you any more entitled to postgrad places than anyone else..... in exactly the same way that someone having rich parents is no more entitled....
    :happyhear
  • Agent_C
    Agent_C Posts: 565 Forumite
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    I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I think little of other students. It's more the unfair and, indeed, political academic system that I think very little of, and it contrasts with the 'real world' where I have come from and where it is possible to get a job based on ability and achievement.

    My degree is a research master's, and so to do well on the course is akin to proving that you can be a good researcher, as the two are so closely linked.

    I'm also not saying that the people who have got the funding are not academically able. But on my course, the two people who are fully-funded to do a PhD are not the same two people who are expected to achieve a distinction - one of whom is me, and the other is someone who has been granted a fee waiver for a PhD but has not been successful in getting any maintenance allowance, despite her good grades on this course and despite achieving a very high First in her undergraduate degree. It just doesn't seem like a fair system. It is not that saving up for 14 years 'entitles' me to do a PhD, but surely getting the highest grades on the course - and having a unique and worthwhile research proposal - should put me in pole position for any available awards?
  • Oldernotwiser
    Oldernotwiser Posts: 37,425 Forumite
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    Agent_C wrote: »
    I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I think little of other students. It's more the unfair and, indeed, political academic system that I think very little of, and it contrasts with the 'real world' where I have come from and where it is possible to get a job based on ability and achievement.

    I don't know where you've worked previously but I've worked extensively in both the public and private sectors and I've found that selection and promotion are frequently both unfair and political!
  • Agent_C
    Agent_C Posts: 565 Forumite
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    I don't know where you've worked previously but I've worked extensively in both the public and private sectors and I've found that selection and promotion are frequently both unfair and political!

    Mainly in the voluntary sector - and yes, this does go on, especially in the higher echelons of management. But if there was a hint of unfair practice in the organisation, then the Union were usually quick to get involved. Also, if anyone felt hard done by, there was an impartial complaints procedure. I participated in recruitment in my last organisation and we had to follow a defined procedure, which included showing why we had rated candidates' interview answers in a certain way. We were also encouraged to include a test so that a person's actual ability could be measured. Interview and test scores were added up and the highest scorer got the job. The marking was kept so that if anyone felt hard done by then we could be transparent about why they hadn't got the job. None of this exists in academia - there is no right of appeal, and no proper feedback procedure.
  • bitsandpieces
    bitsandpieces Posts: 1,736 Forumite
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    Research studentship and grant application are frequently scored nowadays, and these scores are sometimes (though not always) made available to applicants. Universities also do - at least in all I've seen - have formal complaints procedures.

    I'm not convinced that problems are significantly worse in universities than in other sectors of the economy.
  • Rosie75
    Rosie75 Posts: 609 Forumite
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    Agent_C wrote: »
    I'm also not saying that the people who have got the funding are not academically able. But on my course, the two people who are fully-funded to do a PhD are not the same two people who are expected to achieve a distinction - one of whom is me, and the other is someone who has been granted a fee waiver for a PhD but has not been successful in getting any maintenance allowance, despite her good grades on this course and despite achieving a very high First in her undergraduate degree. It just doesn't seem like a fair system. It is not that saving up for 14 years 'entitles' me to do a PhD, but surely getting the highest grades on the course - and having a unique and worthwhile research proposal - should put me in pole position for any available awards?
    I do see what you're saying and understand why you're not happy. But academic merit isn't the only thing that gets taken into account when making these decisions. Departments are having to be much more strategic about the kinds of projects they fund now. Among other things, any committee making a funding decision will be thinking about whether the project fits the department's research profile, whether it's compatible with research council, departmental and university priorities, whether it's a sound proposal and feasible within three years, and whether the university has the resources (both physical and in terms of expertise) to support it. Most funding opportunities are now highly targetted to particular areas of priority defined, not by academics or universities, but by the government. I don't just mean that the government is prioritising particular disciplines (it obviously is), but that it is also defining the areas within particular disciplines that academics should work on, and the kinds of research questions they should pursue. I could go on a huge rant here, but I'd be in danger of taking this thread off topic. ;)
    If your supervisors are outside the department you are applying to for funding, that is an issue in itself. I'm not quite clear what your situation is but, if I understand this correctly, the fees you'd pay / be awarded would follow the supervisors and end up in their departments, and I can imagine the funding department wouldn't be too keen on this.
    As for the marking procedures, the reason there is no right of appeal is that there are so many systems in place to ensure that work is marked fairly - all assessed work is double marked and then externally moderated. Most universities also adopt blind marking. Right of appeal only exists in school examinations where scripts are marked by one person - it would be superfluous in the university system. The lack of a feedback procedure I'm very surprised at and would suggest you contact your course rep so that this can be brought up with your department.
    3-6 Month Emergency Fund #14: £9000 / £10,000
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