Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Fun Finding Fees

Posted by Annette Payne

I’m one of those rare, unusual PhD creatures…..The Self Funder (waits for gasps of shock and horror).

I work for the NHS, where funding for academic study is based upon the qualifications required for the role, identified in your job description. For my role as a band 7 Health and Housing Specialist an MSc is the highest qualification deemed necessary. Now don’t get me wrong it isn’t that the NHS doesn’t support academic study, they do…..but that support might not be financial.

Selling your soul for your PhD fees?
Once I made the decision that I was actually going to embark on this PhD journey, I just automatically thought ‘I’ll self-fund’. I’m studying part time at Sunderland University and the fees aren’t too bad (gulps). I calculated that at around £2000 a year, or £166 a month, it was a financial investment in my future that I was prepared to make. Then the reality hit that it would be £2000 a year, or £166 a month, for maybe the next 7 years: a potential £14,000 financial investment in my future. That of course didn’t account for any printing costs, travel to conferences, poster prep and all those other hidden PhD costs. Now the cost of my PhD was hitting my poor brain and my purse!!

I started to get a bit annoyed. Whether justified or not, I was a bit jealous of those PhD students who didn’t have the financial responsibilities that I did. I live alone (yes, yes, I’m 40, live alone and I DO have cats!!). I pay my mortgage, cover the bills, run a car, and go on holiday and I fund all of this via my full-time job. I do admittedly earn a decent salary, some would say more than decent (I judge my salary in relation to my sister who works in banking so I consider myself the poor relative!). I can’t just walk away from my job to study full-time with a research grant - that would be too significant a drop in income.

I also started to get annoyed with my employer. I was doing my PhD for my own personal development, because it was something I wanted to do. But ultimately, my employer, the NHS, would be benefitting too. Why shouldn’t I be a little cheeky, push the boundaries and ask for a bit of financial help…….and that is exactly what I did!!

I’m a qualified District Nurse by background; a qualification that opens up certain channels of funding to me. For my first year fees I applied to the Non-Medical Education and Training (NMET) fund. I was successful and was awarded nearly all my fees. I covered the shortfall myself.

For my second year I did the same. But with huge organisational changes, the policy and process had changed. I was awarded the maximum for PhD study of £1500 again with me covering the slightly larger shortfall myself.

The fees for my third year are due in February and NMET is no more so I have applied directly to my Hospitals Trust for funding. For the first time I have been awarded my full fees (woops of joy) and a full 10 days study leave (broad grin as my social life takes a turn for the better). I have of course had to sign my life away in exchange for the cash. You know, the normal: I can’t leave my job for x many years or I have to pay every penny back. But for the moment I’m happy. I’m awaiting the outcome of an application with the Burdett Trust; a charity that helps nurses, midwives and allied health professionals with postgrad study. I have my fingers and toes crossed as if I’m successful this will mean the end to my yearly round of funding applications. I can actually just sit back and concentrate on the PhD job at hand!

I’ve made finding funding sound easy haven’t I?? Fill in a form=cash. But I found out on 5th November this year that I had my fees for 2013 from an application that was submitted in March, lost four times, and required numerous phonecalls and soul selling just in order to get that £2000. I am prepared to play the funding game, I make sure that my application highlights clearly how my PhD work meets the knowledge and skills outcomes on my job description, and how the skills developed will benefit the trust and meet organisational outcomes. I let the charity know how my work will improve patient care and service delivery. I have become funding savvy.

So why do I bother apart from the obvious payment of fees from somewhere else other than my purse?? Well I see these funding battles as an opportunity. Once I’ve gained my PhD I will also have shown that I can write an application to secure funding. I’m adding to my marketable skills post doctorate and therefore my prospects. I have indeed invested in my future and for once it’s not all about the money.

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