Canadian funding for PhD in England?
November 21, 2020 10:32 AM   Subscribe

My friend wants to do their PhD in Earth Sciences in the UK -- hopefully UCL or Cambridge for next fall. Yet, funding is very competitive and difficult they said. They are hoping to hear back from a Canadian federal governemnts scholarship that they can take to the UK if they were accepted. However, my friend is also looking for other PhD scholarships to apply to as a Canadian in order to secure PhD funding in England. It is difficult because scholarships are so competitive and not to mention its Cambridge they are aiming for and living expenses are so darn high. They cannot study in the UK unless they secure a lot of scholarship funding.

Are there PhD Science scholarships my friend can apply to as a Canadian to take over to England? Are there any that are open to apply to for my friend to study next fall?
posted by RearWindow to Education (7 answers total)
Most earth science PhD students will receive funding through their graduate program or through their faculty advisor's grants, not from a federal government or other kind of scholarship. Your friend should talk to the faculty they are interested in doing research with about the available funding opportunities. There is no reason to be considering Cambridge unless there is someone there with whom they plan to work. In grad school, the advisor matters far more than the university.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:58 AM on November 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

I assume your friend has applied for the NSERC PGS-D. It is indeed extremely competitive; also it provides funding for (only) 3 years, so I hope your friend has a plan for what to do if their PhD takes longer (though I'm aware that UK PhDs tend to be fairly short).

Does your friend know for sure that there will be insufficient funding from the program itself (combination of TAship and Research Assistantship/funding from supervisor's grant) to cover tuition and living expenses? The answer to this question may not be findable on the program's website and your friend may have to actually ask the graduate advisor for the program. Has your friend done this or not?
posted by heatherlogan at 1:19 PM on November 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

If your friend does end up getting funding from the Canadian government, they should be aware that the cost of living is substantially higher in London. A friend of mine with a postdoc at the LSE funded through some prestigious Canadian fellowship that would've allowed her to live quite comfortably in Montreal (where she's from) found herself renting the couch in a living room in Hackney. For most people, this level of instability makes it hard to do the really stunning work that makes a PhD worth doing, though their results may vary.
posted by knucklebones at 2:21 PM on November 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

The UK had a shift a while back to funding a lot of its science PhD studies though doctoral training centres. Consider looking for these, seeing which institutions are in them (they're usually multi-centre) for Earth Sciences and applying there.

One problem you don't mention is that a Canadian will pay international fees but that UK funding will sometimes only be enough to cover EU fees. Keep an eye on this.
posted by biffa at 4:30 PM on November 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

As a Canadian, they should also look out for 'Commonwealth' specific grants and scholarships.

But really, they need to be in conversation with the lab they want to work with, before they think of applying. It's more like applying for a job, less like applying for college. Once they have had a conversation with a potential advisor, that adviser will help them figure out what funding is on offer.

A good approach to get started, is searching for advertised PhD positions on For instance, this one. (note the name and email address of who to contact to ask about the position, right at the end of the ad. Your friend should email this person before the put in an application. This is often more effective than emailing the prof in charge of the lab directly, because that person is likely very busy.)

I wish your friend all the best; figuring out this stuff as a foreigner can be hard. There are so many country-specific unwritten rules and etiquette about how you even apply to get into academia, let alone what to do once you are there!
posted by EllaEm at 7:54 PM on November 21, 2020

I've always found quite useful for this kind of thing.
posted by Chairboy at 4:36 PM on November 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hello, I am a geologist/Earth Scientist who studied for a PhD at Imperial College London - department generally on a part with UCL/Cambridge. Finished around 10-15 years ago. I currently co-supervise a PhD student at Cambridge (as well as other places), so have a fair amount of experience in the area.

As has been mentioned, most earth science PhDs in the UK are advertised and already have a research plan (although this often changes along the way) - they tend to be more collaborative, and less about finding the 'right' supervisor - although, of course, supervisors are important. Also, it's highly likely that your friend will have more than one supervisor.

As also mentioned, many PhDs are now run through 'doctoral training partnerships' (DPT, we are now on DPT2) or similar, which, having supervised students through this model, are great. They provide excellent training in earth science and other soft skills, and allow students across the country to get to know one another. Very important if you are in quite a small department, but Cambridge and UCL are both large, so that shouldn't be a big issue. however, my understanding is that the second round of DPT PhD funding has been completed.

All PhDs in the earth science field which are respectable, and advertised, will be fully funded, BUT, not all can fund non-UK/EU students, which may be where they are running into trouble. I would also look for Commonwealth funding and/or scholarships which are particular to Canadians - this may be particularly relevant at Cambridge, where there are often quite obscure scholarships. Your friend should not do a PhD which is not fully funded in some way. It will be possibile for them to do a bit of teaching/demonstrating, but this would be minimal, especially compared to American universities (sorry, not sure about Canada). More for spending money than actual funding. Your friend will be expected to finish in 3 or 4 years.

Most students I know use:

An advantage of studying at Cambridge is that you will be a member of a college, and they may be able to help with accommodation. My experience as a PhD student in London, in a very international cohort, is that almost nobody was able to get university accommodation - you will have to privately rent, and rents are very high. I was lucky back in the mid-2000's to find a good place with only one roommate in zone 2, but I suspect that has changed significantly.

Is your friend completely sold on Cambridge/UCL? My advice now would be to look at other universities both in the UK and in Europe. There is going to be a big brain drain post-Brexit, and standard of living, in my opinion, is better in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, for example. There may also be opportunities in Commonwealth countries like Australia or New Zealand.

Feel free to message me if you have specific questions - if I know what part of earth sciences they are interested in, I might be able to help further.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 12:59 AM on November 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

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