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  • Lakshman

Do I need money to do a PhD ?

This question might sound silly within the Western world, in a country such as the UK, but this is perhaps the deciding factor for most individuals who, like myself, come from poor countries. 

And this is perhaps the only question I knew the answer to, even as a very young student doing my undergraduate degree in Sri Lanka. The answer is, ‘yes, you need money, but you do not need your own money’ to do a PhD. Usually, a PhD take three to four years minimum to complete. The magic word ‘scholarship’ will help you. Completing a PhD was something of a dream for me because I did not have a penny saved to spend on my higher education, so I had no idea how to make this dream come true. So that was why probably it took about 18 years for me to finally secure a scholarship/financial arrangement. Prior to describing my own experience of finding money for the PhD, let me explain the most common options available to you: 

Self-funded PhDs - 

If you think you can afford to pay for your PhD, then this is of course the quickest and perhaps the easiest route. Here, you are looking for a course-fee of about £15,000 per year (£45,000 for three years) plus the cost of living modestly, which will be in the region of £12,000 a year (another £36,000 for the three years). Depending on the specific country, University and programme of study, these expenses may vary. 

Sponsored PhDs 

If you are already attached to a system of higher education such as a staff member of a University, or a government institution, it may be possible for your workplace to fund you to do a PhD. However, such funding may come with strings attached, such as agreeing to repay a financial bond, etc. 


This is the option I recommend. There are a multitude of scholarships on offer around the world. So, what is the key to securing a scholarship from a recognised University? There are two main forms of award: applying for a specified project, and developing your own research project.

For example, here are some examples of specifies research projects advertised in this year’s PhD scholarship round by the Department of Business Management, in the School of Social SciencesHeriot Watt University. You can also see that I am involved in one of these projects, titled ‘The intersection of gender and disability in highly skilled careers’.  

The other option, which applies in my own case, is that you design your own project and try to find a scholarship to conduct that project in a recognised University. This is an opportunity to change your life, make a difference in society and spend a few years of your life doing

something that you really like to do. However, this is not the easiest path for a PhD. So, following are some of the key facts you might want to consider;

Your research ‘idea’ needs to be current, critical and interesting. What I mean by ‘current’ research is that the possibility of being considered for a scholarship is high if your idea entails on-going, leading research in the field which goes a step further. Therefore, your idea will be seen to be useful to the senior researchers in the field who will be your possible supervisors.

Personally, I believe that all PhD research must make a critical contribution to existing knowledge, which questions what is taken for granted or existing norms in the field. This is what I mean by a ‘critical’ study, which will expand our existing understandings. Finally, a research project must be ‘interesting’ and exciting for the researcher and for the team of supervisors. If a research project is current, critical and interesting, then it increases the possibility of winning a scholarship by attracting possible supervisors’ attention and enables you to keep on going over the extended period of three to four years required to complete a PhD. 

Finally, where can you find a scholarship? There are a plethora of sources and I will keep adding these sources as I update this blog on a regular basis. However, to begin with, is a good starting point (and is where I found my own scholarship). So, start by registering yourself so you start getting regular emails with updated PhD scholarships and familiarise yourself with what is expected. This will allow you to prepare yourself.

Another way to find a scholarship is to keep browsing your target country’s University websites. Doing this will also provide you with a wealth of opportunities and hints as to what you should possess as qualities and qualifications to be a desirable PhD candidate. 

Dr. Lakshman Wimalasena


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