Postgrad Queries: 'I'm desperate – how can I fund my PhD in stem cell research?'

Hard cell

Q. Later this year I'm starting a doctorate in stem cell research, but I have been rejected for a scholarship by the Medical Research Council (MRC). My financial situation is fairly desperate – is it true that some charities offer funding to postgraduates?

A. First, the MRC is only one of seven research councils in the UK. Before giving up, you could also try the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, as this fits the subject of your proposed PhD.

However, most people who want to do a PhD do not apply for a studentship directly from the research councils. Instead, the awards are allocated to departments or PhD supervisors who then advertise for candidates. In your case, there might not have been enough to go around.

Before turning to charities, check if your chosen institution has its own PhD scholarships available. Usually these are allocated to departments, so it could be worth checking with your future supervisor. A searchable database of these scholarships can be found at www.scholarship-search.org.uk/grants/uk-phd.

Charities and trusts do indeed offer funding for postgraduates. The big medical ones – such as the Wellcome Trust, Leverhulme Trust or British Heart Foundation – might all fund research into stem cells, but any awards would go directly to the relevant university departments. So double check if you haven't already.

There are also a number of smaller charities and trusts that you could apply to directly for funding. A list of medical and scientific charities can be found at the website of the Association of Medical Research Charities (www.amrc.org.uk). You can check if you are eligible for an award and see the amounts of money on offer.

Of course, smaller charities tend to give out smaller amounts than the large ones, so you'd be looking at a few hundred pounds rather than the £12,940 (outside London) currently offered by the MRC. Needless to say, you would be hard pushed to survive on such a pittance for the duration of a three or four-year PhD, which will be hard enough without having the added worry of not knowing where your next meal is coming from.

A word of warning: starting a PhD without full funding is a very dangerous decision, because if you do run out of money half way through it can be a horrible wrench to have to give up on the research you've worked so hard at. If you do find yourself without any cash as the start date approaches, it's worth considering deferring entry for a year.

Web development

Q. I'm looking to gain a postgraduate qualification in web design, and I've heard you can get funding through a Career Development Loan (CDL). Are these the same as undergraduate loans? How do I know if I am eligible for one, and how much will I receive?

A. Yes, you can obtain funding from a Career Development Loan for a wide range of postgraduate courses. The emphasis of the learning must be on enhancing skills directly relevant to your desired job: in this case, web design would surely qualify.

CDLs are not the same as undergraduate loans. For a start, they are not provided by the Student Loans Company, instead they are offered by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and three high street banks: Barclays, the Co-operative Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The amounts of money you will receive also vary greatly. You can borrow £300-£8,000 for up to two years of study, or up to three years if your course includes a work placement year. The LSC will pay the interest on your loan while you are studying, and for one month after you graduate. Unfortunately, the banks ultimately decide who gets these loans, so expect your credit rating to be scrutinised. For Government information on CDLs, visit www.direct.gov.uk/cdl.

Thanks to Nan Sherrard and Deborah Millan, careers consultants for Domino Careers (www.dominocareers.co.uk). Send your queries to Chris Green at c.green@independent.co.uk

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