Considering a PhD in the Humanities & Social Sciences (1/2)

Joe Cronin, Application Adviser

There are currently more PhD scholarships available in Humanities and Social Science subjects in the UK than at any point in recent history. While this is undoubtedly a blessing for anyone considering embarking on doctoral study in these areas, there are some factors to bear in mind:

It’s more worthwhile than ever to try to find funding. Some students are in the fortunate position of being able to fund their own doctoral research (in 2016/17, annual fees for full-time research courses at QMUL will be £4,121 for home students, and £13,400 for overseas students). However, with the range of funding now available, try to find a suitable scholarship – even if you don’t feel your academic credentials are ‘exemplary’. Most PhD studentships will cover not only your course fees, but will also provide a maintenance allowance. Even if you are able to cover these costs yourself, a scholarship also adds prestige to your work (someone is actually paying you to study!) and will bolster your CV when it comes to applying for future positions. You can find plenty of PhD scholarships advertised on (scroll to the bottom and click on ‘PhD’ in the

Studentships section). QMUL has a subscription to and also list opportunities. An academic in your field may be aware of subject-specific sites advertising studentships.

It still pays to consider your options. Even if you have your heart set on doing a PhD, and are able to secure funding, it’s still worth considering whether it’s right for you. First of all, even with a studentship, you are still ‘losing’ money compared to what you could be earning in employment. After all, you are a highly-educated individual! This may not be a concern to you, but consider also that even after you finish your PhD, depending on your career area of interest, you may not be earning as much as your peers outside of academia for several years.

The academic job market – particularly in the Humanities and Social Sciences – has changed radically over the past few years. In the past, the standard pathway was to complete your PhD and then apply for a permanent academic position (perhaps with a couple of years’ postdoctoral study in between). A growing number of PhDs now compete for a seemingly static number of postdocs and teaching positions, the latter of which are more often than not temporary (one or two years). It is only after this ‘rite of passage’ that one can realistically apply for a permanent position.

Many PhDs have to wait a year or two before they are able to obtain even a temporary teaching post or a postdoctoral fellowship, during which time they are often dependent on casual ‘teaching assistant’ work in universities and other short-term positions, such as working as a research assistant on a pre-existing project. It is possible to make a living in this way, and if you stick it out for long enough you are almost certain to obtain something worthwhile.

Come back on Wednesday for part 2 of this topic – ‘Applying for a PhD in the Humanities & Social Sciences’


One thought on “Considering a PhD in the Humanities & Social Sciences (1/2)

  1. Hi Joe,
    Really interested in your opening statement and would love to see the figures that underpin what you say about there being more scholarships now than in recent years.

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