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Are you teaching your postgrads enough about funding?

From the many doctoral development frameworks that exist (both internationally and within Aotearoa), we all know there's a lot of ground to be covered in postgrad supervision. The thesis/research mechanics alone are all-encompassing - but the question remains - what are you teaching your postgrads about research funding, and is it enough?

There's no secret that the period during and after PhD are some of the most financially uncertain times for many early career researchers - whether it be seeking funding for a postdoctoral role, or piecing together fixed-term contracts - many early career researchers face major instability during and after PhD. This is a time where understanding and competence engaging in the research funding landscape can really make a difference.

PhD funding has been a big topic in the past few years - and rightly so - as said by Soar et al (2023): "The average value of PhD scholarships has remained stagnant between 2011 and 2019 resulting in the average being $11,238 less than the Living Wage in 2019. We show that the average length of time full-time PhD students take to complete their doctorates exceeds the three-year tenure of scholarships."

I lived this during my doctoral studies. However - by making a concerted effort (and thanks to great supervision) to engage with funding early in my PhD, I was able to secure a funded postdoctoral position (in addition to project and travel grants during my PhD). This not only helped ease my financial burden, but helped provide a track record in my CV that helped garner future funding - building positive momentum in the early years when it matters most.

Frameworks such as those from University of Auckland highlight the importance of teaching postgrads about the Research Environment which includes financial landscapes, funding and grants. Their needs analysis can be a quick way to screen for areas that can be of most use in your supervision approach.

So how do you start teaching about research funding and grants? I would recommend a few first steps:

  1. Travel Funding - a good 'gateway' into research funding is travel grants, which will also provide added experience for research students to disseminate their work and grow their network. Travel grants are lower risk, and usually have less involved applications, so this can be a good first step for a first-time applicant. Also, it is a good way to build their funding experience on their CV, so a worthwhile investment of their time. An example could be the Early Career Conference Grant from the ACU.

  2. Co-write a Small Projects Grant - Small project funding is another way to build confidence in research funding with less risk and a quicker turn-around time. Most project applications (for example - Marsden) have a lengthy assessment period, meaning you may not find out results soon enough within the postgrads study window. Small project grants, however, are a nice option for a small piece of funding (think < $20,000) with usually more reasonable turn-around times. You will likely need to co-write the application as many PhD students cannot submit their own funding applications (until after degree conferral). In health, for example, the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation offers a small $5k grant-in aid, similar to other small health funds like the Oakley Mental Health Fund and the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust.

  3. Get creative - Funding opportunities can also be found internally at most Universities and also through professional bodies. Work with your students to find any relevant opportunities and advocate on their behalf to allocate more funding for postgrad students. Also, look further afield as new opportunities are popping up all the time for postgrad students - University of Auckland has a nice resource list and of course you can search through the Perpetual Guardian site.

What other tips do you have when building your postgrad students competence in the research funding landscape? Get in touch to let me know.


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