So in my “road to my PhD” post I told you about how I got my PhD, now I thought I would tell you a little about what happened after getting my formal acceptance letter.
My formal acceptance letter arrived by email (and probably post as well, but due to the university storing my old details from my application the year before it went to my old address) on the 20th June 2013. The letter outlined my student number, course, start and end dates and method of study (Full-Time). It also finished with the following: “Field of study: Genetics Research. You have been assessed as a Home student.The tuition fees for 2013/4 will be £ 3,900.00”. This should’ve raised a red flag. As far as I knew, in the sciences when a project is offered funding to pay for the student is already attached, unless otherwise stated. My assumption was that this was a letter format sent out to everyone (some disciples don’t routinely offer funding for projects) and I would later receive a bill for fees telling me that they were covered/had already been paid by my department. Over the next few months doubts crept in as I didn’t get a letter telling me my fees were covered. As I got closer to my start date of 30/09/2013 I received my registration pack, it gave me a lot of information about life at Leicester and how to register before the new year started so that things such as ID badges could be prepared in advance. I was excited, everything was really rolling now, but I still had that niggling doubt about fees and as a backup I managed to save some money just in case. I began the online registration process and got to the part about fees, yep it was still telling me I needed to pay them. Red flag has officially begun to fly. I thought I’d made an error, I never actually saw my PhD advertised, I only saw the project outline emailed to me. Maybe it wasn’t funded, maybe I needed to find £3,900/year for the next 3 years. 😮 …. panic set in.
I had the option to pay half now and half later in the year so I opted to do that using the money I’d saved, I had to pay before I could officially register. I needed to re-evaluate how I would cope financially over the course of my PhD. I began looking into Career and Professional Development (CPD) loans which only have to be repaid once you’ve completed your study. I got the forms and I sent them off, the advisor I spoke to suggested looking at scholarships that might also be available. I did some research and discovered that most didn’t apply to me either because I’m British or because I was working and earning money in the run up to my PhD. I did however spot in an email from FindAPhD.com that they offer scholarships, they aren’t enough to cover the fees but any additional funding would help me out! All they ask for is that you sign up to their newsletters (if you haven’t already), have already been accepted onto a course and can put together a creative method outlining why you should win.
I applied in the Medical Sciences and Health category as I work on bacterial pathogens, but there are a total of 7 subject specific awards (£500) and 1 overall winner (£1000). Entry for 2014 can be found on their website if you’re interested. They wanted something creative but other than my baking skills I don’t think of myself as a creative person – art was never my strong point. I decided that I would use skills have already have but in a more unusual way. I did what any scientist does when they need to capture an audience – I made a powerpoint presentation, which you can find a pdf of by selecting this link: Megan De Ste Croix – FindAPhD, the original powerpoint was too big to upload. I didn’t really think I would win this scholarship but if I didn’t put an entry together then I definitely wasn’t going to win. When I got an email letting me know I’d been shortlisted I was really happy – my powerpoint presentation was holding up against the “creative people” and in Nov 2013 I found out I’d won! They asked me to fill in a few questions and send them a picture so they could create a profile – this profile has finally gone up this week and you can find it here (I’m second from the bottom). I’ve been waiting and waiting for this profile to go up so I could finally blog about it! I have to say looking at it I’m pretty proud to see myself on that page.
The thing is between applying for the scholarship and finding out I’d won I’d also managed to get to the bottom of why I had a stipend (PhD tax-free earnings) but also had to pay fees. I knew I had a stipend, this was outlined in my interview, but usually someone offered a stipend by the university also has their fees covered by their department. Your first stipend is issued as a cheque, after that you can have it paid straight into your bank account, so I went off to collect mine. No cheque :(. The guy at the finance office was really helpful and contacted the person who deals with the stipends, he in turn contacted my department, after a little confusion about my name (the French-ness is an everyday challenge for me when giving my name over the phone) my department very apologetically told me a form had been missed. That was all, one form missed and I had been feeling uneasy for months! I should’ve spoken up sooner, I wanted to ask but I was too embarassed thinking that I’d made a mistake. The missing form was a fee waiver, once that had been sent off to the finance department I got a refund on what I’d already paid to the university and I also got my first stipend cheque. This happening was a simple mistake but admin errors like this can take their toll! I’m glad I sorted this out quickly but I do feel that maybe someone else should’ve noticed. I hope in future the university offers more communication to new PhD students about stipends and fees (I had no idea to go and collect my first cheque until a 2nd year PhD student in my department told me about 2 weeks in!).
My FindAPhd.com money hasn’t gone to waste though – that £500 covered my first few monthly train tickets into Leicester, so I hope the judges would agree I’m definitely still using it to fund my PhD.