How I Secured MA Funding: Case Study
For the budding postgraduate Arts and Humanities student, MA funding is the Holy Grail. Securing funding at this stage can smooth the path to success. Those who win a full fees grant and sizeable stipend can breathe a sigh of relief. When there’s no need to undertake part time work alongside your MA studies, it is possible to devote all your time and attention to your course, unhindered by financial worries. Understandably, competition for bursaries, studentships and other grants is tough. We spoke to Vicky Olsen, a postgraduate English Literature student who won AHRC funding for her recent MA, to find out how she secured her studentship.
Q. How early on in the academic year did you begin to think about your funding application?A. Pretty early! Timing is everything, it seems. Applications were due in late January and I was already thinking seriously about mine by mid-September. I was studying for the final year of my undergraduate course at the time, so things were rather full on. I think it’s certainly worth putting the effort in early on, though.
Q. What did that involve?A. I spent a lot of time seeking advice. I went along to see professors and lecturers in their office hours and asked them what they looked for in a funding application. The best pieces of advice I received were to make your research proposal as clear, fresh and strong as possible and to think of it as an argument, to submit your best, most original piece of written work, rather than an essay that relates directly to the MA you hope to undertake and to let your personality shine through your application. I was also advised to demonstrate practical experience in the academic field, whether it be attending a conference or helping a lecturer out with some research.
Q. How many drafts did you write for your personal statement and research proposal?A. I needed to submit two written statements – the personal statement and research proposal. My tutor told me that it would be OK if these were identical and I took her advice. I concentrated on writing and polishing the one document. My statement was in note form for a fair few months. I kept a notebook and brainstormed my ideas, jotting something down whenever it came to me. I wrote my first draft at Christmas time and reworked the document about five or six times in the following fortnight. I then emailed it to my tutor and another lecturer to seek their advice. They both suggested a few changes, I implemented these, then it was ready!
Q. What did you include in your personal statement?A. I started off by outlining my key research interest – visual culture in Victorian literature. I then moved on to demonstrating how I’ve worked with those ideas and that period, mentioning a few authors and theories. I also intertwined references to practical experience I’d gained in that area. Next, I gave an overview of what my undergraduate dissertation was to be about, then sketched out my ideas for an MA dissertation. I also made reference to the kinds of writers, works and ideas I’d like to look at at PhD level. It’s very important to give a sense of where you want your academic career to head and to follow a logical path through that. Tell a story.
Q. Were you called to interview?A. The institution I applied to didn’t hold interviews for MA studentships. It was all based on the written application. An academic panel reviewed everyone’s applications and put it to the vote.
Q. What was the most challenging part of the application process?A. I found choosing which essay to submit extremely difficult. In the end, I plumped for a piece I’d just written over the Christmas assessment period. I was apprehensive because it hadn’t yet been marked but I’d found it a challenging and satisfying essay to write and felt that it was probably my most unique piece. My writing style, skills of analysis and ability to argue are always developing, so whilst it was a risk, it also made sense to go with something I’d completed very recently.
Q. What one piece of advice would you give someone who was hoping to secure MA funding?A. Approach your application as you would approach an essay or research project. Read all you can, gather as much advice as possible, then distil and refine your ideas. That sense of an argument is vital – your proposal needs to persuade. To do this, you need to stay inspired, so your argument will feel unique and compelling.
Vicky is one of the lucky few, having fought off steep competition from over fifty other applicants to secure her studentship. Her approach to the application process is something to learn from, however. Bring rigour, creativity and a decent number of man hours to your application and you might just strike gold too.