Postgraduate Fund Profile: Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

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 If you are seeking postgraduate funding for study in a non-STEM subject area, your options are considerably slimmer than they are for those in science, technology, engineering and medicine, where industry partners often contribute to covering costs. They are not non-existent, however—and the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) remains one of the UK’s biggest funders of research in a wide variety of fields, including history, dance, archaeology, philosophy, English literature, languages, design, and the creative and performing arts.

Some postgraduate work is directly funded via the AHRC, via the Block Grant Partnership scheme. This means that the AHRC has checked and approved the postgraduate programme at the university offering an AHRC-funded place. These awards are extremely competitive, so if you want to try for one, make direct contact with the academics involved in the programme. Their help and advice will be invaluable in ensuring that your application is the best that it can be.

Both how you present yourself and what you apply to study matter: sloppy, incomplete or poorly written applications will be immediately binned. Successful AHRC applications are always on topics that are unique, timely, and presented within the application in ways that pique the reviewers’ interest. You need to show why your topic matters (for example, social or economic impact, new developments), why it’s of interest now (with reference to current publications, conferences, CFPs), and why you are the right person to carry the torch for the topic.

The AHRC always has some specific themes that it wants applicants to address (at the time of this writing, World War One), and it can pay to consider how your topic of interest intersects with these—or could with just a bit of tweaking.

Wider AHRC role.

Of course, the AHRC is far more than a provider of PhD scholarship funding. It runs and/or sponsors some excellent career development and training programmes for early career researchers in the arts and humanities. It also provides funding to independent research organisations—which may in turn use the cash to fund research by students or independent researchers.

In fact, one of the smartest things to do when considering funding is to look not only at the AHRC’s direct offers via university partnerships, but also at other funding options and at organisations they have funded. Many of the additional opportunities are “knowledge transfer” projects that are intended to take research out of the academy and into the world of work, with partners including the BBC, museums, and businesses.

It’s also important for UK postgrads in the arts and humanities to consider their international options, because competition for jobs within and without the British isles is now global. For this reason, the AHRC has for some years provided grants and other schemes aimed squarely at fostering overseas opportunities for ambitious scholars. 

Top tips.

As with any Research Council application, take advantage of any help you can get from your current or former university. AHRC applications sometimes ask for quite detailed information, and it needs to be in a specific format to get past the gatekeepers. Inexperienced applicants may, for example, have never created Full Economic Costing (FEC) figures, and getting this wrong can leave even successful applicants short.

AHRC funding may not cover the full costs of your PhD or research project, so keep an eye out for small grant schemes, and be sure to talk to your university about any top-up scholarships or grants that you might apply for. 

Further information: 

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