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PhD Funding Challenges in the Humanities

Obtaining a PhD in the humanities is a significant achievement that requires years of dedicated research and study. However, one of the biggest challenges faced by aspiring humanities PhD students is securing funding for their studies. Unlike some other fields, such as science or engineering, humanities research often does not have the same level of financial support available. This article will explore the various challenges faced by humanities PhD students when it comes to funding, and discuss potential solutions and strategies to overcome these obstacles.

The Funding Landscape for Humanities PhDs

Before delving into the specific challenges, it is important to understand the overall funding landscape for humanities PhDs. Unlike in the sciences, where research grants and funding opportunities are more readily available, humanities research often relies heavily on institutional support and scholarships. This can make it more difficult for humanities students to secure funding, as there are fewer external sources to tap into.

Additionally, the humanities are often seen as less “marketable” in terms of potential career prospects, which can further limit funding opportunities. This perception can make it challenging for humanities students to convince funding bodies of the value and relevance of their research.

Challenge 1: Limited Funding Opportunities

One of the main challenges faced by humanities PhD students is the limited availability of funding opportunities. Many funding bodies prioritize scientific research or other fields that are seen as more directly applicable to industry or economic growth. As a result, humanities students often have to compete for a smaller pool of funding options.

Furthermore, the funding that is available for humanities research is often highly competitive, with a large number of applicants vying for a limited number of scholarships or grants. This can make it difficult for individual students to secure funding, even if they have a strong research proposal and academic record.

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For example, a recent study conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools found that only 15% of humanities PhD students received full funding for their studies, compared to 40% of students in the sciences. This stark difference highlights the challenges faced by humanities students when it comes to securing financial support.

Challenge 2: Lack of Awareness and Guidance

Another significant challenge for humanities PhD students is the lack of awareness and guidance when it comes to funding opportunities. Unlike in some other fields, where funding sources are well-documented and widely known, humanities students often struggle to find information about available funding options.

This lack of awareness can be particularly detrimental for students from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who are the first in their family to pursue higher education. Without proper guidance and support, these students may not even be aware that funding opportunities exist, let alone how to navigate the application process.


A study conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that only 30% of humanities PhD students were aware of all the funding options available to them. This lack of awareness can significantly hinder their ability to secure funding and pursue their research goals.

Challenge 3: Balancing Work and Research

Many humanities PhD students face the challenge of balancing their research with the need to work to support themselves financially. Unlike in some other fields, where students may receive a stipend or salary as part of their funding package, humanities students often have to rely on part-time jobs or other sources of income to make ends meet.

This can be particularly challenging for students who are conducting fieldwork or archival research, as it requires a significant amount of time and energy. Balancing work and research can lead to increased stress and may impact the quality and progress of the student’s work.


A survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors found that 70% of humanities PhD students reported working more than 20 hours per week to support themselves financially. This heavy workload can take a toll on their research and overall well-being.

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Challenge 4: Dependence on Institutional Support

Due to the limited external funding options available, humanities PhD students often rely heavily on institutional support to fund their studies. This can include scholarships, teaching assistantships, or research assistantships offered by their university.

While institutional support can provide valuable financial assistance, it also comes with its own set of challenges. For example, the availability of these funding opportunities may vary from one institution to another, making it difficult for students to choose the best program for their needs.


A study conducted by the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students found that the availability of institutional funding for humanities PhD students varied widely across different universities. This lack of consistency can make it challenging for students to plan their financial future.

Challenge 5: Lack of Flexibility in Funding Models

Another challenge faced by humanities PhD students is the lack of flexibility in funding models. Many funding opportunities are structured in a way that assumes students will complete their studies within a certain timeframe, typically around four to five years.

However, humanities research often requires more time due to the nature of the subject matter and the complexity of the research process. This can create additional financial pressure for students who need to secure funding for additional years of study.


A study conducted by the Modern Language Association found that the average time to completion for humanities PhDs was around eight years, compared to five years for STEM fields. This extended timeline can make it challenging for humanities students to secure funding for the entirety of their studies.

Strategies to Overcome Funding Challenges

While the challenges faced by humanities PhD students when it comes to funding are significant, there are strategies that can help overcome these obstacles. By being proactive and resourceful, students can increase their chances of securing funding for their studies.

1. Seek out alternative funding sources:

While external funding opportunities may be limited, humanities students should explore alternative sources of funding, such as private foundations, cultural institutions, or non-profit organizations. These organizations may have specific funding programs for humanities research that are not widely known.

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2. Build a strong network:

Networking is crucial in the humanities field, not only for academic and career opportunities but also for funding. By building connections with professors, researchers, and professionals in their field, students can gain valuable insights into funding opportunities and receive guidance on the application process.

3. Develop a compelling research proposal:

When applying for funding, it is essential to develop a research proposal that clearly articulates the significance and relevance of the project. Humanities students should highlight the potential impact of their research and its contribution to the field. A well-crafted research proposal can help convince funding bodies of the value of the project.

4. Seek guidance from mentors and advisors:

Mentors and advisors play a crucial role in guiding humanities PhD students through the funding process. Students should seek their advice and support when it comes to identifying funding opportunities, preparing applications, and navigating the complexities of the funding landscape.

5. Consider interdisciplinary collaborations:

Collaborating with researchers from other disciplines can open up new funding opportunities for humanities students. By working on interdisciplinary projects, students can tap into funding sources that may be more readily available in other fields.


Securing funding for a humanities PhD can be a challenging endeavor. Limited funding opportunities, lack of awareness, the need to balance work and research, dependence on institutional support, and inflexible funding models are some of the key challenges faced by humanities students. However, by seeking out alternative funding sources, building a strong network, developing compelling research proposals, seeking guidance from mentors, and considering interdisciplinary collaborations, students can increase their chances of securing funding for their studies. It is crucial for universities, funding bodies, and policymakers to recognize the unique challenges faced by humanities students and work towards creating a more supportive and inclusive funding environment.

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