The majority of PhD projects will be associated with a designated sum of money to be spent on consumables, equipment, conferences, etc. This amount can range widely depending on your funding source, and can be staggered across your PhD or be given to you in one lump sum. With great power comes great responsibility, and it can be stressful trying to budget and manage your money.

Some PhD projects are simply more expensive than others: projects involving animal work or using intricate techniques will eat into your grant more than a desk-based PhD. The majority of PhD projects are planned to be financially viable, however, PhDs do not always go to plan and may end up being more expensive than anticipated. It is also quite often that you run out of money before the end of your PhD, which is when you start churning out data and need that money!

As someone who has too much PhD left at the end of their money, I have put together some tips on how to make your grants last longer!

Budget wisely

When you start your project, try to estimate which reagents, equipment and facilities you will need. Most laboratory consumables and equipment will have a cost associated and planning how much you will need to spend over the course of your PhD will help manage your finances. It will also help you gauge whether you will run out of money by the end of your PhD. Obviously, it can be difficult to predict precisely what you will need throughout the next 3-4 years, but having this mind-set early on will stop you from splurging on unnecessary items.

Communal consumables

One of the biggest mistakes I made was assuming I had to buy all my own reagents, when in fact our lab shares many basic cell culture reagents. Ask around and see if any of your colleagues are willing to share any consumables, or split the cost of any which are expensive.

Apply for travel grants

Your PhD grant can also be used to pay for conferences, which depending on the location and scale can be in excess of £1000, which eats into your grant. Many academic societies and organizations offer funding to attend such conferences. The awards vary in value, depending on whether you are presenting a poster or oral, as well as if it is national or international. You can apply to more than one and (if you are lucky) can be used to pay for your entire conference! They also look great on your CV, as it displays proactivity and your work is of high enough merit to justify funding.

Research grants

Many laboratories and principal investigators may have research grants, which are large sums of money awarded by research councils or charities to fund the research undertaken in that laboratory. Depending on how the grant is allocated, PhD students can use that grant to fund consumables and their research. If you have limited funding, this is a useful pot of money to dip into.

Bargain hunting

Most companies are willing to arrange discounts for first-time users or bulk-users, especially for items that need replacing quickly such as cell culture media. If you have never used a product from a company before, some companies are willing to provide generous discounts or even free samples with the assumption that you will buy the product again. Sales representatives are also eager to win new customers as well as retain existing customers so may be able to negotiate larger discounts. Moreover, some items may be cheaper through generic laboratory consumable companies rather than from the brand itself. It’s always good to shop around and see if you can get the item you want at a cheaper price.

Hopefully, these tips have helped bear in mind easy ways to help make the most of your funding. If you do run out of money, don’t panic! Supervisors should have reserves to fall back on, and it is your supervisor’s responsibility to find the money if you do run out. Successful PhDs can be achieved with the most limited of money and resources; it is just a case of making sure the money you do have goes as far as possible.


Photo by Fabian Blank


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