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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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The AHRC awards Ph.D. funding, now, through a system of Doctoral Training Partnerships. These are groups of institutions who share a funding pool, and training resources, for doctoral candidates. In many ways, this is a good idea; to agglomerate resources and to make institutions cooperate is clearly beneficial. But it also comes with some substantial frustrations as a supervisor.

Funding for Ph.D.s in the arts is, understandably, perhaps, scarce. So when a candidate comes to me and there’s a good chance of getting funding, I work hard with that applicants to improve the application. This takes hours of work and is a multi-stage process. It involves working with the candidate to refine the topic, ensure the secondary literature review is good at the proposal stage, hone the argument, and write letters of support, all over several iterations.

Applicants, of course – and this is totally understandable – apply to multiple DTPs. And I’ve now had several applicants where my own DTP has denied funding but the candidate has been awarded it elsewhere. I do not begrudge this to the candidates. I think it is marvellous that they will be able to pursue their projects with the intellectual space and security that funding brings. But it is so frustrating that I don’t get to work with them to do it, after all that work. It’s also really nice when they write to say how helpful my suggestions were or that I worked the hardest with them on the proposal, etc. etc. But again, this just grates a little because I’d become excited about the project and working to supervise it.

In some ways, this is one of the drawbacks of the DTP system. It doesn’t encourage research applicants to think foremost about where they want to work and with whom, but rather focuses on the (entirely sensible) practicality of going where the money is (although, of course, the formal rhetoric strongly emphasizes “supervisorial fit”). Again, I am not blaming candidates for this in any way. But regardless of what the notes say, it does mean that, say, rather than picking the institution and supervisor who is most invested in the project, candidates are made to pick the institution that will be able to fund them, rather than the funding being able to consider the whole national raft of supervisorial fits (say, if you appraised it through a centralised system).

Anyway, something I wanted to get off my chest.