How I funded my fieldwork in China

When I was 14, my mum brought me on the Trans-Mongolian train to China and back to my native France. That trip was a trigger: I discovered Chinese culture and gardens, and decided to learn Mandarin. Now I am a part-time PhD student in Landcape history at the University of Sheffield, specialising in Chinese garden history. I received a tuition fees scholarship from my department and I work part-time to pay for my living expenses. However grateful I was when I started my PhD, I could not help feeling worried that I might not be able to fund my fieldwork in China.

Believe it or not, working part-time in the Union and not being eligible for a loan suddenly made me more proactive in making my fieldwork come true. After making the most of the workshops offered by the University to postgraduate students (notably through Think Ahead and the Careers Service), I gained the confidence to write several grant applications. My two supervisors provided guidance as to where to apply as well as recommendation letters, and I found some additional charities and grants on my own.

After being turned down a few times, I was grateful to receive a £1200 travel grant from the UCCL (Universities’ China Committee in London) to fund my first fieldwork in the summer of 2013. After that trip, I decided to narrow my research to a single location in China, which meant that I needed to return to the field. By that time my confidence in grant writing was such that I asked the UCCL again, and not only did they accept my demand but they also gave me the maximum amount (£1500). I also applied for a research grant through the Landscape department which granted me an additional £750 for my 2014 fieldwork: I managed to completely cover my costs for a month-long trip to China!

J.Richard, Chaozhou, China, 2014

J.Richard, Chaozhou, China, 2014

So what is the recipe for funding your project? I would say that for me, it was first to improve my written English and gain confidence in myself to start searching among the numerous opportunities out there. Moreover, starting early (six months before the planned date at least) really helped, as well as having a clear justification for my fieldwork especially concerning my planned expenses (excel spreadsheets are your friends). Prepare your budget as you might have to pay part of the expenses first, and get reimbursed a few months later.

My top advice would be to apply first to the funds which are the closest fit to your interests: your supervisors/tutors should know most of these. True, I was turned down as many as 9 times out of 10; but I learned to accept it as a normal number and that not getting discouraged pays in the end.

Now it is your turn: how will you make your project happen? If you already did, what are your top tips?

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