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Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund FAQs

Here we cover everything you need to know about applying for the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund.


Can current PhD students at an eligible host university/institution apply, or is this grant only for new PhD students?

Yes – any eligible students currently undertaking a doctoral programme with an eligible host university/institution are welcome to apply. 

I have a PhD admission in a university outside the UK and Ireland. Can I still apply for a grant?

Unfortunately, no. The Fund will only support studies in a physics department, school or faculty that has achieved either a Juno and/or an Athena SWAN award, on a physics-based topic at a recognised graduate degree-awarding university/institution in the UK and Ireland. 

I’m an international student. Am I eligible to apply?

International students can apply if they fall within one of the specified minority areas defined in the 'under-represented groups in physics' section of the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund (BBGSF) guide.

You would also need to receive an academic offer from an eligible host university/institution that is committed to match-funding the grant and paying normally at least 50% of the total costs of the doctoral programme.

I have an offer from a UK university, from their engineering college, to do a PhD in an engineering physics topic. Am I eligible to apply?

The Fund will only support studies in a physics department, school or faculty that holds either a Juno and/or an Athena SWAN award. We recognise that some universities do not have a standalone physics department; therefore, joint schools do qualify.

Unfortunately, if your university's/institution’s engineering school is separate to its physics school, then it wouldn't qualify for an award under the terms of the Fund.

Would a medical physics and bioengineering Mphil/PhD programme be eligible?

Medical physics is eligible. However, the Mphil aspect of the programme wouldn't be funded through this scheme, and the programme would have to sit firmly in the area of medical physics, not bioengineering.

Can the BBGSF grant support PhDs that are suggested by the student to a university department, rather than the other way around?

Yes. However, it is important to state on your application the full details of the lead supervisor and the host university/institution (as specified on the BBGSF application form), and that the student has been accepted onto the programme at the time of submission. 

For this last criteria, the supervisor must be willing and able to supervise the student; with their academic qualifications having been deemed suitable for them to undertake the PhD programme.

My university as a whole has Athena Swan status, however the physics department doesn't. Would it still be eligible to apply?

The Fund will only support studies in a physics department, school or faculty that has either a Juno and/or an Athena SWAN award. Unfortunately, a university/institution-level award alone will not suffice for this scheme.

Are you still eligible if you have started your PhD but do not have full funding for the three years? In this case, which type of funding should you go for, co-funding or top-up?

Yes, you are still eligible. A larger award is for the co-funding studentship across 3-4 years. The smaller award is for applicants that have particular needs beyond the studentship e.g. caring responsibilities.

If a student is eligible for home fees, but does not hold UK citizenship, would the panel need to be made aware of this?

Provided you are eligible to do the PhD, we do not need to be informed of this. However, in terms of ambassadorship plans we would like a focus to be on the UK and Ireland. 

Does the BBGSF co-funding award give a stipend that is enhanced beyond UKRI basic rates for the student?

The Fund aims to support as many underrepresented students to do PhDs as possible each year. Therefore, our co-funding model supports an award at the basic rate for UKRI students as support at an enhanced level would reduce the number of awards we can make.

What if I find out that I’ve won full funding for my project from elsewhere during the application process?

As we want to support as many students as possible to do PhDs who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance, we would encourage you to contact us to discuss whether it makes sense for you to withdraw from the application process if you get full, guaranteed funding during the application process.

Can students apply through more than one university?

Yes, students can be nominated by two universities and submit applications accordingly.


What do you mean by a "physics-based topic"? Is there flexibility around what this entails (for example engineering with a focus on physics?)

Although the topic scope has been left broad, the project must contain a strong element of physics; i.e. a fundamental study of aspects of the universe (including: atoms, particles, materials, energy, forces/fields, radiation, stars etc). Engineering on its own wouldn’t be eligible under this scheme.

We teach a lot of science that falls under “physics”, however, we do not have a dedicated physics department. Would this exclude us from hosting a BBGSF studentship?

If there is no physics department, but a physics degree is offered as part of the wider school, then it would qualify for the purposes of the Fund. The project(s) would still be subject to the "physics-based" eligibility criteria, and, if we accept this school, no other school from the university/institution can apply for a grant.

The UKRI application deadline is 31 January, however, the IOP would not have made any offers to students by 22 January (the BBGSF application deadline). Additionally, we are unable to make offers to students without there being a studentship agreed beforehand. Is there a way around this?

The student must have been made an offer by the 22 January deadline. This requirement ensures that they have appropriate academic credentials to undertake the specified doctoral project, and have been accepted by the relevant supervisor(s).

We’re aware that, in many universities/institutions, offers of a place with funding occur much later. If this proves problematic for your university/institution, then we are willing to accept written assurance of the above from the Head of School (or equivalent).

Can universities submit more than one application?

Yes, universities can submit up to two applications to be considered. Top-up requests are considered as the equivalent of one FTE application.

Students and academics

Can applicants be resident anywhere (EU or overseas)?

Yes, but the eligible host university/institution would need to be based in the UK or Ireland.

When you consider candidates, do you consider them in a holistic view or take into regard every aspect of the application?

All applications that pass the initial eligibility check are checked and scored by panel members. These scores are aggregated, and then there is a discussion on each applicant to allow a consensus to be reached. 

A balanced conclusion is met after discussion with the panel members. Every application is reviewed and none are immediately discarded, other than those that do not meet the initial eligibility criteria. 

What should students include when writing about their need for a scholarship?

Students are asked to write 300 words about this, within which they should include how the funding could potentially benefit them, and state if they have applied for other forms of funding.

If they could not apply elsewhere we want them to include detail on why they could not, noting personal constraints and providing context for their situation. It is helpful if students spell out their circumstances e.g. why their project may not be eligible for Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding, to allow the panel to understand the situation fully.

The application is not simply reliant on the candidate but also what the supervisor and Head of School submit. Supervisors need to explain their approach to supporting students, and how the candidate was selected. We want to see genuine commitment and see that students from minorities are going into environments where they will thrive.

Is it okay if applicants are proactive and have found the scheme themselves?

Yes, students should still apply in this case. We understand that in these early stages of the BBGSF, an institution might not have a selection process in place.

However as the scheme progresses we would expect that institutions are recognising the scheme and not just relying on proactive students.

In regards to inclusivity and engagement are you just looking at the student’s plans on what they want to achieve in that area or supervisor track record/ability to support them?

At this stage the candidate is not expected to have any particular agenda or experience, so the plans are important.

We want students to work in environments within which they are comfortable, and suggest they work with their supervisor to recognise how they may develop an ambassadorial role.

It would therefore be helpful to see any relevant experience included in the supervisor statement. 

Can we apply for retrospective funding?

The Fund will not fund retrospectively.

Do top-up funding requests cover fee costs?

The Fund will not fund fees under the ‘top-up requests’. It is expected that the university will offer a fee waiver.