Joint Program in Social Work

Universities of NCA&T and UNCG

Written by: Dr. Mathieu Despard

Figuring out how to finance your doctoral studies is an important process that warrants careful consideration of all available options. Continuing to work while you pursue your PhD is an excellent option if you can balance work and school.

You keep a steady source of income and benefits, there may be opportunities to conduct your dissertation research (especially intervention studies), and your employer may offer a tuition benefit (true for UNC system employees). I’ve outlined additional funding options below, some of which apply even if you are working while completing your degree.

Scholarships, Fellowships, and Grants

  • Scholarships are grants awarded to students to support their studies – no repayment obligation and usually with no strings attached. The only requirement is to be in good academic standing, though eligibility can be restricted to things like being enrolled full-time, focusing on a certain research topic, or being a member of a group under-represented in academia.
  • Fellowships are very similar to scholarships, though they often come with a research and/or teaching service commitment.
    • For example, the Eileen Blackey Doctoral Fellowship supports dissertation research projects related to welfare policy and practice. Recipients are required to give a poster presentation at the NASW National Conference and submit their final dissertation.

    Fellowships can also be tied to certain practice and academic workforce goals.

    • For example, the CSWE Minority Fellowship Program is focused on supporting researchers dedicated to culturally competent mental health and substance abuse services.
  • Dissertation Grants are grants to help students complete their dissertations (also referred to as dissertation fellowships) by supporting data collection, travel, software, tuition, and even living expenses.
  • Travel Grants shouldn’t be overlooked. The UNCG School of Health and Human Sciences offers a travel grant program. These grants cover research-related travel, including to academic conferences. Conferences are important opportunities to present papers and posters, meet faculty and PhD students at other universities to grow your scholarly network, and learn about research in your field.
    Conference travel grants may be limited to PhD students who will be presenting at the conference, which means you need to submit your paper abstract several months in advance.

    • For example, to be awarded a SSWR travel grant, you need to submit a paper abstract in April for the annual conference that takes place in January.
  • Awards are simply financial gifts to recognize exemplary teaching or research. For example, UNCG offers an Outstanding Dissertation Award. External organizations may also give awards, typically to recognize contributions consistent with their missions.


JPhD students can serve as Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) to assist faculty with their research projects. This depends on the availability of funding. Faculty can apply for a Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA) award from the School of Health and Human Sciences so they can hire a JPhD student and/or they can use funds from an existing research grant from a foundation, NIH, etc. to hire you.

Thus, it’s important to reach out to faculty to learn about their current research projects and needs for GRAs.

JPhD students might also serve as a Teaching Associate or Instructional Assistant to teach or help teach an undergraduate course or as a general Graduate Assistant with a variety of work tasks. In addition to GRA opportunities, students should search UNCG and NCAT job listings to find teaching associate or assistantship positions or other part time job opportunities outside of social work but related to your skills and interests.

Assistantships at UNCG are limited to full-time students who have at least a 3.0 GPA and are making satisfactory progress in their program.


Identifying funding

  • Use online databases – start with the JPhD funding page.
  • Sign up for text alerts for various scholarship and fellowship opportunities.
  • Review faculty CVs which are publicly available on university websites and will list grants, awards, scholarships, etc. Identify external awards and ignore internal ones as those only apply to the institution where the individual earned their PhD.

Applying for funding

  • Know the deadlines and start the application several weeks in advance.
  • Ask faculty members who can attest to the quality of your work for letters of recommendation. Give them a copy of your updated CV, information about the award, and alert them to specific instructions, such as commenting on research or teaching abilities. Most importantly, ask faculty members no less than 4 weeks prior to the deadline.
  • If the application requires an essay, ask your advisor to provide feedback on a draft. Don’t get discouraged if it gets marked up quite a bit.
  • If you are applying for a dissertation or research grant, work closely with your faculty advisor or dissertation chair to develop research questions, methods, etc. several weeks in advance of the deadline (unless your dissertation proposal has been approved and you are just looking for funding).

Securing a Research Assistantship

  • Talk to faculty about their research projects and need for a research assistant. This may prompt a faculty member to apply for university funding to support a position. This is better than waiting to see if a position gets listed.
  • Talk to your advisor and other faculty members about research teams at other universities related to your interests. These other universities may have research funding that can support a GRA through a sub-contract.
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