This research council funds my Ph.D. study.
How to get funding:
This is really just hard work and probably a lot of luck. I do know how intimidating it is to start to look for Ph.D. funding, as I was in your position last year. I was in the last year of my undergraduate degree and determined to do a Ph.D. and skip the Masters step (for financial reasons), and I did find it pretty stressful applying from scratch. So, I am happy to share my experience with you and hopefully it will help in some way.
When I was applying for my funding firstly I had to find supervisors. This is probably the most important thing about your whole Ph.D., and it is definitely what you need to do first because you will have to go and study somewhere that meets your needs. I was lucky enough to already go to the university where there were supervisors I wanted to work with, and the university has its own cognitive neuroimaging centre as well so it was a perfect fit for me. Once I found the supervisors, I went to have a chat with them and see what they thought of the project, what they thought of me and what I thought of them. I had a very relaxed meeting with them - totally informal and more like a chat. At the end of it, they both said they would support me in my application (btw - I have two supervisors that is why I am talking about “both”) and told me to go away and come up with a proposal draft to send them. I don’t know if all first meetings with supervisors go like that, but that’s how mine went so it is all I can talk about. Right off the bat I got on so well with both of them, so I knew it was going to be an excellent fit. Choosing a supervisor is in my opinion the most important part, so make sure you get that right. You can find supervisors and potential projects usually on the university postgraduate research website pages, or even on sites like findaphd.com (yes I’m not kidding).
After that initial meeting came the hard part - the application for funding. I applied to 4 different funding committees, and I found these four by looking at the website for the university where I was going to do my research to see what scholarship/funding opportunities were available. Each university and subject area will have different ones with different regulations so it is really just up to you to have a really good search and find every option you possibly can. It is a good idea to look across departments as well as there can be funding opportunities you qualify for even if you are not in the same department. For example, for my undergrad I was in the College of Science and Engineering for my degree, but the funding I ended up receiving was actually being advertised in the College for Medical, Vetinary and Life Sciences section of the website. I wouldn’t have looked there normally, and it was actually a complete accident that I stumbled upon it, so it is a good idea to look around extensively.
Anyway, the proposal is the worst part - you will draft so many you won’t even remember and there are a million forms to fill in. However, usually the deadlines for these are very quick so it does pass very fast (a good and a bad point!). If you have good supervisors at this point they will be giving you a lot of help with it, as they are experienced with these kinds of things and you probably won’t be. One of my supervisors in particular was amazing throughout the whole thing, and it made a big difference.
Then, there are the interviews. For one of my applications I had to give a 10 minute presentation in front of a panel and then answer questions about it & general science stuff like what papers I had been reading, what my research interests were etc.., but for the rest of my applications they just asked for more detailed proposals and based their decisions solely on them and of course all the information they had about me (grades, experience, personal statements etc.). Again, this is different for every funding agency/school/subject although the basic format is probably the same. Also, some funding agencies are more concerned about how good a student you are, whereas others are concerned about how good your proposed research is, so make sure you figure out what the angle is before you apply so you adjust your applications accordingly.
I ended up getting offered two different sources of funding out of the four applications I submitted. I know I am lucky to receive it, but it would be wrong of me not to point out the level these agencies expect of someone applying to do a Ph.D. I am in no way trying to brag with this next part - I am simply trying to give you a realistic level of where I was when I received my funding, and to emphasise that you should try and be at a good level to make yourself stand out to funding agencies, as it is very competitive. Since you haven’t graduated yet you are probably in a good position to bulk out your CV to make it as good as possible.
Firstly, I did spend about three months working on my proposals every night (which considering they were only 1500 words each is A LOT of time). Honestly, if a proposal is what they are judging you on - work on it extensively (obvious advice but I underestimated how much work I would have to put in at the start). Secondly, I had worked very hard to get research experience during my undergrad and worked for a year in a professional social interaction lab assisting with projects during my third year of my undergrad, and I got a great reference off them for my application. Thirdly, I also had a full year abroad studying at UC Berkeley on a scholarship which I know will have set me apart from other people in the UK, because it is a well known American university and it is different from what they usually do here. And finally, you obviously need good grades. I hadn’t graduated when I was offered my funding, and it was conditional on my getting a 2:1 rather than a 1st for my degree, but I can’t comment on whether or not I would have been offered it if I wasn’t waiting on a result and had a 2:1 instead (I ended up getting a first so it was fine, but I can’t comment on what would have happened had I not). My instinct is to say it doesn’t matter but obviously if you manage to get a first class degree you are in a better position.
Ph.D. funding is EXTREMELY hard to get, but not by any means impossible so my advice is just to go for it and see what happens. If you don’t get it the first time, try again and again and it will happen I’m sure.
GOODNESS - that was a long ramble, but I hope it helped!