WTF is a PhD? Demystifying the process + opportunities for aspiring Indigenous PhD students


Bachelor Graduation, 2012
Masters Graduation, 2015


I am a Kamilaroi/Gamilaroi woman. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree (English and Creative Arts), and a Masters Degree in Teaching (Primary). So before starting my PhD in 2017 I already had two university degrees, and a combined total of five years of University study. I am a qualified primary school teacher, a mum of three little legends (one is my step-daughter, who I have the privilege of continued co-parenting), and I am thirty years old.

So, it might seem as though I ‘should’ have known more about what a PhD would entail, and be capable of searching out and familiarising myself with the opportunities available for PhD students.

But I didn’t, and I wasn’t.

I recognise as someone building a career in academia, it would probably be wise for me to keep this lack of knowing to myself, and allow it to appear like I have navigated this path with ease.

But I won’t, because I didn’t. And I know I am not the only one.

I am not going to be embarrassed by my lack of understanding of the processes around PhDs prior to commencing mine, it makes perfect sense that it would be foreign to me. My parents, Grandparents etc. had limited opportunity for formal education, I didn’t know anyone who had walked this path before. We do not speak academic jargon at home. If I had let a lack of understanding of the structures and processes of higher education stop me from following my desire to continue to learn, and study, then I wouldn’t have the two degrees I already have.

But now that I am a bit more comfortable, understand more of the language, and am a little more familiar with it all, I have started to see and more importantly, recognise incredible opportunities for Indigenous students to be supported as they undertake PhD study. I would have seen some of these earlier, but didn’t realise they applied to me, or that I was eligible. Now I regularly come across them organically through my social media activities, or when on different sites for work or study, and I now know what different terms and offers actually mean. The majority of them are now not applicable to me, and that is okay, because I am very committed to my research project, and very attached to my supervisors so will wait and apply for a generic one later this year. But I am sharing because I know SO many incredible, intelligent Indigenous people, leaders young and older, who aspire to attain a PhD and enter academia, but are held back by financial restraints, and not knowing the opportunities available to them. 

So that is what prompted my Twitter thread, from which I have now built this blog post. To be honest, I was sitting having a pity party for myself, having seen yet another amazing scholarship which I am now not eligible, and just feeling resentful that I hadn’t known about all the financial opportunities which would have helped me earlier on this journey. I felt dumb, and silly, for not knowing more. But then I thought it through, rationalised it, and it occurred to me that if I didn’t know, I could and should at least share that knowledge to hopefully help others have a better start than I did. So I did. I tweeted out a thread and I then received a lot of DMs overnight from people thanking me for demystifying something they really wanted to know more about. The thread was done on the fly, while eating, hanging out etc. so was not overly organised. But I will shape it so it is a bit easier to read here.

I want to say a huge, deepfelt thanks to all of the incredible, generous academics and legends who added links to the thread, and shared the tweet to their own networks. 

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Point 1

The following tips, hints, and links are specifically for Indigenous students, interested in understanding the PhD process, and opportunities and support which may be available to them if they enroll as PhD students.Indigenous is obviously a very broad term, and in this context refers to the First Nations People of this continent known as Australia. You will need to be, and provide evidence, that you are an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person for most of these roles and scholarships.


Point 2

I am in no way affiliated with these universities, or opportunities, this blog is not affiliated with my employer, I do not speak for or act for any University or organisation in creating this list. I am a baby academic, I am not an expert, and I have no say in who gets these scholarships. Each of these links are for Indigenous people in Australia, aka or and are specifically for study in a

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Point 3

Each scholarship, fellowship, and opportunity will have different application processes, and different due dates/closing dates. In my experience, most scholarship rounds open in August, but I have found that many are open all year, and some listed below close soon. So if you are considering applying, now is a great time to get started. Read the ones you are interested in, by clicking on them.

Point 4

It is not as scary as it might seem.

I have something to tell you, which for me was MIND BLOWING.

PhDs are PASS or FAIL. Meaning you get a PhD even if you only get a mark of 51%

Now that is not to diminish the value of a PhD, or to say you shouldn’t try your best, and there are awards and opportunities which accompany an exceptionally well done thesis. But it’s good to know that if you’re at a point where you can enroll in a PhD, then you are capable of completing one. You CAN do this. 

Hugh Kearns says a ‘PhD is 10% intelligence, and 90% persistence’ and with that in mind, I encourage you to find as much support (financial, emotional and academic) from the start, so you can get through this. You are intelligent enough, you can do this, and what you have to contribute to the space, and to the world, IS valuable – we NEED more Indigenous scholars and academics. There will be a huge team of people, across this continent, cheering for your success. Myself included. There will never be ‘enough’ Indigenous academics in our life time, there are currently only around 400 Indigenous academics employed across Australia, we need you. Whatever your field, you are needed.


Point 5

WTF is a PhD?

My favourite definition is this: A PhD is an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to do research independently. Your supervisors are there to guide you.

There are actually a lot of ways to engage in a PhD!

Depending on the type of PhD you choose to do, you may come up with your research question yourself (that is what I have done), or research a specific linked to a particular scholarship. You may be responsible for your own data collection (I will be) or use existing data. You can also do a PhD by publication.

So where do I start?

If you are already clear on what you would like to research, and have a question or subject matter in mind, then consider what faculty your area of study fits with.
For example, I am looking at the experiences of Indigenous women in academia, so I could have framed my PhD in several ways (education, social studies, feminism, Indigenous studies). As my background is in education, I chose to frame my research to sit primarily in education. So my primary supervisor is a professor in the faculty of education, and when i am finished I will say my PhD is in Education. But my actual research spans multiple spaces, and I have three supervisors from different backgrounds.

If you are open to working in various projects, then you might want to consider a scholarship which is attached to a set topic and team. This provides you with structure around what the question is, and you will have the support of a team engaged in the field. However, it will also potentially have issues around conflicts of interpretations or interests. I think, in hindsight, I would have preferred a more structured, less open entry, I felt a bit overwhelmed by creating my own question, but I have managed my way to this point so I think any can work, so consider what is best for you.


Then have a look at the various universities, and see which one suits your needs best. Consider the scholarships, the aims and goals of the institution, the supervisors you could choose from and who would align best with your direction and your learning style. (type their name in to Google Scholar and see what they write about, how they write, then look at their university profile, what field are they in, who do they work with, do you think you would work well with them? Then send them an email and see if you can have a chat with them).

You do not need to just go with the university closest to where you live, many universities offer funding to help you relocate (up to $5000 to cover cost of moving), you also may have the option to study away from the campus, or to travel regularly.

Point 6

A PhD does not cost you any money. Unlike undergraduate degrees, you do NOT accumulate a HECS debt for a PhD as they are supported by the Commonwealth Government. This is great to know if you are wary of accumulating debt.

Point 7

Regardless of whether you apply for a scholarship, as a PhD student you will be provided with certain things by the university you choose to study with. You should be provided with a desk and computer to use within the campus, a laptop which will be yours for the duration of your study, and an annual stipend to contribute toward the cost of your research. Most campuses also provide FREE printing.

Point 8

You can choose to do a PhD Part-Time, or Full-Time, however most fellowships and scholarships require Full-Time enrollment. Most universities advertise full-time PhD study should take three years, however Universities Australia recommends that Indigenous students be given four years full-time. These things are, to some extent, negotiable. And your university, and supervisors, want you to succeed, and know that ‘life happens’ so if illness, or sorry business happens, these things are accommodated within your schedule and progress.

Point 9

You are never too young, or too old to start this journey! Whatever your age, if you are thinking about doing this, don’t let it remain a dream or a thought! Dive in!



Scholarships and Fellowships

This is not a comprehensive list. My awareness of the following scholarships relates to what I am exposed to, and as someone who lives and works on the East Coast of Australia what I have listed reflects that. Others were sent to me via Twitter. If you have more you would like me to add to the list, feel free to Tweet me 🙂

A scholarship is a set amount of money the student receives for the duration of their PhD study. The standard period of time is three years, or three years and six months. Payments are usually paid fortnightly to the recipient, PURELY for studying. You do not have to ‘work’ at the university in exchange for that money. The PhD IS the work. These are usually scholarships which are specifically for students for that university, so to apply you must be enrolled as a PhD student with that university.

However, there are also ‘external’ scholarships, which are available to students from ANY university. You can apply for, and receive, multiple scholarships. Terms and conditions are different for each scholarship, and this is usually explicitly stated on the scholarship info.

Indigenous Scholarship portal – I am not sure how comprehensive this portal is, and it appears to be an independent website. By answering a few questions it produces a list of scholarships which you may be eligible for. This could be a good place to start, if you have an idea of what you would like to do/where you might like to go.



The Advance Queensland scholarships are offered by the Queensland Government, for Indigenous students embarking on a PhD, and are not attached to a specific Queensland University. However, you must be enrolled with a Queensland University or research organisation. Valued at $120,000 over three years.


University of Queensland


Griffith University

  • Indigenous Politics Scholarship is valued at $47000 per annum, tax free. Anyone interested in the scholarship should contact Duncan McDonnell at Griffith University (email:


Queensland University of Technology

  • Indigenous Postgraduate Research Award scholarship, indexed annually ($27,082 in 2018). The scholarship is tax exempt, and is for living costs for up to 2 years for masters students and 3 years for PhD students


New South Wales

Macquarie University (New South Wales)

  • The Macquarie University Indigenous Research Pathway Program provides scholarship support to Indigenous Australians to enrol in a postgraduate degree, Doctor of Philosophy, in any field of research. The scholarship stipend is valued at $37,082 per annum (2018 rate), tax exempt and indexed annually, for up to 3 years. (This funding consists of the standard scholarship stipend based on the Commonwealth Government minimum scholarship funding rate, plus an additional $10,000 pa fixed rate supplementary stipend.)


University of New South Wales (New South Wales).

  • Nura Gili scholarship As part of the Scientia PhD scholarships, there are five scholarships available for Indigenous students, three of which are for specific focuses. $40,000 per year, for four years.


Western Sydney University (New South Wales)

  • Western Sydney University announces major investment in postgraduate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  • TheYarramundi PhD Scholarship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, valued at $50,000 per annum, will be awarded to three students. In addition, three annual scholarships – valued at $24,000 for stage one and $32,569 for stage two – will support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Master of Research students.


University of Sydney (New South Wales)

  • Campbell Weston Perry Indigenous PhD Scholarship is for an Indigenous student, and valued at $30,000 p/a for a period of four years.
  • There is also a long list of internal and external scholarships for Indigenous students through Uni Syd which is available here


University of Technology Sydney (New South Wales)

  • CAIK Indigenous PhD Scholarship is open to Indigenous students who hold a Masters Degree, or First Class Honours, valued at $27,000 with possible top-up bringing the annual payment to $50,000
  • Jumbunna Research Institute  are a valuable part of UTS and offer scholarships, and pathways for Indigenous students, including competitive postdoctoral opportunities. They kindly provided me with a direct line, where if you are considering commencing a PhD you can call directly and speak with the fantastic Dr. Sandra Phillips. Number: 1800 064 312

Australian Capital Territory

Australian National University (ANU) (Australian Capital Territory)

  • The Indigenous Australian Reconciliation Scholarship is with Australian National University, open to ANY field of study, and is $27,000 per year for three years, full time study.
  • The Deep Human Laureate PhD scholarship is with @ANU_CASS and is a history-specific scholarship  $31k per annum – focus area may include repatriation, museum collections,  more details on link.
  • Academic Level A – Academic Associate – PhD candidate
    This is not a scholarship, but is still an excellent opportunity if you are considering undertaking a PhD and would like to enrol with ANU. This is what is referred to as a ‘level A’ position, where you would work for ANU full-time, however, very importantly 60% of your workload is dedicated to your PhD. This is ideal if you would like to pursue a career as an academic, as you receive a great salary, while being supported in developing your research and teaching skills, at the same time as completing your PhD.

South Australia

University of South Australia (South Australia)




Monash University (Victoria)

Monash University have a page dedicated to Indigenous scholarships, have a look via the link to see if any appeal and are suitable to you. They also include a list with links to external scholarships, which if you are based in Victoria, are well worth looking at.


University of Melbourne (Victoria)

The University of Melbourne offer a range of scholarship and bursaries for First Nations PhD candidates. I highly recommend having a look through their website, their search bar is very user friendly. The following direct links may also be of help.


Deakin University (Victoria) 
Deakin have the Institute of Koorie Education who offer various supports, and scholarships for First Nations students.


[Updated on 11/12/2019]

There is so much I still do not know, I do not claim to be an expert. This list is not comprehensive, it is just an attempt to be of service and assistance to others. I have to get back to my own PhD right now, I have a stack of literature and feedback to turn my attention to, but if I have missed any scholarships from my Twitter thread,or if you would like to bring more to my attention, I can add to this list later 🙂


Amy x

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