Ph.D. wannabe? Funding opportunities “for dummies”.

As you decide to apply to a Ph.D. program you might find yourself wondering how you are going to finance yourself for the next five years. The first thing that you need to know is that it is very uncommon to be admitted to a school without funding, especially in the United States. Indeed, schools usually either admit you with funding or do not admit you at all. Sometimes however this might happen and, in this case, it is useful to know which sources of private funding you could access to.

Private scholarships differ in length and conditions and might adapt to different students’ needs. Each of them has its own, separate, application for which you will usually have to provide a motivation letter, a research proposal, your transcript of grades and one or more recommendation letters. It is important to notice that most of these scholarships are not only intended for students willing to pursue a Ph.D. but also for Ph.D. students. Hence, if you are unsuccessful the first time you apply, you could always do it again during your doctoral studies. Sure enough, submitting your Ph.D. applications with one of these scholarship is a plus, not only because the University will have to invest less money to have you, most beneficiaries still receive fully funded offers, but rather because it signals that you are an outstanding student. However, applying as a Ph.D. student is also a very good option. Indeed, while Ph.D. students are mostly required to focus on coursework during first year (or two), they will then be required to either teach or do some research assistantship work. Having a source of external funding in your second or third year would represent a unique opportunity to focus on your research projects. For instance, some of the students who did this in the past had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time doing data collection and field work in developing countries and hence constructing unique datasets for their empirical work.

In general, my advice would be to apply for these scholarships as you are also applying for your Ph.D. but, if you do not manage to prepare all the material in time, always keep in mind that you could still apply once you have started your doctoral studies and that doing so, may benefit your research projects considerably.

As an Italian citizen, the scholarships I would recommend considering are:

  • Stringher, Banca d’Italia: three scholarships issued by Banca d’Italia and directed to students who graduated in Economics or Political Economy. In order to apply you need to have graduated with a minimum grade of 110/110, to prove English proficiency and to be an Italian citizen. The scholarship pays for your tuition fees and provides the student with 27,000 euro to pay for living expenses. It is intended to last one year but it is possible to renew it for an additional year. One aspect that makes the Stringher a particularly appealing scholarship, in my opinion, is that applicants who are considered outstanding but do not win the scholarship might still be selected for an internship at the Banca d’Italia that will usually takes place in the summer. There, interns will have the chance to learn how research is performed in a central bank and to work on unique data. Deadline: October. (
  • Guido Cazzavillan, Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia: this scholarship is intended for Italian students who have graduated in Italy before December of the year of application. It is worth 24,000 euro and pays for tuition fees as well. Deadline: end of October. (
  • Marco Fanno e Crivelli Europe, UniCredit & Universities foundation: these two scholarships issued by UniCredit & Universities foundation are dedicated to students with any nationality who graduated from any Italian university. Candidates must graduate with a minimum grade of 110/110 in the fields of economics, banking or finance. English proficiency is required. The scholarship is worth 25,000 euro and will additionally pay for tuition fees. Upon request, it can be renewed for an additional year. Moreover, students can apply for the scholarship once they have already started their graduate studies, however, the scientific committee will give priority to candidates starting their Ph.D. in the subsequent fall. Even in this case, UniCredit might offer to the winners employment or cooperation with other companies of the Group. Deadline: November. (
  • Fullbright Self-Placed All Disciplines, S.-Italy Fullbright Commission: this institution offers 7 scholarships for bachelor and master students willing to pursue their master or their Ph.D. in the United States. Applicants must be Italian, need to have graduated (preferably in the previous three years) and need to possess at least one Italian degree. Candidates with no study experience in the US are preferred. The scholarship lasts one year, it is not renewable and it is worth 38,000 dollars. The Fullbright commission sponsors the beneficiaries’ J-1 visa. It is important to know, that, applying for the J-1 visa having a Fullbright scholarship, beneficiaries will probably necessarily be subject to the residency requirement, i.e. they will have to reside in their home country for 2 years once the visa has expired. Deadline: December. (
  • Borse di studio, Fondazione Einaudi: the foundation issues nine scholarships that are sponsored by different institutions. Three of them, offered by Compagnia di San Paolo, are worth 20,000 euro and are intended for students who want to study abroad in one of the fields indicated in the website (Economics is included). Four scholarships worth 10,000 euro are also available to pursue your doctoral studies. Applicants need to be less then 30 years old and to have graduated before the application deadline. Deadline: April. (
  • “Éupolis Lombardia per la ricerca”, Regione Lombardia: Regione Lombardia issues one scholarship for students graduated in the field of Economics (Sviluppo Economico). To be elegible a candidate needs to have obtained a master degree with a minimum grade of 100/110 and be less than 32 years old. Once pre-selected, candidates will have to be interviewed so to assess their ability in doing research. The scholarship is worth 19,800 euro and is renewable for an additional year. (
  • Founder’s scholarship, Ermenegildo Zegna: the Zegna Group provides scholarships up to 50,000 euro to outstanding Italians interested in pursuing their doctoral studies abroad and willing to come back to Italy after the completion of their studies. The scholarship is renewable for a maximum of three years. Candidates must be Italian citizens or residents, they need to have obtained their Master’s degree with a minimum grade of 105/110 or to be close to graduation and have an average of 28/30 (this criteria apply specifically to Bocconi students). Candidates need to receive the endorsement of their current institution in order to be fully considered in the selection process. If applicants will ask for more than 5,000 euro the family income will also be taken into consideration. It is important to understand that, regardless from the amount received, beneficiaries will be required to return back to Italy once completed their studies and they will have to reside in Italy three years for each year abroad funded by the Zegna Group. Waivers to the residency requirement might be applied for a few years. However, in the case in which the beneficiary would not return to Italy he/she will be asked to reimburse the total received (no interest rate will be applied). The pre-selection deadline is April but it depends on the university, an interview will follow in May, if pre-selected. (

 To conclude, here you have a short overview of the funding opportunities you will face as a prospective doctoral student. Applying to any of these scholarships might require a bit of effort but it will definitely pay off. Indeed, even if you do not qualify for the scholarship you might still be exposed to other amazing opportunities, as for the Stringher scholarship, and you will prepare in advance all the material you will need to apply to graduate studies. Finally, remember that you will still be able to apply for these scholarships once you have started your Ph.D. As “researchers-to-be”, having the chance to fund your own projects independently will be extremely valuable.

Awa Ambra Seck


Without a word


Almost two months have passed since we came back from a five-day fieldwork in the refugee camp of Ritsona, Greece. On December 2016, the Italian architect Bonaventura V.M. contacted the LEAP looking for someone who could help him in testing the effectiveness of a tent he designed on possible social and psychological outcomes. This structure – the Maidan Tent- is conceived to recreate a common space in Ritsona: Maidan indeed in Arab means “square”, like the square of a village . I remember we were sitting in the warm atmosphere of a Milanese café hearing some illustrative stories about the life in the camps, like an upside down tale from faraway countries. At the end of this first meeting, a handful of us got the right inspiration and decided to dedicate time and care to carry out a research in the camp. However, a first obstacle presented with the disarming brutality of simplicity when we recognized our inability to formulate a valid research question for a context we could barely even imagine. As straightforward as the problem came the solution thanks to the LEAP’s decision to finance an exploratory trip on field: on the 9th of March, Graduate thesis delivered and minds clear, we left for Greece.

As you see, much time has passed since our departure and several times we were (kindly) requested to write down a blog article on our experience in Ritsona. Yes, I know that I could tell you that this delay was due to the fact that I graduated (Happy me!) and celebrated (of course), that professors overloaded us with work or that my cat died, but the truth is that I wasn’t able to find a good way to start and conclude. If you are a fun of Italo Calvino as I am and you ever read his “Lezioni Americane”, you may know how the beginning and the end are important when writing, because they show that the writer has complete control of the narrative matter. Unfortunately, in our case probably the opposite happened and the experience took over our minds and hearts.  So, I ask forgiveness to Mr. Calvino and my cat as I will start this account with silence, without a word.

First, it was silence. When we arrived it was 8 a.m. of a cold rainy day and dirt roads were becoming sludgy. The camp was deserted under the pouring rain, no signs of light and life came from the ISOBOXES and improvised verandas circumscribing the small streets.  This downtime while residents were sleeping gave us the opportunity to walk around and get to know the main features of Ritsona and its institutional functioning. Indeed, Ritsona, located in the woods around the city of Chalkida, is an open camp in the sense that people are free to come and go as they please: most of the refugees arrive here on suggestion of other previous residents. We came also to know that most of the camp population is composed by Syrian refugees, divided on their part in Arab Syrians, Kurdish Syrians and Syrian Gypsies.  The daily life of the camp is mainly organized by several NGOs which work on field and have specialized on different activities. IOM is the NGO operating on behalf of the Ministry of Greece that gives support along the Asylum process and legal counseling. Later we would have discovered how well informed refugees are on the burocratic procedure and on their preferred final destination within Europe.There are also different medical NGOs providing first-aid interventions and others organizing activities for children and women in dedicated spaces, but there is a complete lack of activities targeting men adults. Interestingly, refugees unanimously appreciated the association “Cafè Rits” which organizes parties during religious holidays and occasional food delivery, giving them an alternative to the hated Greece military food catering.

Second,    Ritsona made us think about food and its wastage. It may seem a dumb statement if you have a picture of starved refugees knocking on EU’s doors for food, but piles of food catering are wasted every day and most of the people buy food on their own in Athens, where they can go thanks to IOM shuttle connection. This evidence presented us with a double enigma: why were war refugees being so “picky ”about food? And, how did they buy the food in Athens? I had never deeply meditated on the emotional rather than energetic value of food. All the activities related to cooking, from the choice of what to eat to the way of seasoning your meal, are a humble but clear expression of a person’s free will and a way to recreate lost cultural origins. The people we met in those days may have lost their homes, families and jobs because of war, but they were still struggling to preserve their identity and autonomy through the small daily choices they had control on. In particular, food was an important part of this set of decisions, and I perceived that begging for EU food or buying their own food made a distinction between the ones who survived and the ones who lived: being choosy as a necessary condition to being alive, a meaningful to choose-or-not-to-choose. At this point many of my friends economists will be replicating that this arguments is a castle in the sky as making choices imply the possibility to make them  that basically boils down to owning money. I know, economists are always concerned about money, but these good fellas may be pleased, as my castle was, when we discovered that the UNHCR funds a CTP in all Greek camps in order to ensure some money to the refugees. Each household monthly receives a 90 Euros benchmark amount and 50 Euros more per each member in the household. The program’s ambition is to bring back dignity and autonomy to the refugees and, for this reason, money usage is completely unrestricted.
However, during our first day in Ritsona, we did not only started to realize how fascinating and determinant are refugees’ consumption choices, but we also had a taste, in every sense, of their investments’ projects. Indeed, at the entrance of the camp there is a sort of “main road” with two falafel shops, a mini market and a barber shop, resembling a small economic cluster with its competition rules. It was surprising when we realized that these businesses were started and run by residents of the camp. Didal, the first to launch the falafel business, is a smiling man who, after offering us an exceptional falafel, calmly told us: “If I work, I am happy!”.

It was the first time I heard the word “happiness” in the camp. Refugees are not blatantly sad people, worrying about their troubles all day. Somewhere beyond their eyes you may feel the silent pain and the tragedy of war, but what they dress skin-deep is unconcealed apathy, boredom and frustration. A day in the camp seems to last for years, while most of your life stands by waiting for acceptance in the EU. Refugees are free to move within Greek borders, but where could they go? They are free to work, but who may ever hire them? They are free to love, study, live but what if they do not know what is going to happen in the next days? This condition of constant uncertainty paralyzes people intentions and depresses even more the spirits.  For this reason, they tend to sleep until late in the morning, killing time smoking tobacco and playing videogames on mobile phones. Women often  remain isolated in their ISOBOXES, men walk around as sleep-walkers, and kids are the only ones who keep time with their laughs and sparkling life.

Third, Ritsona speaks about war and loss. As I anticipated, people tend to hide their sorrow, but when you enter inside their ISOBOXES, sitting on the carpets and sharing a hot tea with them, they let you enter in their stories. In this way, we met Amer, a Palestinian guy who had been a refugee for all his harsh life, firstly escaping from Palestina to Syria with his parents, and then from Syria to Greece. He graduated in English literature in Syria but his first dream used to be becoming a doctor in order to save his father’s life: “ My parents died in Syria, you see, why do I have to become a doctor now?”, he asked through his dark and slanting eyes we could barely sustain. Another afternoon, we spent some time with a family coming from the unlucky city of Raqqa. In their ISOBOX war was still with them, looming over the children’s games, a filth of collapse and abandonment, in the imperceptible touch of a man on his temple to the question “Why do you smoke so much?”
To forget.

For sake of symmetry, I would be very tempted to start this paragraph with a “Fourth hope and peace arrived”, but I would lie when attempting to establish a temporal order to the bad we saw and the good we received. As always, these elements came together in a flow of emotions, faces and experiences difficult to disentangle. So, we did see hope, but it came together with sorrow and pain, concealed but never defeated, and for this even more special. It was there, in the family of Didal, running a business and investing energy and smiles for the peoples who came by. The boys of Ritsona showed us the will to move on, their touching way to behave normally, hanging out together and wittily strutting around with us, organizing football matches and giving them funny nicknames (“Long live the king of Ritsona!”). And we did see future in the hands of the children as nothing, not even war, was bigger than them.

Lastly, after we have passed through confusion, understanding, hope and sorrow, it came silence, again. We came up with a research question, we discussed it with the LEAP members, we edited a video, but an article was impossible to think. It is difficult to write when you think that the most proper way to tell something should be silence. Maybe, what I wrote until here is nothing more than air, a whisper that adds less to what the internet and newspapers can teach us about the Syrian crisis and the camps. So, I leave conclusions to journalists and political scientists and I let this breeze of words end as it started, without a word.

Giulia Buccione

Viola Corradini

Beatrice Montano