Graduate scholarships | Greater schooling, decrease revenue

They accumulate degrees and live below the poverty line. Sometimes with less than $20,000 a year. Graduate students, supported by eminent researchers, are seeking better financial support from governments.

Posted on May 24

Lea Carrier

Lea Carrier
The Press

“Seventeen thousand five hundred dollars a year is not enough to live on. It’s impossible not to fall into the negative,” says Raphaël Bouchard, PhD student in biology at Laval University.

The value of Canadian graduate scholarships, funded by the federal government, has not increased since… 2003.

At the master’s level, they pay $17,500 a year. At the doctoral level, $21,000 per year. They are paid less than full-time at the minimum wage, which is $14.25 an hour as of January May.

The result: thousands of students are condemned to live near or below the poverty line.

“This is one of the biggest aberrations in research funding that I’ve seen,” says Louis Bernatchez, a biology professor and researcher at Laval University.

In a letter to Ottawa, more than 5,500 students and eminent researchers – including two Nobel laureates – are demanding an annual increase in stipends from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC), to be indexed to inflation in the future. The signatories are also asking for an increase in the number of postdoctoral scholarships awarded each year – 150 scholarships in 2021.

By the way, “some of Canada’s brightest young minds [seront forcés] to live in poverty and to seek better funded positions abroad,” the letter states.

The same applies to scholarship recipients from other scholarship-giving branches, namely the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“We are aware of the fact that students are struggling with increasing financial hardship,” NSERC responded via email.

The government body “intends” to work with other councils and the research community to “find ways to improve the support provided to apprentices”, without giving further details.

In a brief response, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, argued the government’s “unwavering” support for “all scientists and researchers”.

“It didn’t happen that I paid the mortgage”

Raphaël Bouchard wants to emphasize this: a PhD is hard work.

We are labeled as students, but in fact we are really researchers. We work 35 to 40 hours on our research projects.

Raphaël Bouchard, PhD student in biology at Laval University

He counts himself among the lucky ones. He is the recipient of one of the most prestigious NSERC scholarships. And paid, extra: $35,000 a year. Raphaël Bouchard can still empathize with his insecure comrades, having lived on $17,500 a year himself during his master’s degree. (His salary is funded by Quebec’s research funds, which pay slightly better than the federal program.)

“It wasn’t enough to pay rent, food, transportation, or just clothes,” he recalls.

At the postdoctorate, the struggle continues. Karine is about to end her research career in the humanities by turning down a $45,000-a-year grant with no social benefits.

“When I looked at the numbers on the calculator, I wasn’t going to pay the mortgage,” said the 34-year-old, who spoke on condition of anonymity because her research supervisor was unaware of her decision.

Postdoctoral researchers are not 20 years old. They are in their thirties, have a family, financial obligations.

Karine, who will soon finish her research career

“Ultimately, the message we’re sending is that research isn’t worth it,” she continues.

A privilege

It is still a privilege to receive a grant. Most students have to do without it.

In her master’s degree in neuroscience, Alice receives a salary of $10,000 per year, paid by her research supervisor. To make ends meet, she works in a restaurant.

“I’m at a point where I’m hesitant to pursue a Ph.D. After two years of my master’s degree, I’m completely at my wits end,” says the young woman, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from her university.

“The fact that scholarships [fédérales] because the best are at such a low level, it doesn’t send the right signal about what is acceptable or not,” laments Louis Bernatchez.

No students, no science

“Without graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the laboratories of Canadian universities, there is no science,” underscores Mr. Bernatchez.

U15, a group of Canadian research universities, has been campaigning for years to increase the value and number of federal scholarships. To meet the challenges of tomorrow, Canada needs a strong and diverse scientific succession, says its spokesperson Dylan Hanley.

“Students need to be attracted to pursue higher education in Canada, and part of that is making sure they don’t live in poverty.” »

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  • $25,935
    Annual full-time earnings at minimum wage, which is $14.25 per hour

    Source: QUEBEC Ministry of Finance

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