Graduate scholarships | Higher education, lower income

They collect diplomas and live below the poverty line. Sometimes for less than $20,000 a year. Postgraduate students, supported by prominent researchers, are demanding better financial support from governments.

Posted on May 24

Lea Carrier

Lea Carrier

“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 Université Laval.

The value of Canada 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 pay less than a full-time minimum wage job, which is $14.25 an hour as of 1ahem 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 distinguished researchers – including two Nobel laureates – are demanding annual increases in grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) to be indexed to inflation in the future. . The signatories are also calling for an increase in the number of postdoctoral fellowships awarded annually to 150 fellowships in 2021.

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

The same applies to recipients of fellowships from other fellowships, 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 by email.

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

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

“It wasn’t to pay the mortgage”

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

We are labeled as students, but in reality 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 received one of the most prestigious NSERC fellowships. And paid extra: $35,000 a year. Raphaël Bouchard can still sympathize with his insecure comrades because he lived on $17,500 a year during his master’s degree. (His salary was funded by Quebec research funds, which pay slightly better than the federal program.)

“It was not enough to pay the rent, food, transport or just clothes,” he recalls.

The fight continues at the postdoctoral level. Karine is about to end her research career in the humanities by turning down a grant of $45,000 a year without any social benefits.

“When I looked at the numbers on the calculator, it wasn’t coming 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 fellows are not 20 years old. They are in their thirties, have a family, financial responsibilities.

Karine, who is about to end her research career

“Ultimately, we’re sending the message that research isn’t worth it,” he 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 the point where I’m hesitant to go for a Ph.D. After two years of master’s studies, I am at my wits end,” says the young woman, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from her university.

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

No students, no science

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

A group of Canadian U15 research universities has been campaigning for years to increase the value and number of federal scholarships. Canada needs a strong and diversified science pipeline to meet the challenges of tomorrow, says spokesperson Dylan Hanley.

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

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  • $25,935
    Annual earnings for a full-time minimum wage job of $14.25 an hour

    Source: Ministry of Finance QUEBEC

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