They collect diplomas and live below the poverty line. Sometimes with less than $20,000 a year. PhD students supported by outstanding researchers are demanding better financial support from governments.
“Seventeen thousand five hundred dollars a year is not enough to live on. It is impossible not to fall into the negative,” says Raphaël Bouchard, PhD student in biology at Laval University.
The value of federally funded Canadian graduate scholarships has not increased since…2003.
At the master’s level, they pay $17,500 per year. At doctoral level $21,000 per year. They pay less than a full-time job at the minimum wage, which has been in effect since June 1stah can.
Result: Thousands of students are doomed to live near or below the poverty line.
“This is one of the biggest discrepancies in research funding that I’ve seen,” says Louis Bernatchez, a professor of biology and researcher at Laval University.
In a letter to Ottawa, more than 5,500 students and distinguished researchers — including two Nobel laureates — are calling for an annual increase in Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) grants so that they are indexed to inflation going forward. The signatories also call for increasing the number of postdoctoral fellowships awarded annually – 150 fellowships in 2021.
Otherwise, “some of the brightest young minds in Canada [seront forcés] live in poverty and seek better-funded jobs abroad,” the letter reads.
The same applies to scholarship holders from other award branches, namely the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
“We recognize that students are struggling with increasing financial difficulties,” NSERC replied via email.
The government agency “intends” to work with other councils and the research community to “find ways to improve support for trainees,” without giving further details.
In a succinct response, Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne argued the government’s “unwavering” support for “all scientists and researchers”.
“It didn’t happen to pay the mortgage”
Raphaël Bouchard would like to emphasize that a doctorate is hard work.
We are labeled as students, but actually we are 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 won one of NSERC’s most prestigious grants. And also paid: $35,000 a year. Raphaël Bouchard can still sympathize with his vulnerable comrades because he lived on $17,500 a year during his master’s degree. (His salary was funded by the Quebec Research Funds, which pay little better than the federal program.)
“It wasn’t enough to pay for rent, food, transportation or just clothing,” he recalls.
In the postdoctoral position, the struggle continues. Karine is about to put an end to her research career in the humanities by turning down a $45,000-a-year grant with no benefits of any kind.
“When I looked at the numbers on the calculator, he didn’t come in to pay the mortgage,” said the 34-year-old, who spoke on condition of anonymity because her research leader was unaware of her decision.
Postdocs are not 20 years old. They’re in their thirties, they have families, they have financial commitments.
Karine, who is about to end her research career
“In the end, we’re sending the message that research doesn’t pay off,” she continues.
It is still a privilege to receive a scholarship. The majority of students have to do without it.
At the Masters in Neuroscience, Alice is paid a salary of $10,000 per year, paid by her research supervisor. To make ends meet, she works in a restaurant.
“I’ve gotten to a point where I’m hesitant to do a PhD. After my two-year master’s degree, I’m completely at the end of my strength,” says the young woman, who asked for anonymity from her university for fear of reprisals.
“The fact that scholarships [fédérales] because the best are at such a low level that it doesn’t send the right signal as to what’s acceptable or not,” laments Louis Bernatchez.
No students, no science
“Without doctoral and post-doctoral students in the labs of Canadian universities, there is no science,” emphasizes Mr. Bernatchez.
The U15, a group of Canadian research universities, has been working for years to increase the value of federal grants, but also their numbers. To meet tomorrow’s challenges, Canada needs a strong and diversified scientific succession, argues its spokesman Dylan Hanley.
“Students need to be attracted to pursue higher education in Canada, and ensuring that they do not live in poverty is part of that. »
- Annual earnings for full-time employment at the minimum wage of $14.25 per hour
Source: QUEBEC Department of Treasury