Canadian Scientists and Engineers request increased funding to graduate students and postdoctoral scientists funded by NSERC

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Canadian Scientists and Engineers have written an open letter to the Prime Minister and Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry requesting increased funding for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists funded by NSERC.

Representatives of Canadian Science Societies and over 6500 individuals have signed this letter (as of July 26, 2022).

The letter is available here:

and is copied below


The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne,
Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Champagne,

We are writing to you as scientists and engineers working in Canada. We respectfully request that your government increase funding to graduate student trainees and postdoctoral scientists funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). We recognize and appreciate that your government has made much needed contributions to increase funding to the sciences since 2015. Unfortunately, despite these important investments, concomitant investments have not been made to some of Canada’s best trainees in science and engineering, many of whom now live below the poverty line (see figure). 

NSERC graduate scholarships are intended to cover the cost of living and tuition for Canada’s brightest and most promising early career scientists and engineers. Scholarship recipients are the emerging leaders meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow related to climate change, plastic pollution, natural resource use, development of clean technologies, prevention of future pandemics, cures for disease, to name only a few. The innovative ideas, tools and technologies they contribute are key to Canada’s leadership in science and engineering, and thus important drivers of our country’s economic success and industrial transformation to a low-carbon future.

We call for increases to the level of support provided to NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship Masters (CGS-M) recipients, and the NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship Doctoral (PGS-D) recipients. The values of CGS-M ($17,500) and PGS-D ($21,000) scholarships have not changed since 2003, nearly 20 years ago. As both the cost of living and tuition have steadily increased over that period, these stipend levels no longer provide adequate support for graduate students. These government-funded scholarships amount to less than minimum wage (see footnote 1), forcing some of the brightest minds in Canada into poverty or to seek better funded positions abroad. The economic hardship is even greater than it might first appear since students typically pay for their university tuition and fees with these awards, which average $7,472/year for Canadian graduate programmes (footnote 2). The problem is especially acute for marginalized communities (e.g. Indigenous, Black and some racialized minorities), many of whom must forgo taking these prestigious awards because they do not have additional financial supports. The Government’s inaction in supporting the scientific leaders of tomorrow is perpetuating systemic barriers in science and engineering. We hope you agree the situation is no longer acceptable.

We further request that the number and level of funding for the NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowships (PDF) be increased. While there are on average 760 doctoral awards given each year throughout Canada, only 180 PDFs are awarded annually. The PDF stipend ($45,000) has been constant since 2015. The stagnation of PDF stipends is even more pronounced when we look back to 2003, when they were worth $40,000, equivalent to $57,121 today§. This low stipend rate is especially problematic for PDF scientists that have families or other financial responsibilities, which may contribute to the fact that women make up only 37% of NSERC PDF applicants (footnote 3), whereas they comprise 59% of CGS-M applicants. Moreover, the PDF stipend comes with essentially no social benefits or unemployment insurance, which leaves many of Canada’s best Ph.D.’s in a precarious situation once they have completed the two-year fellowship. 

Finally, we call for annual increases to scholarships so that stipends keep pace with inflation going forward, and that the number of scholarships and fellowships do not decrease to achieve these increases or result in cuts to other Tri-Agency funded programmes. Since Canadian graduate students and PDFs are some of the best trained scientists and engineers in the world, NSERC’s investment in their training is essential to retain the top talent needed to drive our innovation economy. Otherwise, we will continue to see our top early career scientists leave Canada for international graduate and postdoctoral opportunities, where funding levels are often higher (footnote 4). While we have focused on NSERC trainee funding in this letter, we note that similar problems persist across the Tri-Agency (SSHRC and CIHR) and recognize a broad solution is needed to solve existing inequities.

We thank you for your attention to our concerns. Your investment will help to support the next generation of leaders in science and engineering that will underlie the innovation needed to guarantee Canada’s long-term social and environmental well-being, and continued economic growth.


1. Federal minimum wage is $15.55/h (Federal minimum wage), equivalent to $32,344/year

2.  Tuition fees for degree programs, 2021/2022

3. NSERC self-identification data in support of equity, diversity and inclusion

4. International: Postdoc Fellowships; USA: NSF Graduate Fellowship, UK: PhD Studentships; Australia: PhD scholarships; Israel: PhD and Postdoctoral fellowships

We the undersigned call on the Government of Canada to increase the level of funding to NSERC-funded CGS-M, PGS-D and PDF trainees.


  1. Prof. Stephen Heard, Société canadienne d’écologie d’évolution/Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution
  2. Dr. Zhongxin Zhou FCIC, Canadian Society for Chemistry
  3. Prof. Gary Anderson, Canadian Society of Zoologists/Société canadienne de zoologie
  4. Prof. Dion Durnford, Conseil universitaire des directeur de biologie du Canada/Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs
  5. Dr. Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko, Canadian Coalition of Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology
  6. Prof. Nicole Fenton, Canadian Botanical Association/Association des botanistes du Canada
  7. Prof. Javad Mashreghi, Société mathématique du Canada/Canadian Mathematical Society
  8. Prof. Myra Fernandes, Canadian Society for Brain Behaviour & Cognitive Sciences/Société Canadienne des Sciences du Cerveau, du Comportement, et de la Cognition
  9. Prof. Robin Cameron, Société canadienne de biologie végétale/Canadian Society of Plant Biologists
  10. Prof. Imogen Coe, Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences/Société canadienne pour les biosciences moléculaires 
  11. Prof. Shernaz Bamji, Association canadienne des neurosciences/Canadian Association for Neurosciences
  12. Prof. Deanne van Rooyen, Geological Association of Canada/Association géologique du Canada
  13. Prof. Deanne van Rooyen, Société géoscientifique de l’atlantique/Atlantic Geoscience Society
  14. Prof. Grace Yi, Statistical Society of Canada/Société statistique du Canada
  15. Prof. Felix Sperling, Société d’entomologie du Canada/Entomological Society of Canada 
  16. Prof. Craig Purchase, Canadian Aquatic Resources Section of the American Fisheries Society/Section des ressources aquatiques canadienne de l’American Fisheries Society 
  17. Prof. Manu Paranjape, Association canadienne des physiciens et physiciennes/Canadian Association of Physicists                                       
  18. Prof. Alex Ensminger, Canadian Society of Microbiologists/Société canadienne des microbiologistes
  19. Prof. Kerri Finlay, Société canadienne des sciences aquatiques/Society of Canadian Aquatic Sciences
  20. Union étudiante du Québec (UEQ)/Quebec Student Union (QSU)
  21. Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars /l’association canadienne des postdoctorantes et postdoctorants
  22. Association canadienne pour les études supérieures/Canadian Association for Graduate Studies
  23. Canadian Alliance of Student Associations/Alliance canadienne des associations étudiantes
  24. Prof. Nancy Forde, Société de Biophysique du Canada/Biophysical Society of Canada
  25. Prof. Matthew Peros, Canadian Quaternary Association/Association canadienne pour l’étude du Quaternaire
  26. Dialogue sciences et politiques / Science & Policy Exchange
  27. L’association des doyens des études supérieures du Québec 

As of July 26, 2022, over 6500 people have signed the letter as individuals.

The full list of individual signatories is available here:

Media Inquiries

Prof. Marc Johnson – (English)

Prof. Louis Bernatchez – (French & English)

Prof. Sarah Otto – (English)

Prof. Stephen Heard – (English)