They collect diplomas and live below the poverty line. Sometimes at less than $20,000 a year. Graduate students, supported by eminent researchers, are asking for better financial support from governments.
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“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, a doctoral student in biology at the 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 per year. At the doctoral level, $21,000 per year. They pay less than a full-time job at the minimum wage, which has been $14.25 per hour for 1 yearer can.
Result: thousands of students are doomed to live near or below the poverty line.
“This is one of the biggest research funding anomalies I’ve seen,” said Louis Bernatchez, a professor of biology and researcher at Laval University.
In a letter to Ottawa, more than 5,500 students and leading researchers — including two Nobel laureates — demand an annual increase in Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) grants so that they will be indexed to inflation in the future. The signatories also call for an increase in the number of postdoctoral fellowships awarded annually – 150 fellowships in 2021.
Anders, “some of Canada’s brightest young minds” [seront forcés] to live in poverty and seek better-funded jobs abroad,” the letter reads.
The same goes for grant recipients from the other grants, namely the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
“We are aware of the fact that students are facing increasing financial difficulties,” NSERC responds by email.
The government body “intends” to work with other councils and the research community to “find ways to improve the mentoring of trainees”, without giving further details.
In a laconic reply, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, called for the government’s “unwavering” support for “all scientists and researchers”.
“It didn’t happen to pay the mortgage”
Raphaël Bouchard likes to emphasize that: a PhD is hard work.
We are labeled as students, but we are really researchers. We work 35 to 40 hours on our research projects.
Raphaël Bouchard, doctoral student in biology at the University of Laval
He counts himself among the lucky ones. He won one of NSERC’s most prestigious grants. And paid in addition: $35,000 per year. Raphaël Bouchard can still sympathize with his precarious comrades, who themselves 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 rent, food, transportation or just clothes,” he recalls.
In the postgraduate the struggle continues. Karine is about to end her research career in the humanities by refusing a $45,000-a-year grant without any social benefits.
“When I looked at the numbers on the calculator, it didn’t come in to pay the mortgage,” said the 34-year-old, who spoke on condition of anonymity because her research supervisor is not aware of her decision.
Postdoctoral researchers 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, the message we’re sending is that research isn’t worth it,” she continues.
It is still a privilege to get a scholarship. Most students have to do without.
With the master’s degree in psychology, Alice receives a salary of $10,000 per year, paid by her research supervisor. To make ends meet, she works in a restaurant.
“I’ve come to a point where I’m hesitating to get a PhD. After my two-year master’s degree, I’m at the end of my rope’, says the young woman, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals from her university.
“The fact that scholarships [fédérales] because the best are at such low levels, it doesn’t give the right signal of what is acceptable or not,” laments Louis Bernatchez.
No students, no science
“There is no science without graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the labs of Canadian universities,” emphasizes Mr. Bernatchez.
The U15, a group of Canadian research universities, has been campaigning for years to increase the value of federal grants, but also their numbers. To meet the challenges of tomorrow, Canada needs a strong and diversified scientific track, said spokesman Dylan Hanley.
“Students need to be attracted to higher education in Canada, and making sure they don’t live in poverty is part of that. †
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- Annual income for full-time employment at minimum wage, which is $14.25 per hour
Source: QUEBEC Ministry of Finance