NSERC Cutting Masters Scholarships To Just One Year

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), one of the three federal funding agencies for research in Canada, has cut the amount of funding that a Master’s student can get through their Postgraduate Scholarship (PGS) down to one year.  It is impossible to complete a natural sciences1 Masters program in a year.  Most Masters students have to take several courses in addition to completing a research proposal, conducting research, analyzing their data, and writing and defending a thesis2.  You can’t do that in a year… it just can’t be done3!  When you factor in that certain types of biological research are reliant on how long/what time of year fish spawn or plants grow or how long it takes for pregnant rats to come to term – in other words – things that are completely beyond the researcher’s control – well, this just adds to it even further.  Reducing the amount of time a Masters student can get scholarships is going to have some very serious consequences – for example, students will take longer to complete their degrees as they will need to take on extra jobs to pay the bills after their first year of Masters study4, meaning they will have less time and energy to focus on their studies.  Alternatively, students will be rushed through their research (e.g., be given an already formed research project to do instead of having to learn to create a research proposal, conducting less research or less rigorous research) – resulting in not only shoddy research, but poorly trained scientists!  Or, of course, our best and brightest will just head off to the US or overseas – and we really  don’t need to be losing our research capacity!

If you, like I, think that this reduction in PGS funding for Masters student to a single year is ill-advised and should be reconsidered, go here to sign the petition.

1I’m not personally familiar with the nature of engineering Masters degrees, so I will refrain from comment on that. If any of my readers are, please let me know!
2Disclosure: I completed my Masters in a year, but it was not a research-based Master. Instead, it involved coursework and a research project and, as such, I was not eligible for a PGS (or equivalent scholarship), which requires that you be conducting thesis research.
3A quick search on the StatsCan website did not produce any figures on the average time to complete a Masters, but the wording of petition suggests that it’s around 2.5 years, which is pretty much in keeping with what I’ve seen.
4And trust me when I say that graduate work is more than a full-time job in and of itself.

Image credit: Matthias Orfield on Flickr

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  • Indentured servitude is an ugly concept, but for some reason it meets with little objection in a world of indoor plumbing and microwave ovens. Apparently being under the thumb of a corporate-government establishment in colonial history merits the scorn of historians, but putting contemporary historians (and pretty much all other scholars) in a strikingly similar economic predicament is supposed to make the profoundly indebted grateful for the fact North American economic practices support any path at all to an advanced education?!?

    I have long contended any society becomes a far better place to the degree its most educated citizens begin their professional careers with an economic blank slate. Insane hyperemphasis on personal profit is reinforced by a practical requirement that educated individuals spend many years dedicated to some line of work with a substantial paycheck.* So much important work does not come with such a perk. So much important work will continue to be neglected, leaving our governments myopic and our cultural growth stunted, while the pursuit of an advanced education continues (for the non-rich) to be accompanied by a mortgage on the enlightened mind.

    Anyway, my sympathies on this particular policy change. Hopefully it will not be long before this misguided course of action can be reversed.

    *Oh, and also this archaic individualist approach to educational finance often supplants little things like standards of scholastic ability or ethical integrity. Here in the U.S., all but a handful of the most respected institutions of higher learning are run by business managers pursuing growth for its own sake. Turning even a dimwitted yet qualified loan applicant away is considered bad business, while being generous with a truly gifted thinker is likewise considered bad business. If more universities had the stomach to do bad business, I believe more of them would succeed in their ostensible mission of providing quality educations.

    Demonweed’s last blog post..What You Should Think About Balance


  • Your comment reminds me of a wonderful thing I once heard David Suzuki say: “The university has no business being in business.”


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