Investing in the Future of Science: The Urgent Need to Fund Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in Canada


Sarah LaFramboise

Support Our Science

Executive Director

Headshot of Sarah Laframboise
Disclaimer: The French version of this editorial has been auto-translated and has not been approved by the author.

It has been 20 years since Canadian graduate students and postdoctoral scholars have received a raise. Today, this fact haunts our research ecosystem and has left the next generation of science and research graduates struggling to make ends meet. 

To investigate this further, my team at the Ottawa Science Policy Network launched a National Survey investigating Graduate Student Finances, which painted a bleak, but very clear picture of the financial realities of being a graduate student in Canada:

  • 86% of graduate students experience stress and anxiety about their finances.
  • 40% of graduate students have difficulty paying for necessities like rent and food.
  • 31% of graduate students have considered leaving their schooling due to financial concerns.

For a country that boasts about innovation, this is unacceptable

Through my own journey, I have experienced firsthand the challenges faced by the next generation of scientists. I have heard countless stories of struggles, inequality and crippling debt. A year ago, I joined a tenacious group of scientists and young researchers who were willing to tackle this issue head on. Support Our Science was born out of a need for a grassroots organization that could be a voice for the 240,000 graduate students and the thousands of postdocs in Canada. Over the last year, we launched an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Champagne that was signed by 7000+ scientists and 40 scientific associations, we launched a House of Common’s petition with 3500+ signatures, and we launched a nation-wide walkout with 10,000 participants across 46 institutions. The release of the “Bouchard Report” by the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System brings new hope as it recognizes the dire need to invest in the future of science in Canada.

A Crisis of Inadequate Support

The Bouchard Report echoes the concerns expressed by researchers and stakeholders across Canada: the country’s research ecosystem is at serious risk due to inadequate support for research and researchers. Over the past two decades, research funding has failed to keep pace with the growing number of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, inflationary pressures, and the necessity to nurture globally competitive research. But what does this really mean?

This means that every day we are losing our highly trained scientists to the United States and Europe where they have access to a living wage and salaries are 2-3 times higher than here in Canada. 

This means our businesses are losing highly skilled workers. 

This means that every day we are failing Canadian innovation by defining who can take on the financial challenges of higher education and excluding those who can’t. Without significant reinvestment, Canada faces the imminent threat of another brain drain, losing its talented researchers to countries with more supportive funding systems.

Impact on Research Activities and Outcomes

Insufficient funding limits the research activities and outcomes of today’s scientists, impeding their ability to engage in collaborations, pursue ambitious projects, and explore novel avenues of knowledge mobilization. This is lost potential on a personal and a national level. The success of the research support system is compromised when researchers are unable to access the necessary resources to drive innovation and make significant contributions to their respective fields. It continues to fall short when we exclude young researchers based on their financial status and not their ability or desire to pursue science as a career. Additionally, without addressing this funding shortfall, the competitive standing of Canadian researchers will decline, negatively impacting Canada’s position as a global leader in scientific discovery.

The Urgent Need for Increased Investments

Two specific recommendations in the Bouchard Report emphasize the urgency of significantly increasing investments in the granting councils. Firstly, Recommendation 5 urges the Government of Canada to commit to an annual increase of at least ten percent for five years in the councils’ total base budgets for their core grant programming. Such investments are essential to accommodate the growth in the research ecosystem, combat inflationary pressures, and nurture globally competitive research and talent. These funding increases will also allow for principal investigators to increase salaries for graduate students and postdocs paid through their own research grants. 

Furthermore, Recommendation 6 calls for an internationally competitive level of funding for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, recognizing their crucial role as the future leaders of scientific innovation. At Support Our Science we have been advocating for a 50% increase in graduate student scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships to match inflation over the last 20 years, and to index these awards to the consumer price index to create a more sustainable research ecosystem in the future. Additionally, we ask for a 50% increase in the number of graduate scholarships and a double in the number of postdoctoral fellowships to allow for more researchers to benefit from these awards directly.

The Bouchard Report and its 21 recommendations provide a crucial roadmap for revitalizing the federal system supporting academic research in Canada. It shines a spotlight on the urgent need for increased funding for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, acknowledging the detrimental impact of inadequate support on the research ecosystem and Canada’s global competitiveness. As the Executive Director of Support Our Science, I urge the Government of Canada to heed these recommendations, implement strategic investments, and secure the future of science by empowering the next generation of researchers. Together, let us ensure that Canada remains at the forefront of scientific excellence and innovation.