Skip to main content

‘Support our science’: Maritime scientists and grad students support call for increased science funding


After astrophysicist John Read finished his undergraduate degree at Saint Mary’s University, his search for a local master's program came up short.

“Eventually I applied to an American school, John Hopkins, and I got in,” he says.

His move to an American institution was largely a function of trying to access funding for his research, an issue many graduate students in Canada say is one significant hurdle of many.

“The other challenge is finding a supervisor that's an expert in what you want to do,” adds Read. “That can be a challenge as well, so a lot of people have to go elsewhere to find that.”

Human Nutrition Masters student Suhnandany Goswami says the situation can be even more daunting for international students. She’s also the vice-president of Graduate Student Affairs with the MSVU Students’ Union.

“When you are an international student,” she says, “the problem is even more, because the requirement (for many funding programs) is you have to be a permanent resident or a citizen, which makes things really difficult.”

That's why graduate students rallied in Ottawa on Thursday to present a petition calling on the federal government to provide more funding for science research and graduate scholarships.

Much of that money comes from what’s known as the Tri-Council Funding Agencies: the Natural Sciences and Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

Advocacy group Support Our Science says the funding offered often amounts to less than minimum wage, and hasn’t been increased to adjust for current inflation.

“Most students will make as a masters student about $19,000 a year, and as a PhD student about $21,000,” says Sarah Laframboise, a Support Our Science organizer. “The higher awards still aren't even enough to cover rent, let alone most of these don't consider tuition at all. “

“We spend a lot of our time writing grants, trying to persuade people that a problem is important, and important enough to fund,” says Mount Allison University biologist Vett Lloyd.

Lloyd specializes in tick and Lyme disease research, and her lab relies on grad students to do its work. Many of those students come from other countries, attracted by the relative calm and prosperity of Canada.

But she says getting them to stay in the Maritimes after their studies are complete is another challenge.

“While they may stay in science and stay in Canada, there is a huge attraction for the bigger urban centres and that's because there are more supports for international populations there,” says Lloyd.

Science communicator and former politician Richard Zurawski is just completing his PhD thesis on the role of science in society, which he says has really been under attack for years.

“A lot of people don't really understand the process of science, and how much a person who gets into science invests themselves in science. It is not an easy pursuit,” he says.

But, Zurawski adds, that pursuit is crucial to society, with scientific advancements behind almost every element of life as we know it.

He says that makes proper support for the sciences essential, particularly with the influx of online misinformation and anti-science rhetoric.

“Science has played a huge role in our lives, yet we become so distant from the practice of science,” he says. “We have more PhDs than we’ve ever had before, we have more research going on than ever before, but many post-doctoral students are poor.”

Goswami knows what she would like to see.

“Create more opportunities for fresh graduates,” she says, “and give (graduate students) the resources and freedom to conduct their research without having to worry about where money is going to come from.” Top Stories

Stay Connected