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Graduate Student

Graduate student/post-doc funding in Canada has made it impossible to build the same financial safety net as non-academic people my age. The minimum stipend levels (a bar set by Tri-Council funding) provides little (if any) money left over for savings, after covering living expenses. Not only has this funding not kept pace with inflation, but the current tri-council funding schemes only provide funding for a fraction of a student's degree. Only supporting students for the first few years of their degree, then leaving them to fend for themselves once they've sunk substantial time and energy into their studies is borderline predatory. The current funding model also hurts research in Canada as a whole, as substantial portions of research grants now must go towards student stipends. The current funding climate has me frantically looking for non-academic career alternatives. At this point, if I complete a post-doc it will be abroad, in a country that is serious about supporting research.

If graduate funding was CAD $35,000/yr for all students or CAD $60,000/yr for all postdocs, how would that change your life? The suggested increases would certainly ease the financial burden, and cause me to briefly reconsider staying in Canada as a post-doctoral researcher. That said, when I do the math, a PDF increase to $60,000 ($15K above the Tri-Council PDF) would still only result in a ~$10,000 raise, since 1/3 of that funding would be returned in taxes. I'd also note, that even this hypothetical increase would still place the salary at ~$25,000 less than what the inflation-adjusted number of the Tri-Council PDF should be. This adjusted PDF level would also only place the net income at $10,000 higher than the adjusted grad student stipend. This doesn't seem adequate given the difference in experience, and the post-doc's lack of benefits and health coverage. The current (and even the proposed) post-doc funding scheme places people in an extremely precarious position. I love the idea of a career in research, but I also want to live my life and start a family. Right now, these two things are incompatible.

Additional comments: Aside from funding. Canada also has lengthy PhD timelines + and expectation of a masters prior to PhD studies. This is in contrast to Europe where the MSc + PhD are the norm, but timelines are short, and the United States, where timelines are long but direct entry PhDs are the norm. The current structure in Canada leaves researchers without a chance to build a financial safety net or participate in the economy until they're in, or approaching their 30s. Most will probably never financially recover from the lost wages and compounding interest on investments. This makes buying into an already inaccessible housing market seem even more of a fantasy. Finally, the chronic underfunding of graduate student and post-doc wages only serves to widen equity gaps. Only people with deep-pocketed families will be able to participate. This disproportionately affects people of colour.


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