Fully Funded PhD Scholarships in Canada: Your Guide to Financial Support for Graduate Studies

Pursuing a PhD is an ambitious undertaking that requires immense dedication, hard work and financial commitment. While the intellectual and personal rewards of doctoral studies are immense, the costs associated with graduate school can be daunting. This is where fully funded PhD scholarships in Canada become invaluable.

What is a Fully Funded PhD?

A fully funded PhD refers to a doctoral program that provides sufficient financial support to cover all academic expenses and living costs associated with graduate studies, without the student incurring any debt.

Typically, full funding would include:

  • Tuition fees and compulsory institutional fees
  • A living stipend or salary to cover basic living expenses like rent, groceries, transportation etc.
  • Health insurance coverage
  • Research and conference travel support

The duration and amount of funding can vary depending on the program and university, but as a rule of thumb, fully funded PhDs in Canada provide minimum funding of $20,000 – $25,000 per year for 4-5 years to support doctoral studies and research.

Eligibility for PhD Funding in Canada

To qualify for fully funded PhD programs in Canadian universities, applicants generally need to meet the following basic eligibility criteria:

  • Have completed an undergraduate degree (usually at minimum second class/honors level) in a relevant field from a recognized university
  • Meet the university’s minimum GPA requirement (usually 3.0/B or higher out of 4.0)
  • For international students, meet the minimum English language proficiency requirement on approved tests like IELTS or TOEFL
  • Meet any other program-specific prerequisites in terms of coursework, research experience, etc.

While doctoral admissions are highly competitive, being a Canadian citizen or permanent resident can give you an advantage for domestic scholarships. However, exceptional international students also stand a good chance at winning competitive awards if they have strong academics and research experience.

Sources of PhD Funding in Canada

There are multiple potential sources for full or partial PhD funding in Canada, which can be combined to cover all expenses:

University/Departmental Funding

Every PhD program has a limited number of spots with guaranteed university funding through teaching and research assistantships, provided the student maintains good academic standing. This remains the most reliable source of basic funding.

National Scholarship Programs

Three major national scholarship bodies in Canada offer excellent PhD funding opportunities through competitive awards. These include:

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

These funding agencies offer prestigious awards ranging from $17,300- $35,000 per year for 3-5 years of doctoral studies depending on the program.

Provincial Scholarship Programs

Many provinces also offer their own scholarship programs targeted at graduate studies. For example, Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) provides $15,000 per year.

External Fellowship Awards

Numerous non-profit organizations, private foundations, research institutes provide targeted fellowship awards every year. For example Mitacs Elevate provides $20,000 – $42,000 over 2 years.

Canada Research Chairs (CRC)

CRC program is the most prestigious federal research position for Canadian faculty, with funding levels of $100,000 – $200,000 per year. PhD students can apply during candidacy exam to work under a CRC.

Steps to Apply for PhD Funding in Canada

Now that we covered the key sources, here are the typical steps to apply for full funding for PhD studies:

1. Apply to PhD Programs

Send applications to 2-3 top choice programs by their deadlines, which are usually between Dec-Feb for fall admission. You need an offer of admission before funding applications.

2. Research Funding Deadlines

Contact prospective supervisors and departments to learn internal and external funding deadlines, which are often between Jan-March.

3. Develop Strong Application

Write compelling research statement highlighting your interest areas and skills. Ask recommenders to emphasize your potential as a research scholar.

4. Apply for University/Department Funding

Look for application guidelines on department websites. Submit required documents showing interest fit and past academic excellence.

5. Apply for National Scholarships

Carefully read program guide, draft proposals matching the funding agency’s research priorities. Get drafts reviewed before final submission.

6. Communicate with Supervisors

Let your prospective supervisor know about all funding applications. They will be crucial in supporting internal nominations and external reference letters.

7. Follow Up After Deadlines

Check portal updates and don’t hesitate to politely follow up regarding status if needed. Have backup plans in place in case you are not awarded full funding initially.

The key is starting the process early, developing a strong application highlighting motivation and potential, and leveraging all possible sources of funding. With diligent effort and some luck, a fully funded PhD is very achievable for Canadian and international students alike.

Types of PhD-Level Scholarships in Canada

Now that we understand funding mechanisms in general, let’s look at some of the most coveted awards programs in more detail:

SSHRC Doctoral Fellowships

  • 3 year fellowship award worth $35,000 per year
  • Disciplines include social sciences, humanities, arts, etc.
  • Strong focus on research excellence and leadership potential
  • Highly competitive with acceptance rate around 15-20%

NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarships (CGS)

  • 3 year award worth $21,000 per year for Masters and $17,500/year for PhD
  • For natural sciences and engineering disciplines
  • Assess research proposals and academic achievements
  • Acceptance rate around 30%

CIHR Canada Graduate Scholarships

  • 2 year Masters awards and 3-4 year PhD awards worth $17,300/year
  • For health-related research in medicine, nutrition, nursing etc.
  • Evaluate research excellence and communication skills
  • 35-40% success rates for top tier awards

Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS)

  • 1 year award worth $15,000 for Masters and PhD students
  • Rolling internal application with universities across Ontario
  • Must be Canadian citizen, PR to qualify
  • Acceptance rate varies based on institution and program

These national scholarships are extremely prestigious and will open many doors by demonstrating high caliber. Focus on drafting truly outstanding proposals that convey your vision and skills.

Tips for Strong Funded PhD Applications

Here are some additional tips for optimized chances of success:

  • Craft compelling statements of research interests highlighting original ideas
  • Emphasize relevant past experience like publications, awards, conferences etc.
  • Ask recommenders who know you well and can enthusiastically endorse your potential
  • Highlight relevant skills for the type of project like data analysis, programming etc.
  • Follow formatting guidelines meticulously and get drafts reviewed by experts
  • Tailor your statement to priorities of the specific funding program/agency
  • Consider optional materials like CVs, writing samples etc. to strengthen application
  • Communicate interest in labs/supervisors strong in that agency’s priority areas
  • Be ready to discuss proposal in person if shortlisted for Skype interviews

The key is outlining a focused, ambitious but feasible research agenda that aligns well with the assessors’ evaluation criteria. Take time to fine tune iterations of your application.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:

1. How much total funding can I get?

With diligent applications, most PhD students in Canada receive over $70,000 in funding over 4-5 years when accounting for all potential sources. Winning national scholarships on top of university funding maximizes support.

2. What if I don’t secure initial funding?

Have backup plans ready like provisional offers with funding packages. Contact faculty about other funding opportunities and reapplying next cycle. Teaching/research work is also possible after first year once coursework is complete.

3. How important are grades for funding?

Strong academic history is crucial for competitive scholarships. Aim for a minimum 3.7/4.0 GPA at Masters level and exceptional grades if applying directly after bachelors. Work experience and research track record also matter.

4. What are my chances as an international student?

International applicants are eligible for all major scholarships if they meet general criteria. Key advantages include relevant research experience, strong recommendations, compelling statements demonstrating exceptional capability and fit. Top programs accept 20-30% international students with funding each year.

5. Should I contact potential supervisors before applying?

It is highly recommended to reach out to prospective supervisors at departments you are interested in before formally applying. Making early contact allows them to get to know you and your research interests. Communicating well in advance demonstrates initiative and serious commitment to their program. You can discuss potential research project ideas and ask supervisors for guidance on the best fit. They may also provide insight on ongoing or upcoming grants that could fund your position. Explaining your background and securing a preliminary agreement of supervision significantly strengthens your application.

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