A survey of graduate Astronomy funding throughout Canadian Universities

From one coast to the other, Canadian universities offer about 20 different graduate program in astronomy. Each of these institutions have their own tuition fees and funding rules. Most importantly, graduate astronomy programs are offered in cities with vastly different cost of living. Graduate students are, generally speaking, not member of a union when it comes to research (although they can be part of a union as teaching assistant). As such, they are not part of an organization that can help them know what is the situation like elsewhere for graduate students. Furthermore, relevant information tends to be lost quickly due to graduate students spending only a few years at the same place. This led to the present funding survey. Hopefully, it can bring present and future graduate students some relevant information.

The survey itself consists in funding information from 15 different institutions. Cost of living information was obtained from the website Numbeo crowd-sourcing database that include hundreds of entry for each city. References and details are included in the report.

The survey tries to be more comprehensive than previous ones by looking at major expenses for graduate students in each institutions. The categories of expenses included are:
-Full-time domestic tuition*
-Full-time ancillary fees*
-Public transportation

* Quoted tuition and ancillary fees are for full-time students at the start of their degree. Fee reduction can apply after a fixed number of tuition instalments or as the thesis is being written, depending on the institution. Reduced fees schedule and total degree tuition will be included when the data as been compiled.

A note on international tuition is included when available, but the situation varies between universities. A section is also dedicated to ancillary fees as they vary a lot. Public transportation is included with the tuition fees at most universities but does amount to 500-1000$ a year when it isn’t. For housing, a range is given for each city, the lowest value represents a person living outside of the city core with 2 roommates while the higher value represents someone living alone in the city core. Internet, food and leisure expenses are based on conservative numbers detailed in the survey. Three scenarios are then considered. Housing being the largest single expense, the scenarios are based on the minimum, maximum and average of the housing range. The average housing value obtained is generally in good agreement with what a person should expect to pay to live in the city core with 2 roommates or alone outside of the city core. A measure of the disposable income can then be obtained by combining various funding and expenses scenarios.

Although the first page of the report only summarizes the values for students with minimum funding in an average expenses scenario, more details are available for individual institutions. TA hours and salary included in minimum funding, how much a student can get for an additional TA position (and associated disposable income) and total NSERC funding (and associated disposable income) are given for most of the universities.

Getting a very complete picture of graduate funding is obviously very hard, especially when done on a voluntary basis like it is the case for this survey. The reader should keep in mind that there are limitations to the numbers obtained. For example, the distribution of funding compared to the minimum and the availability of scholarships (NSERC or others) are not included. Students also have to balance other things when deciding where to go, e.g.: research areas, excellence and reputation of the institution and the researchers, availability of supervisors, success of former students, etc.

It is of the opinion of the Graduate Student Committee that this survey should be kept updated and enhanced. It is also clear that the minimum funding situation of graduate astronomy students varies greatly throughout Canada. It should be kept in mind that, although the average funding may show a very different picture, a non-negligible fraction of graduate students have to live on minimum funding. Not having enough money to meet basic needs has been shown to be a huge source of stress. It also excludes individuals who may be capable of contributing in a meaningful way to research but who can’t because they either can’t afford it or are too stressed to do good work due to finances.

Download the report here.

Thank you to all the graduate students, graduate chairs and other department officials that provided the information necessary for the survey. Special thanks to Lisa Glass and Hannah Broekhoven-Fiene for their help putting the survey together.

For comments, questions or modification requests, please contact:

Sébastien Lavoie
University of Victoria
slavoie at uvic.ca



This work was inspired by Lisa Glass, who first compiled funding information for astronomy programs across the country during her PhD at UVic. Her original reports are archived below. Please keep in mind that the interpretation and discussion of the results is in the context of funding at UVic, where Lisa completed her PhD. The metrics and values that are compared, however, can be applied in the context of the funding at any university, and therefore are helpful for analysis of the funding models for other universities.
2010spreadsheet and final summary 

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