Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Doctoral Scholarships

Information on this page is subject to change pending updates from the agency.

This web page relates to the fall 2023 NSERC Doctoral Scholarships competition and the University of Waterloo's internal administration of the program. For information pertaining to the Tri-Agency Canada Graduate Scholarships Master's (CGS M) competition, please visit Waterloo's Tri-Agency (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) Canada Graduate Scholarships Master's (CGS M) website.


CGS D Harmonization

In fall 2019, the three national granting agencies (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) harmonized the Canada Graduate Scholarship -Doctoral (CGS D) competitions. They share the same program guide, eligibility, and selection criteria, however the agency-specific doctoral awards (ex. NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships etc.) were not harmonized and continue to have their own unique program guides, eligibility, and selection criteria.

Award Description

The NSERC Doctoral Scholarships program provides financial support to high-calibre scholars who are engaged in doctoral programs in the natural sciences or engineering. There are two types of NSERC Doctoral Scholarships available:

  1. Canada Graduate Scholarships - Doctoral Program (CGS D) – offered to top ranked applicants; without exception, these awards are tenable only at eligible Canadian universities; valued at $35,000 a year for three years.
  1. NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships-Doctoral Program (PGS D) – for study in Canada or abroad; offered to the next tier of highly-ranked applicants; these awards may be taken up at any eligible Canadian university or an eligible foreign university provided that the applicant has received a previous degree in the natural sciences or engineering field from a Canadian university. This award is valued at $21,000 a year for three years.

By completing NSERC’s Form 201 using NSERC’s online system, applicants are automatically considered for both the NSERC CGS D and the NSERC PGS D. The agency determines the type of scholarship to be offered during the national adjudication. If a student is offered a CGS D but decides to undertake graduate studies at an eligible foreign university (provided they are eligible to do so), they must decline the CGS D and are alternatively awarded a PGS D. Specific eligibility details are available on the official CGS D Program website and the NSERC PGS D website.

Applying for an NSERC at Waterloo

Each eligible institution receives a quota, which is the number of applications we can put forward to the national competition. For Fall 2023, Waterloo’s allocation of NSERC Doctoral Scholarships is 115.

Recipients of a NSERC Doctoral Scholarship who hold their scholarship at Waterloo are also eligible to receive the President’s Graduate Scholarship (PGS).

Important dates

The dates below are applicable to students whose applications will be considered at Waterloo. To determine where your application should be considered, applicants must refer to Step 2: Confirm where your application should be considered in the Critical Steps section.

  1. Transcript request deadline - Wednesday, September 13, 2023.
  1. Application deadline - Tuesday, October 10, 2023, at 8:00 p.m. (ET).

Critical steps 

1. Eligibility

It is the applicant’s responsibility that the minimum eligibility criteria of this award are satisfied before they begin the application process. Interested applicants must review the eligibility and selection criteria on the official CGS D Program website and the NSERC PGS D website before beginning their application.

Note 1: Applicants may also be eligible to apply for the Vanier CGS; applicants MUST apply for the Vanier CGS and for the NSERC Doctoral Scholarships separately. Details about the Vanier CGS are available on the official website; applicants applying for the Vanier with the intention of holding it at Waterloo should refer to Waterloo's Vanier web page for additional details. Successful applicants can only take up one award.

Note 2: If an applicant entered their doctoral program directly from their bachelor’s degree (that is, they were never registered in a graduate level program) and have completed between zero and 12 months of studies in the doctoral program, they may be eligible to apply for a Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master’s (CGS M) or for an NSERC Doctoral Scholarship (if already enrolled in your doctoral program at the time of application). Applying for a CGS M, if eligible, will maximize the applicant’s potential period of funding. If eligible for both a CGS M and an NSERC Doctoral scholarship, then it is the applicant’s responsibility to determine which scholarship they are going to apply for.

2.  Confirm where your application should be considered

The student’s registration status at the time of application will determine where their application will be forwarded to (and considered by); i.e., either through Waterloo, another Canadian university or directly by NSERC. It is the students’ responsibility to ensure they are submitting their application through the proper channel by selecting the correct "current status" option (ie. A, B, C or D) in the NSERC application. If a student applies directly to NSERC (options A or B) when they were required to apply through a Canadian institution (options C or D), their application will be deemed ineligible and rejected. Students must review the flowchart called “Where should I submit my application?” on the official CGS D Program website to ensure their application is submitted appropriately.

3. Transcripts

Applicants to an NSERC Doctoral Scholarship have to complete a Tri-Agency (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) Doctoral Scholarships – applicant transcript request form to obtain their transcripts and will be responsible for uploading them to their own application.

Transcripts are required for all programs of study listed in the Academic Background section of the application, including if the applicant just started their program in Fall 2023. Students are unable to submit their application until all transcripts have been uploaded to their application.

The process to have transcripts uploaded is as follows:

  1. Applicants must complete and submit a Tri-Agency (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) Doctoral Scholarships – applicant transcript request form (Graduate studies forms website). This request is free of charge and is due by September 13, 2023.
  2. In order for GSPA to fulfil these requests, students must have provided their official transcripts from previous institutions as part of their application for admission. *
  3. If there are any transcripts which GSPA is unable to provide because they are not on-file, the student is responsible for ordering a new hardcopy version. The student must then scan the hardcopy and merge it with the pdf sent by GSPA.
  4. GSPA will email a single pdf file of the requested transcripts to the student via the email provided in the request form. It is the student’s responsibility to then upload the file to their NSERC online system.

*Applicants who are in the following situations are responsible for providing their final official transcripts from previous post-secondary institutions:

  • Students who went on exchange for any terms and the courses do not have an actual grade showing on your home university transcript, you will require official transcripts from the exchange institution.
  • Students who have not provided their final official transcripts from previous institutions to GSPA for graduate admission purposes.

Note: Students who are in the above situations and are having issues with obtaining their official transcript(s) must contact Elena Machado in GSPA, by Wednesday, September 13, 2023, for further direction.

4. Read the application instructions

Instructions for Completing an Application – Form 201  specifies the number of referees required, presentation standards of the free form documents, etc. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure he/she reads and follows these instructions as outlined on the official website.

Additionally, applicants should refer to the NSERC Doctoral Scholarship - Application Tips document to avoid making common mistakes!

5. Selecting referees

Two completed “Reports on Applicants” (reference letters) are required as part of the Form 201 application. Follow these steps to secure a reference:

  1. Applicants should review NSERC’s Instructions for Completing an Application – Form 201 for important information regarding referees, including recommendations for who should be completing the appraisal, how to set a deadline for the referees to complete the Report and how to send them reminders, etc.
  2. Applicants must contact two potential referees as soon as possible but no later than three weeks prior to the October 10th application deadline. Invitations for the referees are initiated through the NSERC online system and a deadline must be set for the referee (refer to instructions). Referees should be given a deadline at least 3 days in advance of the application deadline.
  3. Applicants must direct their potential referees to NSERC’s Report on Applicant Instructions so that they may see the selection criteria and know how applicants are evaluated.
  4. Applicants will be able to see that the referees have submitted their Reports but will not be able to see the content of them.

Applicants can only submit their application using NSERC's online system when both referees have completed and submitted their “Report on the Applicant”.

Tips for selecting referees and reference letters:

  • Applicants should select referees who know them well and can make an informed assessment from an academic perspective (i.e., current or previous supervisor) based on the evaluation criteria. Reminder: NSERC will not accept a reference letter from an applicants’ proposed supervisor unless they are their current supervisor or have supervised them in the past.
  • Applicants should be up front and ask their potential referees if they have the time and are able to provide a supporting Report that will speak to all aspects of the selection criteria. Letters should highlight qualities such as academic and non-academic leadership as well as research ability/potential, academic accomplishments, and the importance of any publications, if applicable.
  • Applicants should provide referees with a package of information that will assist them with writing the Report. This package should contain:
    • Current curriculum vitae
    • Transcripts
    • A list of research contributions; applicants are encouraged to request referees to address the importance of their publications and contributions in the letters of appraisal (e.g. focus on the impact your research has received outside of the academy and the applied outcomes that have positively influenced society, governance, industry or other sectors, etc.)
    • A copy of the research proposal
    • A list of community involvement or other extracurricular activities that demonstrate leadership qualities. 

6. Research proposal

The proposed research project and doctoral program of study must be eligible within the mandate of the agency to which the application is being submitted. To confirm the proposal falls under the correct agency, applicants should refer to the Government of Canada’s website for Selecting the Appropriate Federal Granting Agency or NSERC’s web pages the Addendum to the guidelines for the eligibility of applications related to health or the Eligibility Criteria for Students and Fellows for confirmation. Applicants can only apply to one Tri-Agency competition, and it is important to ensure it is the correct one or they may be disqualified.

7. Components of a complete application

Applicants must use the following list to ensure their application for an NSERC Doctoral Scholarship (PGS/CGS D) is complete:

  • Application (Form 201)
    • Application profile
    • Personal profile
    • Addresses
    • Academic background
    • Academic, research and other relevant work experience
    • Awards
    • Proposed location(s) of tenure
    • Scholarship or fellowship information
    • Theses completed or in progress
    • Keywords and research subject code
    • Equity, diversity and inclusion considerations in the research process
  • PDF attachments
    • Outline of proposed research (max. two pages)
    • Bibliography (max. five pages)
    • Justification for eligibility of proposed research (only if applicable - max. one page)
    • Contributions and statements (max. two pages)
    • Special circumstances (optional)
    • Transcripts and proof of registration
  • Reports on the applicant (References) (two reports)

Ranking and results

For applications where the University of Waterloo is responsible for the review and ranking, the following process takes place: 

  1. After the deadline, applications will be distributed to departments based on where the applicant is currently enrolled. Departmental award committees will review and rank the applications received to determine which applicants should be considered for scholarship offers at the institutional level using the Selection Criteria as defined by the agency.
  2. Based on the institutional quota, the institutional selection committee* will review and assess the applicants using the same selection criteria to determine which applicants will go forward for national adjudication. Given the limited quota of awards available, Waterloo is required to be strategic in determining the number of applicants selected for institutional endorsement. The selection process within institutions tends to be quite rigorous.
  3. GSPA will communicate with applicants to advise them of the decision after the institutional level adjudication. Only applicants selected for endorsement who require revisions to their application (e.g., to strengthen it or address eligibility concerns, will receive an email with feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  4. By the end of April, NSERC will communicate results via the secure site to all applicants and will also notify our office.

*At Waterloo, the institutional selection committee is comprised of the Associate-Vice, President, GSPA (chair), both the Assistant Vice-Presidents, GSPA, and the six Faculty Associate Deans, Graduate Studies (ARTSENGENVHEALTHMATHSCI), or designates as appropriate. All reviewers are encouraged to follow unconscious bias training and are subject to the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement for Review Committee Members, External Reviewers, and Observers.


Visit Waterloo’s NSERC Doctoral Scholarships timeline for further details on the NSERC competition at Waterloo.

Helpful resources

Questions regarding this competition at Waterloo can be directed to Elena Machado, Manager, Graduate Financial Aid and Awards Programs in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs.

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August 3, 2023