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 2020 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 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. Alexander Graham Bell 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.

2. 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 application portal, 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 take the award to 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 that can be put forward for review at the national competition. For Fall 2020, Waterloo’s allocation of NSERC Doctoral Scholarships is: 142

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 – Friday, September 18, 2020

2. Application deadline – Saturday, October 17, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. (ET)

Critical steps 

1. Eligibility

It is the applicant’s responsibility that the minimum eligibility criteria of this award is 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; details about the Vanier application process through the University of Waterloo can be found on Waterloo’s web page. Successful applicants can only take up one award.

Note 2: If you entered your doctoral program directly from your bachelor’s degree (that is, you were never registered in a graduate level program) and have completed between zero and 12 months of studies in the doctoral program, you may be eligible to apply for a Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master’s (CGS M) or for a PGS D. Applying for a CGS M, if you are eligible, will maximize your potential period of funding. You are responsible for choosing the type of award for which you apply.

2.  Confirm where your application should be considered

The student’s registration status at the time of application will determine where they will submit their application to; i.e., either through a Canadian university or directly to 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 when they were required to apply through a Canadian institution, 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

Students applying for an NSERC Doctoral Scholarship must assign a designate in the NSERC online application portal in order to have their current and previous* transcripts uploaded and attached to their application. Prior to doing this, the applicant MUST complete the “Academic Background” page of the online application. This will ensure that the designate has the information required to gather all transcripts necessary.

*As a condition of graduate program admission, students must provide their final official transcripts from previous institutions to GSPA. Providing these have been received, GSPA will retrieve transcripts from the previous institutions from their data management system.

When prompted by NSERC's online application portal for designate information, students applying for NSERC through Waterloo must enter the following:

Email: (NOT gsoawards)

Family Name: Bilotta

Given Name: Miranda

Students have until Friday, September 18, 2020 to assign the transcript designate. This will ensure all transcripts are uploaded to the student's application prior to the application deadline of October 17, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. (EDT).

Students will be able to view their transcript on their NSERC application once it has been uploaded.

Transcripts will be uploaded to student’s applications starting after the transcript deadline.

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

  1. Waterloo undergraduate students who attended a previous post-secondary institution for an exchange (ONLY if CR shows on Waterloo transcript) or for a previously completed undergraduate degree.
  2. 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.
  3. Students who have not provided their final official transcripts from previous institutions to GSPA for graduate admission purposes.

Students who are in the above two situations must contact Miranda Bilotta in the GSPA, by Friday, September 18, 2020 for further direction.

Note: Students are unable to submit their application until all transcripts are uploaded to their application by GSPA.

4. Read the application instructions

Instructions for Completing an Application – Form 201  specify 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.

5. Selecting referees

Applicants must contact two potential referees as soon as possible but no later than three weeks prior to the October 17 application deadline.  Referees should be advised that their “Report on the Applicant” form must be completed no later than October 14 (3 days prior to the application deadline).

Applicants can only submit their application using NSERC's online system when both referees have completed and submitted their “Report on the Applicant”. Applicants will be able to see that the referees have submitted their Reports but will not be able to see the content of them.

Important information for applicants on how to set a deadline for the referees to complete the Report, how to send them reminders, etc. can be found on NSERC’s Instructions for Completing an Application – Form 201.

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.

Tips for selecting referees and reference letters

  • Applicants should select referees who know them well and are capable of making an informed assessment from an academic perspective (i.e. past or current supervisor). 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. They 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., highlighting that a paper is published in a journal with a high impact factor; identifying that a paper has been widely cited; research that has received recognition outside of the academy; research that has 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 website for Eligibility Criteria for Students and Fellows for confirmation. Applicants are only allowed to apply to one Tri-Agency competition and it is important to ensure it is the correct one or they may be disqualified.

Ranking and results

  • Applicants who are applying through the University of Waterloo must submit their NSERC Doctoral application through NSERC’s online application system by 8:00 p.m. (EST) on October 17, 2019.
  • GSPA will retrieve the applications from the online portal and provide them to the appropriate graduate department to confirm eligibility and completeness. A departmental committee will conduct a ranking of the applications submitted to determine which applicants should be highly considered for endorsement at the institutional level.
  • Based on Waterloo’s quota (142), the institutional selection committee* will adjudicate and select nominees to go forward to the national competition.
  • GSPA will communicate with applicants to advise them of the decision after the institutional level review. Only applicants selected for endorsement who require revisions to their application, in order to strengthen it and address eligibility concerns, will receive an email with feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • In April, NSERC will communicate results to all applicants submitted for the national competition and will notify our office, by email.
  • *At Waterloo, the institutional selection committee is comprised of the Associate Vice, President, GSPA (chair), the Assistant Vice-Presidents, GSPA , and the six Faculty Associate Deans, Graduate Studies (HEALTHARTSENGENVMATHSCI), or designates as appropriate.

    NOTE: All reviewers for this competition must agree to Waterloo's privacy, confidentiality and conflict of interest guidelines.


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 Miranda Bilotta (Manager, Graduate Financial Aid and Awards Programs) in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs.

Sept 9, 2020

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