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 2019 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.

Scholarship overview

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.

CGS D Harmonization

Effective fall 2019 competition, the three national granting agencies (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) have harmonized the CGS D competitions, meaning that they will share the same program guide, eligibility and selection criteria. This harmonization is separate to the agency-specific doctoral awards (CIHR Doctoral Foreign Study Award, NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship, SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship) which will continue to have their own unique program guides, eligibility and selection criteria.

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.

Important application dates at Waterloo

Students who are currently registered in a degree program at Waterloo in Fall 2019 must complete NSERC’s Form 201 and submit it using NSERC’s online application portal by Thursday, October 17, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. (EST). Applications will not be accepted after the October 17 deadline.

Students must review the chart on the agency website, under “Application Procedures” to confirm if they should be applying through the University of Waterloo, another Canadian University or NSERC directly. If you apply directly to NSERC when you were required to apply through a Canadian institution, your application will be deemed ineligible and rejected.

Students applying through Waterloo have until Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 3:00 p.m. (EST) 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, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. (EST). (Further details under “critical steps” below)

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

Being considered at Waterloo

Interested applicants must complete the NSERC Doctoral Scholarship application, Form 201 through NSERC’s online application portal. The application is completed and submitted electronically, after which they are provided by GSPA to the graduate department that will be adjudicating the application. Applicants may only submit one application in each academic year to either CIHR, NSERC or SSHRC. The only exception to this rule is that applicants may simultaneously apply to both the NSERC Doctoral Scholarships and the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship funding opportunities. Successful applicants can only take up one award.

Waterloo’s allocation of NSERC Doctoral Scholarships for the Fall 2019 competition is 130.

Given the limited quota of awards available, Waterloo is required to be strategic in determining the applicants selected for institutional endorsement. The selection process within institutions tends to be quite rigorous. As an example, over the past five years, successful applicants often had averages higher than 85% in each of their last two years of full time academic study. Depending on the program, applicants also tended to have a number of contributions, including refereed journal publications, refereed conference proceedings and/or conference posters or presentations. Many applicants have also held prior Provincial (OGS/QEII-GSST) or Federal Tri-Council scholarships.

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

Critical steps in the application process

1.  Confirm eligibility

Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada are eligible to be considered for the NSERC Doctoral Scholarships. 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 can be found on the official website; details about the Vanier application process through the University of Waterloo can be found on Waterloo’s web page.

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). 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 to submit the application

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 applicant’s 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.  Applicants must review the chart on the agency website, under “Application Procedures” for details.

3. Assign a transcript designate

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 Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 3:00 p.m. (EST) 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, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. (EST).

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:

  • Waterloo undergraduate students who attended a previous post-secondary institution for an exchange or for a previously completed undergraduate degree.
  • 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 have their transcripts sent in a sealed envelope marked for “NSERC Doctoral Scholarship purposes” to the attention of Miranda Bilotta in GSPA, 2nd floor Needles Hall by Thursday, September 19, 2019.

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. Select and contact 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.

Waterloo's administrative process

  • 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, 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 will receive feedback and suggestions for improvement, if applicable.

Waterloo timeline

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.

August 2, 2019

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