Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Doctoral Scholarships

Information and dates may be updated depending on further information received from the agency.

The information contained on this web page pertains to the Fall 2017 NSERC Doctoral Scholarships competition and the internal administration and evaluation process at the University of Waterloo.

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) web page.

What are the NSERC Doctoral Scholarships?

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 two or 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 two or three years.

  • Applicants are automatically considered for both levels of scholarship based on a single application. 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.
  • The agency determines the value, duration and type of award to be offered during the national adjudication based on the number of months of full-time study completed by December 31 of the year of application, as well as previous awards held. Specific details can be found on the official NSERC Doctoral Scholarships website.
  • Recipients of NSERC Doctoral Scholarships who hold their scholarship at Waterloo are also eligible to receive the President’s Graduate Scholarship (PGS).
  • Waterloo’s allocation of NSERC Doctoral Awards for the Fall 2017 competition has not yet been received from the agency, however this information will be updated in the near future.
  • Applications for these scholarships are adjudicated and sent forward to a national competition by Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) at the University of Waterloo. In some cases students must apply directly to NSERC. Applicants must check the NSERC website for complete details regarding the competition.

What are the important application dates at Waterloo?

Students who are currently registered in a degree program at Waterloo in Fall 2017 must complete NSERC’s Form 201 and submit it using NSERC’s online application portal by Monday, October 9, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. (EST) – NOTE: This is earlier than NSERC’s advertised deadline for students applying directly to NSERC. Applications submitted after October 9 will not be considered.

Students must review the chart on NSERC’s website, under “How do you apply for a scholarship?” to confirm if they should be applying through the University of Waterloo, another Canadian University or NSERC directly. This may impact the application deadline date. For example, students who must apply directly to NSERC have a different deadline (October 15) than those who must apply through the University of Waterloo.

How do applicants get considered?

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 Awards for the Fall 2017 competition has not yet been received from the agency, however this information will be updated in the near future.

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.

In order to provide guidance to potential applicants (and their supervisors), GSPA has analyzed the characteristics of successful applicants from the previous three years. Students who are considering applying for NSERC Doctoral scholarships should vet their current academic achievements against those described here to assess their competitiveness in this competition.

The summary is that successful NSERC applicants:

  • Nearly always have averages in each of their last two years above 85% and become much more competitive with averages above 92%;
  • Have published on average about two refereed journal articles, one refereed conference proceeding and about three conference posters or presentations;
  • Have in about 80% of the cases held Provincial (OGS/ QEII-GSST) or Federal Tri-Council scholarships.

What are the 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 NSERC Doctoral 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 (i.e., you were never registered in a master’s level program) and have completed between four 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 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 NSERC’s website  under “How Do you apply for a scholarship?” 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: Machado 

Given Name: Elena

Students have until Friday, September 22, 2017 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 9, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. (EST) .

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

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 Elena Machado in GSPA, 2nd floor Needles Hall by Friday, September 22, 2017.

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

4. Read the application instructions

The Official NSERC Doctoral Scholarships website provides Instructions for Completing an Application – Form 201 which 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.

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 9 application deadline.  Referees should be advised that their “Report on the Applicant” form must be completed no later than October 6 (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 

5. 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 9, 2017.
  • GSPA will retrieve the applications from the online portal and provide them to the graduate department to confirm eligibility and completeness, and 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 (yet to be received), 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 the Manager, Graduate Financial Aid and Awards in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs.

Updated September 5, 2017