Thousands of science graduate students at more than 45 institutions across Canada staged a walk-out Monday morning to put pressure on the federal government to raise funding.
The young scientists are part of the “Support our Science” movement and argue that the scholarships and fellowships provided by the federal government haven’t increased in 20 years.
“I think we just need national attention. We need attention from voters. We need attention from the average person that graduate students are being paid so poorly they can’t afford food and housing,” said UBC Ph.D. chemistry student Katrina Bergmann.
Many graduate and post-doctorate students in Canada receive federal scholarships to help cover the cost of living while they learn and contribute to research.
“For Ph.D. students, the typical federally funded scholarship is $21,000, and then typically in Canada, a student’s tuition comes out of that, so they’re left with less than $20,000 to cover their annual expenses,” said UVic Ph.D. biology student Emma Atkinson.
In Victoria, that’s less than half the living wage, and Atkinson says that has led to dire situations for some of the university’s best and brightest.
“I’ve talked to students who regularly go to the food bank or dumpster dive to make ends meet, I’ve talked to students who participate in medical trials to make ends meet, I’ve met students here at UVic who’ve had to sleep in their office for periods of time because they can’t afford rent,” she said.
They say it’s not sustainable and they have the support not just of their colleagues but top university officials as well, who say the government needs to realize how critical the students are to Canada’s economy.
“What do we want to be in 30 years’ time as a country? What do we want to be delivering to the world? It should be knowledge, not rocks and trees,” said UVic President Kevin Hall.
“These students represent the leaders of the future and so we’re not just doing research. We’re actually training students to be the leaders of the future,” he said.
Atkinson says while they are technically ‘students, ‘ those doing graduate and post-doc studies are more like apprentices.
“During our research, we’re learning, but we’re also producing research that goes on to inform climate policy that goes on to inform pandemic response now and in the future, and we’re really the backbone of the research community here in Canada.”