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The federal government has awarded the first round of funding for graduate students in the social sciences and humanities. The $51-million program will provide scholarships to over 1,500 students across the country this year who are studying everything from refugee protection in Europe to gender roles in Quebecois adaptations of Shakespeare.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Canada Graduate Scholarships aims to address a funding imbalance between social sciences and humanities and health and science students.
It's not chump change, either. The scholarships and fellowships are worth anywhere from $17,500 a year for master's students, to $19,000 for doctoral students, and $35,000 for post-doctoral students.
What is especially heartening for potential recipients is the new category for master's-level scholars, a first from the federal government in these disciplines.
"This is an enormous breakthrough because there was funding in the natural sciences and health areas, but nothing in the social sciences and humanities," said Dean of Graduate and Post-doctoral Studies Martha Crago. She said the lack of funding for master's students exacerbated the general underfunding in this area. The Canada Graduate Scholarships will be distributed through SSHRC and its sister funding agencies in engineering, and the natural and health sciences. Since the money will be allocated by student numbers, the SSHRC will disburse 60 percent of the $105 million.
"This is an enormous correction to how asymmetrical the funding was at the master's level."
Crago said that the awards should allow students to complete their degrees in a timely manner, or move from a master's to a PhD degree, where they would be able to access doctoral funding.
"For us at McGill it was great because this is a set of students who have had very little money. To have between 30 and 40 of them well-funded is great," she said.
Great for McGill, even better for the students. Margaret Garrard is in the second year of her anthropology MA. She received a $17,500 one-year scholarship to fund her field research on women's roles and responsibilities among the Cree. Her field work took her to Waskaganish on James Bay, and this scholarship will allow her to fund her travel, tape transcription and translation.
"This money will allow me to go back up again and disseminate my results, and go back to the people that I spent time with, as opposed to taking the information and not seeing them again," she said.
Garrard said the programme is welcome, and it will allow her to concentrate more fully on her thesis.
"I was a waitress at one point, so I'm really glad I don't have to do that," she said.
Garrard is one of 33 McGill students who received the scholarships. The number granted was determined by a formula that took into account the university's graduate and undergraduate populations. For the most part, potential award winners were submitted to SSHRC by their school, although it was possible for Canadian students studying or planning to study at a Canadian institution to apply as well.
Claude Lalande, manager of fellowships and awards in the Dean of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies' office, said the McGill recipients had widely varied backgrounds.
"The first cohort of SSHRC master's recipients represents a cross-section of social sciences and humanities disciplines across campus, from the Faculty of Arts, the School of Urban Planning, and the Faculties of Education, Music, Science, Law and Religious Studies," Lalande explained in an email.
Since the award goes to the student, not the university, next year may well see schools competing to woo scholarship holders, introducing social sciences and humanities students to a phenomenon that has largely been the province of their peers in the sciences.
"That has been a way of life in things like the natural sciences. This particular round it didn't happen because the timing was so tight nobody went after anybody," said Crago.
"In a normal time frame, when a student finds out in April, a university could come in and try to entice them."
More information about the SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarships can be found on their website, at www.sshrc.ca