Academic Career in Canada

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For academics coming from abroad, working in Canada can mean working in a system that is regarded as having the best paid tenured academics in the world. A 2012 study entitled Paying the Professoriate, jointly authored by academics at Boston College and the Higher School of Economics in Russia, suggests that Canada topped the global higher education pay league, with academics receiving an average of $7,196 (£4,537) a month before tax, when figures were adjusted for purchasing-power parity. 

“Canadian academics or academics working in Canada are well remunerated in comparison to any other Western nations,” says Carleton University’s Dr Amatorisero Ede. “This is apart from a job security beyond tenure, although things are changing with some schools cancelling or merging departments. We still don't know what the global economic situation will result in within the Canadian academy.”

PhDs in Canada

Paul Davidson, who is the President of Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), says that Canada’s universities attract top students from around the globe.

“For example, 12% of our graduate enrolment are international students, “he says. “The number of international students coming to Canada is growing. New figures from the fall of 2012 show that the number of international students in Canada increased 12 percent over the past year. For the 17th straight year, the number of international students has been on the rise.”

In addition to several funding opportunities that many universities provide, the AUCC also administers a number of PhD scholarships offering funds to cover tuition fees and living expenses.

Dr Bipasha Barua left India for Canada to pursue graduate studies when she was 20. She is currently an Associate Professor in Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, at Western University. She says she was attracted to Canada because the higher education system seems gentler and kinder than the neighbouring United States.

“I was well-funded as a PhD student and the university provided personal touch,” she says. “The top 10% of PhD students can have funding up to $50,000 per year. Allowing you to do your PhD research without needing to work.”

Canada versus the USA

After completing her PhD, Dr Barua was recruited by a Californian University. A  move that gave her a good insight into some of the advantages of working in Canada as compared to working in the United States.

“When I had my first child in California, I was given six weeks maternity leave and my husband had to step in to look after our child,” she says. “In Canada you get a year maternity leave, the workload is manageable for researchers and the working conditions are far superior than in several American universities.”

Immigration Rules

But coming to Canada is not a stroll in the park for academics.  While foreigners who studied for their PhD in Canada can easily get resident permit and work their way to citizenship, if they so wish, those coming from abroad need a work-permit and you need to have a job offer from a Canadian university. Current immigration rules also favour those in the field of technology and the medical sciences over the humanities. It is also worth knowing that spouses of international academics are entitled to work in Canada, but must first obtain employment authorisation. This can be done once the academic and their partner have arrived here in Canada.

What Postdocs and Established Academics Must Consider

Salaries for postdoctoral fellowships vary from $70,000 - for the prestigious Batam fellowship - to $35,000. While Canadian universities and government officials say they are investing in early career academics, Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars, says for many postdoctoral researchers, the current diffuse organisation of postdoctoral training leaves this class of highly qualified personnel in an especially vulnerable position. Not graduate students, not faculty members, the organisation says this group of academics have so far slipped between the cracks of the recognised workforce of the Canadian academic community and they represent a heterogeneous group of poorly defined ‘apprentice’ academics.

“As such, postdocs generally do not have well defined expectations of employment, appropriate employment rights and responsibilities, commensurate or even normalized pay scales, performance evaluations, employment benefits such as proper health care, pensions, occupational health insurance, or procedures for resolving conflict. To date, the treatment of postdocs within Canada is inconsistent at best, and largely ignored, at worst,” the organisation says.

For established academics and talented early career researchers from overseas, Canada Research Chair scheme may be an attractive route to Canada. The scheme, financed by the national government, pays early career researchers around $100,000, and more for established academics. Dr Barua, who is on the scheme, points out the programme shows Canada’s commitment to attracting the best talent from all over the world.

But Dr Ede warns foreign academics to note that at the moment, the job market in Canada is as precarious as in any other western country. He argues that academics ought to consider that Canada is sparsely populated - that means that Canadian academe is a small market in comparison to, say the USA or even Western Europe. He stresses the importance of having a broad knowledge base and transferable skills, especially if the foreign academic is on a tenure route.

 “Career moves have to be taken with foresight,” he says. “That is, one needs to research the school to make sure it is not likely to shut down your prospective department a few years after arrival. Additionally, during tenure negotiations the foreign scholar should try to make sure he or she is being tenured university-wide, and not just within their department, otherwise when departments of sections are closed or merged, the person may find themselves out of a job.” 

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