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PhD Civil Engineering Canada - I've started to give up :(


b.janik89

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Hi Everyone,

I'll quickly introduce myself: Bart, 27, originally Polish but had lived in the UK for a few years before, now in Canada on a work permit working for a reputable steel contractor in Toronto. I should get my PR this year. MSc in Engineering and Construction Management, BEng in Civil Engineering (with major in structural engineering), degrees from the UK. Over 4 years of experience working (mainly on 1 - 2 years contracts, better cash) for reputable consultancies and contractors. I am working towards my PEng in Canada and I have CEng from the UK. 

and now what's going on: despite being quite successful on the international job market I can't find any supervisor for my PhD... I was told I should contact my potential supervisors first and then, once I get the magic "yes", I should apply. So I am sending dozens of emails directly to professors asking if they can support my PhD application in Structural Engineering or Construction Management. So far I have sent about 30 emails and had only 1 reply from UOttawa, asking more questions "to proceed" about my areas of interest, expectations etc, but I haven't heard from that professor since I replied (it's been a week since I replied). I'll keep going but I feel I've started giving up... Maybe my grades aren't good enough (well, for sure not impressive but they didn't even ask for them). I have about 40 potential supervisors more to contact. My shots are at U15. 

I seriously want to proceed with my PhD, I feel this is what I want and I see myself in the academia someday in the future. I've had enough of 9-5 and doing mainly the same stuff all the time, it's a good money but I know I can do better in academia and I would be more satisfied with teaching, research and publications. I want to work with other students, share my knowledge from the industry, go to conferences etc. Something that would make by day more interesting and non-regular. 

I heard that some people apply directly without contacting their supervisors, but most of unis in Canada require stamped official transcripts together with the application. I have a limited number of transcripts available as it's not a common thing in the UK and for sure it would not be enough to apply to each uni. Furthermore I don't want to "push" my referees to the stage where they have to waste their time and fill 15 referees forms online... I was rather thinking about getting 2-3 potential supervisors and then asking my referees to fill only 2-3 forms. 

Any suggestions what should I do? Am I doing something wrong? 

Edited by b.janik89
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I have a few questions for you:

1. What are you including in the email to the potential supervisors? 

2. When did you send these emails? It's a little late in the year to contact supervisors now about starting a program this Fall. The best time to contact supervisors in Canada, in my opinion, is about a month or two before their school's application deadline. Most Canadian schools will have deadlines between January 15 to March 1. December is always a bad month (deadlines, conferences, exams/teaching and then holidays). So I'd contact people in November for January deadlines and early January for all other deadlines.

3. What do you mean that you have a limited number of transcripts? Can you get more? 

4. There aren't a ton of schools in Canada, so I don't think you will end up applying to 15 schools, but 2-3 might not be enough, since you are not a "traditional" applicant. It would also be a good idea to find 2-3 supervisors per school, not just 2-3 supervisors total.

5. You don't always have to get a supervisor to say "yes" first. And note that if they say they are interested in you that doesn't mean you'll actually get accepted. It just means that if you do get accepted, then they would be interested in working with you. So, if you aren't getting a lot of responses, it might be worth it to apply anyways because then you will be able to describe yourself in the application package more fully and that might make them more interested in you.

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39 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

@TakeruK thanks for your reply. 

1. What are you including in the email to the potential supervisors? 

I'll just copy my email: 

Dear Prof. XXX,

 

I am interested in pursuing my PhD studies under your supervision. I have completed a Masters degree from XX University in England. Currently, I am working as a Design Manager at XXX in Toronto. Please find attached my resume and transcripts. 

 

My areas of interest include (but are not limited to) construction project management and structural engineering. I see your areas of expertise cover both of these topics, therefore I am open to discuss any possible PhD research opportunities with you. Please note that my Masters degree was in construction management while my BEng was in structural engineering. 

 

Please let me know if I can get your support during my application. 

 

Yours Sincerely,

 

And I attach my resume to the email. That's all. I was "guided" by a PhD graduate from UofSask that the email shouldn't be too long, just a quick explanation, research areas and that's all. 

39 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

2. When did you send these emails? It's a little late in the year to contact supervisors now about starting a program this Fall. The best time to contact supervisors in Canada, in my opinion, is about a month or two before their school's application deadline. Most Canadian schools will have deadlines between January 15 to March 1. December is always a bad month (deadlines, conferences, exams/teaching and then holidays). So I'd contact people in November for January deadlines and early January for all other deadlines.

I sent them about 2 weeks ago. I am not that much into a specific deadline, I can start either in Fall or in Winter intake, tbh I would even prefer the winter to finish all my projects at work. 

39 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

3. What do you mean that you have a limited number of transcripts? Can you get more? 

Before I came here I had contacted my uni and asked them for stamped transcripts. They asked me to come in person to obtain them as I had to sign few forms of transmittal etc. Some of them went to Professional Engineers Ontario etc in order to proceed with my PEng. I don't want to fly back to the UK just to pick up more transcripts... 

39 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

4. There aren't a ton of schools in Canada, so I don't think you will end up applying to 15 schools, but 2-3 might not be enough, since you are not a "traditional" applicant. It would also be a good idea to find 2-3 supervisors per school, not just 2-3 supervisors total.

Almost each of U15 group offers PhD program in Civil Engineering.  2-3 supervisors per school? wow it may be tough, especially if I had only 1 feedback per 30 enquires...  

39 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

5. You don't always have to get a supervisor to say "yes" first. And note that if they say they are interested in you that doesn't mean you'll actually get accepted. It just means that if you do get accepted, then they would be interested in working with you. So, if you aren't getting a lot of responses, it might be worth it to apply anyways because then you will be able to describe yourself in the application package more fully and that might make them more interested in you.

I see. I guess that's my only chance then :( 

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I think the email is short and to the point, which is great. I would do three things differently:

1. Don't attach your transcripts and no need to draw extra attention to the topic of your degrees. This information will be in your resume. If your grades are good, add it to your resume entry for your schools, in a way that is understandable to Canadian readers. Normally, you don't put GPAs on a resume, but for this purpose, you should.

2. Your second paragraph needs to be a lot more personalized and specific. It sounds like you could send this same email to 30 professors, which is not great. I would change this to a 2 or 3 sentence paragraph stating your specific interests for working with this professor. What is an example project/research question that they work on that you would want to work on?

3. I'd change your closing paragraph to be something like "Will you be taking on new graduate students in Fall (or winter) 2017?". I think your current closing is vague. It's not clear what you are asking for ("your support" is very open ended). What you want to ask them is whether or not they will be taking on students. Then you would hopefully have some short conversation that demonstrates that they will be interested in reviewing your application when it arrives. You can't expect them to say "Yes, I'll accept you" on the spot via email though, and not even after a conversation. The point of the email contact is to i) find out if indeed you and the prof are a good match and ii) whether or not they might be interested. This lets you know whether it's worth your time applying there. 

---

Some other notes:

Your timing is wrong. It's not the best time to be applying to PhD programs in Canada right now. I'm afraid that most professors have just finished thinking about applicants starting in Fall 2016, so they might be ignoring your email because they aren't taking students right now. And, most Canadian PhD programs only have Fall starts---unless the program website mentions a Winter 2017 start, your next opportunity will be starting in Fall 2017. Therefore, following the advice I gave above, you should wait until November 2016 or January 2017 to contact professors about Fall 2017.

Don't worry about transcripts. When you apply, you can indicate to the school why you cannot send official transcripts (i.e. they require a physical trip back to the UK). Let the school know that you can send scanned or copied unofficial transcripts. They will probably be okay with this and only require official ones once you are registering (save one of your official transcripts for this).

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Many thanks mate, I appreciate your advice. 

Though I see that most of the Civil Engineering phd programs are flexible - they don't even have specific dates to apply and applications are taken throughout the year. Even the number of courses you have to take is very limited - everything is rather research based. That's a little bit surprising. My grades are far away from "good". I started working in the industry very early, and for example I did my masters full time while working full time... I was told that grades are not that important once you have some significant work experience. That's my only hope. I'll use your advice and amend the second paragraph, and I'll keep trying. Even if unsuccessful I can always apply directly with no supervisor. And good to know that official transcripts are not necessary unless I got admitted. I'll try, thanks, at least I won't be able to moan that I didn't give it a try in the future. If I fail I can always stay in the industry. 

Edited by b.janik89
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Oh I see that I missed the fact that your programs have rolling admissions. Sorry I don't really know how that works so I'm not sure how helpful I can be! I have no idea how long rolling admissions take to respond. For fixed deadlines, I found that Canadian schools will make decisions within 4 weeks of the deadline.

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Hmm I have a reply from UOttawa and I don't know what to think about it. They have a very interesting research opportunity in collaboration with Carleton Uni. The topic would suit me perfectly. 

However, the funding seems to be a little bit harsh... The Uni deems my average grades to be above 8.0 to waive my tuition. I was told I would get Teaching Assistanstship and 9k in RA, I am not sure if that's per year or for the whole PhD program.

This means that I wouldn't even had enough to pay for my tuition... My grades are below 8.0 average, so I would have to pay for my tuition fee myself, not to mention about the cost of living. I was hoping that I could at least balance my funds during those 4 years, I can't afford paying for my tuition and cost of living together, that would be about 30k per year... :( I am not sure if they can offer any other scholarships that the professor didn't mention about, I have to check...

What do you think guys? Any thoughts would be appreciated. The professor said we could meet in person in Ottawa to discus this further so I have to make a decision... 

 

 

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1 hour ago, b.janik89 said:

Hmm I have a reply from UOttawa and I don't know what to think about it. They have a very interesting research opportunity in collaboration with Carleton Uni. The topic would suit me perfectly. 

However, the funding seems to be a little bit harsh... The Uni deems my average grades to be above 8.0 to waive my tuition. I was told I would get Teaching Assistanstship and 9k in RA, I am not sure if that's per year or for the whole PhD program.

This means that I wouldn't even had enough to pay for my tuition... My grades are below 8.0 average, so I would have to pay for my tuition fee myself, not to mention about the cost of living. I was hoping that I could at least balance my funds during those 4 years, I can't afford paying for my tuition and cost of living together, that would be about 30k per year... :( I am not sure if they can offer any other scholarships that the professor didn't mention about, I have to check...

What do you think guys? Any thoughts would be appreciated. The professor said we could meet in person in Ottawa to discus this further so I have to make a decision... 

Stipends are almost always discussed in per-year amounts in Canada.

Tuition waiver is worth money, so that is good. Usually, the minimum stipend for PhD students in Ontario is around $18,000 per year before paying for tuition. This means that in some cases, the take home pay can be as low as $11,000 per year (tuition will cost between $5000 to $7000, typically). Usually graduate departments will list their funding information clearly for all applicants to see, but I just looked on UOttawa's website and it's not shown at all (at least not in any easy way).

I did find information about an "Admission Scholarship" which is automatically awarded to everyone with a 8.0/10.0 or higher. https://www.uottawa.ca/graduate-studies/students/awards/admission-scholarship

This sounds like what you got. The award is $18k per year, $9k from the Graduate Office, probably will be mostly used to pay tuition, plus $9k from the department, in the form of RA or TA. This is the minimum stipend according to the website. So, it depends on what the department means. It could just be $18k total, (i.e. you'll be paid $9k for both TA and RA), or you might get more, i.e. you are paid $9k per year in RA plus the TA wages. (Don't forget, you will still have to pay tuition out of this).

I would say that the typical STEM PhD student stipend in Ontario is around $25k per year (before tuition, so around $18k-$20k take home pay). If you want to have $30k or more per year, it will be hard to do without an external scholarship. Are you a Canadian citizen or permanent resident yet? If not, then you won't be eligible for most awards. However, you can apply for the OGS (Ontario Graduate Scholarship), worth $15,000 per year. This will be harder to get until you start your program. Note: If you get these higher awards, it will generally replace the lower awards that are automatic. You'll still get money for TA and RA work, but it's not like you will get this in addition. 

Ottawa is a lower cost of living place than most places in Canada. I am not sure if you really need $30k per year to pay for cost of living there. Usually if you are going from a "real job" like what you have to a graduate program, you'll take a big pay cut. It's up to you whether you think it will be worth it. 

As to what to decide now....you can still visit the professor and the program before deciding right? Why not take them up on the offer to visit and see what the department is really like. Will it have the facilities and resources to meet your needs? Talk to the students when you visit too---are they able to afford living in Ottawa on their stipends? 

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Again thanks TakeruK.

As I mentioned before I am not a PR/Citizen yet. I have applied but this will take about a year or even more sometimes. Therefore, my tuition will be close to 18k. Taking this into account, then $9k for RA and let's say $5k for TA won't be enough even to cover for my tuition. I doubt if I am eligible for any stipend, I am not sure yet what my GPA is as I haven't evaluated it yet, but my grades are rather low (my BEng grade is "satisfactory plus" giving me about 75% and my MSc grade was about 60% in total). 

in regards to $30k - I am taking that $18k for tuition included, so allowing for about $12k for a cost the living ;)

I'll go and see the professor in person, it's always worth to have a look rather than doing nothing, even if unsuccessful. 

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Oh, I forgot to say---usually most schools in Canada will pay international students extra to cover the extra cost of tuition. This usually comes in the form of an award/scholarship, of which there are a limited amount. In your meeting, you should check if there is such funding allocated for you.

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  • 4 years later...

Going through this exact same thing. I am trying to apply for a PhD in Health sciences, so far, about thirty enquiries to supervisors but most who respond are not accepting students for fall 2021. What do I do now? I get thrown down by every response 

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  • 2 months later...

Hi there. As TakeruK said, a good supervisor won't say yes from the beginning, and you may want to send another email, with more details or with another approach. I had a friend in this situation, but he ended up applying without a supervisor, but his case was a little different, and as much as I know, everything went ok. You can also find a piece of advice on https://www.vocationaltraininghq.com/how-to-become/construction-manager/ concerning your future career, but not only. Good luck and don't be discouraged.

Edited by buratinio
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