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English as a second language + financial concerns for pursuing a PhD


Adelaide9216
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Hello everyone,

I am in my first semester of my MSW and I've been encouraged by a prof to pursue PhD studies in social work. I am considering it more and more seriously I have to admit. Even if graduate school is a lot of work, I'm so happy that I get to learn something I'm really passionate about and I am realizing that graduate school fits a lot with my personality and interests.

So if I'd start a PhD, it would technically be during the academic year of 2019-2020 and I would be applying next Fall (2018). However, my first language is French. I did my entire university studies in English but since I live in Qc, students have the right to submit written work in French. That's what I did all along and managed to graduate with Distinction for my BSW. 

I have two concerns though. The first one is English as a second language. I am taking an English class right now to improve my academic writing in English but the class is too easy, I am not learning anything that I already know and I find it disappointing because I want to be challenged in terms of my writing. The other concern is since I would like to study out of my province (either the US or another canadian provinces) what financial options are available to me? I come from a low income family and both of my parents do not have university degrees and they cannot support me financially with my education even if they'd like to. Uni in Qc is cheaper, but I would like to get a new kind of academic and professionnal experience.

So two questions: for those of you who wrote an entire PhD thesis in English when English is not your mothertongue, was it hard? And second, what are the financial options for me to study internationally or across Canada? I will definetly apply to Vanier and Trudeau next year but I wonder if there are any other options since my family cannot support me financially and since I'd be living on my own for the first time ever.

 

Thanks. 

 

 

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Okay, so I can't really answer your first question.  As for the second question, I'm also interested in getting my PhD in Social Work.  In the US (which is where I'm from), most PhD SW programs should waive your tuition if you're a competitive enough candidate.  I've been researching PhD programs for a while now and some programs waive your tuition for two years, others will waive it for the whole four years (by having you be a research assistant and/or teaching assistant), and others will do that and throw in a living stipend.  However, from what I've seen, a lot of US programs also require two years of post-MSW work experience if you're planning on teaching any practical courses, but I'm not sure if Canadian programs require this.  Not sure if you're planning on teaching, but just something to keep in mind if you apply to US programs. 

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There are tons of students all over Canada and the USA who do academic work with english as a second language. So you will not be alone. One student in my cohort at my MSc program was from Quebec and that program was the first time she ever did academic work in English. After giving a presentation one semester, she admitted it was her first time ever presenting science in English! We were all shocked because she sounded very natural. Based on all of your posts in these forums, I don't think you will have any major trouble adjusting to academic work in English. 

Also, it's good that you are taking English classes now but I'm sorry to hear that they are not challenging enough. When you start your PhD program, there will also be resources available to teach English to ESL students. Depending on where you go and what classes you take, they might also be too "easy" for you. I really do think your English language ability is at the same level or better than most international students in North America.

As for funding, you should check with each school because while external awards like Vanier and Trudeau are great, many dept also provide their own funding, either as awards to top students or as compensation for assistantship work. In the US, tuition is really really high so tuition waivers are often awarded to competitive students in return for assistantship work. So, check with each program you're interested in on a case-by-case basis. If you're in doubt, I would apply first and then turn it down if their support is not enough, rather than the other way around.

Finally, you mentioned national-level sources of funding in Canada. However, we have provincial level graduate funds too. For example, in Ontario, there is the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS). When I was in Ontario, the award was worth $5000 per semester (max $15,000 per year). I see that you have previously won a SSHRC, which is great. Many Tri-Council (SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR) award winners also win OGS after their Tri-Council awards run out. I know that BC (my home province) also has a similar award program that you apply through your university (so you can't really find information about it online like the Vanier etc.). My point is that there is likely a lot of other funding sources that you can't get to directly before applying---you'll be considered along with your application. Typically, when you get your acceptance letter, it will say how much funding you will get and then you can decide if that's something you can afford.

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Quebec?

I can't speak of social work or humanities in general, but in my field, very few people are willing to do PhD without funding. Typically, graduate assistantship gives you free tuition and monthly stipend. Some schools are more generous than others, but in general the amount isn't enough to maintain desired lifestyle.

I have never been to Canada. But honestly I doubt if an average state in the U.S is superior to Quebec. There are some really prestigious schools in the U.S, maybe that's the reason you want to leave Canada?

English isn't my native language. Doing PhD is hard for many reasons, but writing in English isn't one of them

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3 hours ago, alisham said:

Okay, so I can't really answer your first question.  As for the second question, I'm also interested in getting my PhD in Social Work.  In the US (which is where I'm from), most PhD SW programs should waive your tuition if you're a competitive enough candidate.  I've been researching PhD programs for a while now and some programs waive your tuition for two years, others will waive it for the whole four years (by having you be a research assistant and/or teaching assistant), and others will do that and throw in a living stipend.  However, from what I've seen, a lot of US programs also require two years of post-MSW work experience if you're planning on teaching any practical courses, but I'm not sure if Canadian programs require this.  Not sure if you're planning on teaching, but just something to keep in mind if you apply to US programs. 

Hello, Thank you for your reply. Yes, my goal is to become a college or university teacher in social work. I forgot to mention that I have a college degree that I got prior to my BSW. It was in the same field and it has allowed me to work with victims of violence & families of the youth protection system while I was studying and after I graduated from it. I did that for roughly 2-3 years on and off.

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3 hours ago, BunnyN said:

Quebec?

I can't speak of social work or humanities in general, but in my field, very few people are willing to do PhD without funding. Typically, graduate assistantship gives you free tuition and monthly stipend. Some schools are more generous than others, but in general the amount isn't enough to maintain desired lifestyle.

I have never been to Canada. But honestly I doubt if an average state in the U.S is superior to Quebec. There are some really prestigious schools in the U.S, maybe that's the reason you want to leave Canada?

English isn't my native language. Doing PhD is hard for many reasons, but writing in English isn't one of them

Hello,

it isn't for prestige that I want to leave Canada. It is because I want to see what's being taught elsewhere and make new connections. In SW, there's a big tension between clinical social work and macro/advocacy social work and I find that Qc isn't very strong on macro social work which is more of my type of social work. 

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3 hours ago, TakeruK said:

There are tons of students all over Canada and the USA who do academic work with english as a second language. So you will not be alone. One student in my cohort at my MSc program was from Quebec and that program was the first time she ever did academic work in English. After giving a presentation one semester, she admitted it was her first time ever presenting science in English! We were all shocked because she sounded very natural. Based on all of your posts in these forums, I don't think you will have any major trouble adjusting to academic work in English. 

Also, it's good that you are taking English classes now but I'm sorry to hear that they are not challenging enough. When you start your PhD program, there will also be resources available to teach English to ESL students. Depending on where you go and what classes you take, they might also be too "easy" for you. I really do think your English language ability is at the same level or better than most international students in North America.

As for funding, you should check with each school because while external awards like Vanier and Trudeau are great, many dept also provide their own funding, either as awards to top students or as compensation for assistantship work. In the US, tuition is really really high so tuition waivers are often awarded to competitive students in return for assistantship work. So, check with each program you're interested in on a case-by-case basis. If you're in doubt, I would apply first and then turn it down if their support is not enough, rather than the other way around.

Finally, you mentioned national-level sources of funding in Canada. However, we have provincial level graduate funds too. For example, in Ontario, there is the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS). When I was in Ontario, the award was worth $5000 per semester (max $15,000 per year). I see that you have previously won a SSHRC, which is great. Many Tri-Council (SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR) award winners also win OGS after their Tri-Council awards run out. I know that BC (my home province) also has a similar award program that you apply through your university (so you can't really find information about it online like the Vanier etc.). My point is that there is likely a lot of other funding sources that you can't get to directly before applying---you'll be considered along with your application. Typically, when you get your acceptance letter, it will say how much funding you will get and then you can decide if that's something you can afford.

Thank you for your thoughtful advice. <3 

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On 9/27/2017 at 1:33 PM, Adelaide9216 said:

Hello everyone,

I am in my first semester of my MSW and I've been encouraged by a prof to pursue PhD studies in social work. I am considering it more and more seriously I have to admit. Even if graduate school is a lot of work, I'm so happy that I get to learn something I'm really passionate about and I am realizing that graduate school fits a lot with my personality and interests.

So if I'd start a PhD, it would technically be during the academic year of 2019-2020 and I would be applying next Fall (2018). However, my first language is French. I did my entire university studies in English but since I live in Qc, students have the right to submit written work in French. That's what I did all along and managed to graduate with Distinction for my BSW. 

I have two concerns though. The first one is English as a second language. I am taking an English class right now to improve my academic writing in English but the class is too easy, I am not learning anything that I already know and I find it disappointing because I want to be challenged in terms of my writing. The other concern is since I would like to study out of my province (either the US or another canadian provinces) what financial options are available to me? I come from a low income family and both of my parents do not have university degrees and they cannot support me financially with my education even if they'd like to. Uni in Qc is cheaper, but I would like to get a new kind of academic and professionnal experience.

So two questions: for those of you who wrote an entire PhD thesis in English when English is not your mothertongue, was it hard? And second, what are the financial options for me to study internationally or across Canada? I will definetly apply to Vanier and Trudeau next year but I wonder if there are any other options since my family cannot support me financially and since I'd be living on my own for the first time ever.

 

Thanks. 

 

 

Hi Adelaide, 

I am an international student pursuing my PhD in Social Work in the US. I got into two programs, one provided me with a stipend and tuition remission for five years. And the other provided me with tuition remission and stipend for three years. I took up the second offer and am in my fourth year. This year (my 4th year) I secured a fellowship and the school gave me a tuition assistance award that provided tuition remission and health insurance. I am also teaching since last summer. So, funding is totally available in the US for international students. It is just competitive since most programs take only one international student per cohort. Also, you can easily get hourly research work that helps you buff up your CV and also pays the bills. It can be stressful sometimes but it is totally manageable. It is just hard for the first 1-2 months when you relocate to the US, but you figure it out. 

With regard to your question about English, I did not have the same issue. However, I know of other students who struggle with English and the school understands their situation. Faculty are also quite understanding. If you are already taking english classes, I think you should be able to manage. Every school has resources. 

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On ‎9‎/‎27‎/‎2017 at 12:33 PM, Adelaide9216 said:

Hello everyone,

I am in my first semester of my MSW and I've been encouraged by a prof to pursue PhD studies in social work. I am considering it more and more seriously I have to admit. Even if graduate school is a lot of work, I'm so happy that I get to learn something I'm really passionate about and I am realizing that graduate school fits a lot with my personality and interests.

So if I'd start a PhD, it would technically be during the academic year of 2019-2020 and I would be applying next Fall (2018). However, my first language is French. I did my entire university studies in English but since I live in Qc, students have the right to submit written work in French. That's what I did all along and managed to graduate with Distinction for my BSW. 

I have two concerns though. The first one is English as a second language. I am taking an English class right now to improve my academic writing in English but the class is too easy, I am not learning anything that I already know and I find it disappointing because I want to be challenged in terms of my writing. The other concern is since I would like to study out of my province (either the US or another canadian provinces) what financial options are available to me? I come from a low income family and both of my parents do not have university degrees and they cannot support me financially with my education even if they'd like to. Uni in Qc is cheaper, but I would like to get a new kind of academic and professionnal experience.

So two questions: for those of you who wrote an entire PhD thesis in English when English is not your mothertongue, was it hard? And second, what are the financial options for me to study internationally or across Canada? I will definetly apply to Vanier and Trudeau next year but I wonder if there are any other options since my family cannot support me financially and since I'd be living on my own for the first time ever.

 

Thanks. 

 

 

Let me address your English problems as I am an English PhD student. I read your posts here carefully, and I only saw one or two places where I would even hesitate to say were written by someone who has English as a second language. Even those could be caused by differences found between Canadian and US English. Your English is much better than other international students I have worked with here. If you are concerned about your English writing skills, once you are in a program, you could take an occasional undergrad writing class that will boost your writing skills. I would recommend those to anyone not an English major, to simply better their writing skills. Universities in the U.S. have writing centers and you could possibly get an English major to help with syntactical issues, but you may find you have no problem. I'm sure that social work majors write a lot of papers. You could ask for a 1-hour slot, instead of the normal 1/2 hour slot they give out in order to talk about syntax, etc. in your papers. If you want to get your PhD in the US, don't allow a fear of being unable to write in English keep you from applying. Based on your posts here, I see no problem. Think of Joseph Conrad (early 20th century author), whose native language was Polish. He learned French as a young adult and didn't learn English until he was 28 years old. He then proceeded to write every book in English. You can do this. If you need a little assistance along the way, there are many places inside US universities to obtain it. Your English is much better than my French is. I learned French during my undergrad years and was already an adult, which meant that it's likely my sound house was closed making it very difficult to become proficient. 

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