Help NSERC Help You: The 5-Step Start-Up Guide To NSERC Scholarship Nirvana

Have you heard about the Industrial R&D scholarship awards through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada?  Absolutely true, new fiscal year just about to kick up, applications opening to hire students at the undergrad, post-grad and post-doctoral stages ie: apply for wads of cashola from the government, employ student minions at slave wages.

Kidding! No, in fact, NSERC very much would rather students were not minions. And there are rules about the slave wage thing. But much as yesterday’s discussion at Bootup Labs with Scholarships and Fellowships Division Program Officer Sarah Antonakos seemed to have a definite PR push towards glinting the application process with a silky shine, pop over to the NSERC site and you’ll be pulling your hair out before you can locate something remotely resembling a sane place to start. (Seems a very simple and easy-to-navigate site was re-launched as a frustrating maze – which you’ll discover while you’re searching for answers like Alice going after the White Rabbit).

So let’s help NSERC out – because the one thing that did come through clearly is this: Sarah and the NSERC Program Officers are accessible. Even if their company web design isn’t.

The 5-Step Start-Up Guide To NSERC Scholarship Nirvana

Step 1 – Set your sights on the Industrial Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA)

NSERC will be looking at the financial viability of your company to sustain the award during a student placement, however requirements here are less stringent than for the Post-Grad or Post-Doc Scholarships. NSERC is trying to be flexible for new companies while ensuring students receive reliable placements. As in ones that won’t go under two weeks into the summer. Which is fair, right?

Step 2 – Get cozy with what you need to know.

NSERC USRA program highlights:

  • 16-week student placements (co-ops are acceptable)
  • $4,500 towards student salary from NSERC – amount will be pro-rated if placement is less than 4 months
  • $1,500 additional minimum contribution from your company
  • Student must be a Canadian resident at time of application, enrolled in an undergraduate degree program in natural science or engineering field at time of placement, maintaining a B/B+ average
  • NSERC provides financing by re-imbursement at the end of the placement – after you whip off a simple report
  • Fiscal year is April 1st to March 31st

Step 3 – Not sure? Ask.

Not sure if your company is eligible under “Natural Sciences” and “Engineering”? Don’t throw in the towel – there are always grey areas. Get in touch with Sarah. She’ll direct you to your friendly local Program Officer. Which is a much better option than geting lost in the black hole of NSERC site self-interpretation.

Step 4 – Plan ahead. Avoid delays.

Turnaround times seem quite reasonable, but keep in mind that your company needs to be certified by NSERC in addition to the student scholarship application before all systems are go. Company eligibility may delay receiving a decision. An incomplete application will delay your decision.

  • 4 weeks to receive a decision for the USRA
  • 6 – 8 weeks to get your organization certified for eligibility
  • Time-saver: organization eligibility certification normally runs for six years
  • Start-ups with limited resources should opt for the “short-form” process and apply for eligibility on a per student basis
  • Heads-up: companies applying with more than 50% financing from government sources will not be approved
  • Your company must have its own research facility – students may not work from home or from an academic lab. “Research facility” is open to interpretation as long as you have a rental agreement and appropriate space for supervison on-site. 
  • Supervision provided should be at a level suitable for the program

Wondering if your facility qualifies?  Is the level of supervision provided high enough? See Step 3.

Step 5 – Forms & Tips

Keep an eye out for these form numbers:

Form #202 – Application for USRA

Form #183B  – Application for Organization Eligibility

  • Apparently there’s a list of pre-approved candidates on the NSERC website conveniently broken down by expertise: these are students who successfully went through the approval process without receiving an award (not enough during the fiscal year). Submitting with a pre-approved candidate from the list means only your application will need to be approved. Now, if only we could find it. Bueller? Bueller?
  • NSERC is not suggesting that you offer a salary of $4,500 + $1,500 to a student for 16 weeks of full-time employment. The USRA  contribution is intended to supplement hiring a student for the same full-time wage you would expect to pay a regular full-time employee. The salary offered to your student will be considered during approval of your application.
  • NSERC is more likely to approve six-year applications rather than submissions on a per student basis – it’s preferable for companies to wait until they have the means to afford the six year. Why? Less paperwork.
  • Sarah suggests finding students by lining up with local university co-op offices –

…some co-op officers have never even heard of our programs – why not let students be placed and have access to our money?


The approachable and helpful Sarah Antonakos is based out of NSERC’s Ottawa office. She can be reached by email for specific questions about the R&D awards programs at Sarah.Antonakos (at)