I get inquiries from prospective international students several times a week. Often, these are from very smart and well-qualified people who would easily have obtained a grad position at a university had they been citizens of Canada. This is an unfortunate situation.

There are some very real barriers to international students, especially those from outside USA, Europe, Australia, China and Japan. International grad studies tuition at CU is high (currently around $25,000 per year), which is often out of reach for most supervisors to afford. For non-English-speaking countries, there can also be difficulties in comparing academic records. I wish things were easier and more transparent. On the other hand, there is also hope for very good students who can demonstrate scholarship, leadership and scientific achievement. We’re fortunate that at CU we have some scholarships available to top students who can bring something special to our school.

Hopefully this post will help those seeking to work in my lab (and in other groups in Canada) to decide what path is best and to navigate the system. I’ll divide the advice into two parts: 1) general advice, and 2) scholarships.

General advice:

  • It’s probably not worth your while to write potential supervisors whose work is far removed from your previous work, unless you can very clearly demonstrate interest based on background or a clearly-stated research idea. Many of the inquiries I get are from people who are obviously casting a wide net (e.g. medical genetics, etc. etc.), and are writing a general letter where the professor’s name is pasted in. I must confess I don’t read these ones carefully, and I know most professors simply delete them.
  • It’s a good idea to carefully read a potential supervisor’s research profile. Do your interests fit? Can you bring something new?
  • It’s also a good idea to highlight key skills and accomplishments in the email itself. Do you have any publications in a recognized peer-reviewed journal? Do you have any awards? It’s good to mention these.
  • Is there at all a possibility of doing field work in your home country to support a PhD in Canada? This might not work out due to costs etc., but if you have contacts who might lead to collaborations, it might be good to mention these.
  • Essentially, applications come down to an evaluation of marks, publications and experience, as well as fit with the proposed supervisor and English ability. If your record is a bit lacking in one of these, perhaps you can concentrate on improving this, if circumstances allow?
  • Peer-reviewed publications can often make a big difference. If you did a grad degree elsewhere and haven’t published your work yet, I think it’s a very good idea to try to publish it if at all possible.
  • Obtaining a scholarship to at least partly fund your studies is an excellent idea. Some countries have generous scholarship programs. It’s a good idea to check out opportunities. If you have already obtained a scholarship or other support to study in Canada, it is a good idea to clearly highlight this in your email.