Academic job interview season is wrapping up, so I thought I’d capture the process from the Canada point of view.

Academic CS jobs in Canada follow mostly the same pattern and process as the US (here I am talking about research-focused, tenure-track roles). Hence I think most of the advice from Philip Guo, and Wes Weimer and his academic offspring, are totally applicable (and indeed, were what I relied on in my search). There are a few subtleties I think are useful for applicants to know. Disclaimer: I am relatively junior, and only have limited experience applying in Canada, so these insights are based on my limited sample and from talking to colleagues here. I am also not a legal or immigration expert, so I make no warranty about this advice.

Understand why you are interested in Canada

In the Weimer/Le Goues job seeker’s guide, they make the point that US candidates tend not to move to Canada. I think it is safe to say that if you have spent your entire master’s/PhD in the States, you have worked in the NSF/DARPA/DOD model of funding, and have family ties there, then the switch to Canada would be a big change. I think this is especially true for smaller schools like ours. We’re a small place but proud (both Canada and Victoria!). So make it clear in your cover letter or interview why you would come. Hopefully reading this guide will help!

Explain/communicate the proposed Discovery grant you would win

In Canada funding is fairly different than the US. For one thing, Canadian schools have substantially lower tuition for grad students (although that is changing). Faculty research budgets have much lower student stipends as a result, and the grant sizes reflect that. A moderate US grant might be 100k/year; in Canada that would be equivalent to 20k, but support the same research program.

Your application and interviews should demonstrate you understand this. I suggest reading up at the NSERC page, and also the research services page for the university you apply to.

The main grant for new faculty is the Discovery grant. It is a five year grant worth from $20k-50k a year. You are evaluated equally on your ability/experience with highly qualified personnel; your personal ability as a researcher (i.e. CV); and the research proposal. Not holding a Discovery grant is a problem because getting other federal funding depends on this, to some extent. The good news, especially for ECR, is that success rates are relatively high (60-75%). You can expect to prepare this the summer you get hired, for submission by Nov 1.

Your job talk and your research statement should outline some elements of the five page grant proposal you would write. Departments want to see what you would propose, and how able you are to communicate your vision to external readers. It is a 5 year program, so scope your “future work” to that time frame.

I think this is broader advice than Canada-only, but one thing I’ve noticed is that applicants who are just finishing a PhD give more narrowly focused talks. Two things to keep in mind if this describes you.

  1. You will be competing with people who have 2-4 years of post-doctoral training, and a corresponding breadth of research, more experience training students. Stretch your talk to show how you have the potential to succeed like that. Conversely, one question about post-docs is often “how independent can they be”. This is particularly true if you come from a big lab with a famous PI.
  2. Think like a professor. What grant areas will you target? How would you manage 5 masters/phd students? How will you balance teaching load with research? I don’t think you need to feel uncompetitive: we invited you for a reason. But the onsite interview is when we want to see if you are ready for what can be is a very demanding job.

Funding

Engagement with industry The federal government has been a big supporter of industry partnerships recently, although the programs were recently overhauled. This typically means that if you have an industry partner with skin in the game, i.e. financial assistance, you have an excellent chance of obtaining government matching funds. Conversely, if you prefer pure research with no immediate outcomes, finding funds might be more difficult. There are very few large granting agencies. There is no equivalent to DARPA/IARPA, DHS, DOD, DOE funding in Canada; those projects would work with specific people at specific agencies to secure one-off funding. In BC, nearly all grants would come via NSERC programs, or MITACS matching. There are also Networks Centres of Excellence such as MEOPAR that allocate funds in targeted areas (these are being phased out). There is also a recent Defence initiative, IDEaS, to increase Canadian funding for research with defence applications. Finally, there were industry-led superclusters announced, but who/what gets funding is still very unclear. It seems to focus mostly on subsidies for industry-led research.

In general, I would say finding funding is much more individualized and distributed than in the States. There are plenty of places to find adequate funding (again, a student probably only costs 20-25k a year), but how to get it is much less clear than a DARPA BAA program. A cynic might say this is because funding announcements are more closely tied to electioneering.

Summer students and internships. We have a similar program to the REU approach, called USRAs. These are government matching for student research semesters. Again, these are allocated on a per-institution basis (bigger places get more).

We have an excellent grid/HPC/cloud computing infrastructure, ComputeCanada. They conduct yearly resource allocation competitions. I don’t know what the success rates are.

For large infrastructure, e.g., robots, 3d printers, tabletop displays, quantum computers, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation holds annual competitions for this, but success rates are fairly low.

Tenure

Well, more to come from me on this one, but my general sense is that tenure is more collaborative and mentoring than many US places. I don’t think there is the equivalent of “didn’t get the NSF grant, didn’t get tenure”, or “didn’t get 1 million in funding, didn’t get tenure”. That said, standards are just as high as US Tier 1 schools; we just want to help you achieve them. We’re friendly, eh?

Specialty hiring

CRCs. You may be in the enviable position of applying for a Canada Research Chair. These are a nationwide funding mechanism for research positions. We have Tier 1 (7 years, renewable, senior) and Tier 2 (5 years, renewable, junior/emerging). They typically come with higher salary and teaching relief. Each university gets a quota from the federal government. The approval process is a bit more involved. In addition to approval from (department-faculty/dean-VP academic/provost), you will have your application submitted to the federal government, wherein the case will be made that you are uniquely qualified, amazing, etc. This is almost never turned down, from what I can tell, but could be. In particular, the federal government has a strong desire to see equal allocations of these CRCs to male and female candidates.

Requirement for hiring Canadians

Departments are usually required to prefer Canadians over non-Canadians, for immigration purposes. This means that of two totally equivalent candidates, the Canadian citizen or permanent resident would be made an offer. If you are a PR/citizen, or applying for PR, that is worth highlighting somewhere.

Immigration is easy

I can’t speak from experience, but my understanding is that immigration to Canada as a permanent resident, and eventual citizenship, is much easier than the US process (with which I do have experience). This is also true for immediate family (spouse/children). In some cases, permanent residency is possible in months, not years.

Salary and benefits

In general Canada pays less salary. Keep in mind that it is a 1 year salary, not 9 months. Most Canadian schools don’t have the concept of a summer salary. At UVic, we operate on 3 equal semesters, and allocate a research semester where you would like (subject to teaching needs of course).

The CRA survey has more useful information. Health care is provincially funded from your taxes, so don’t expect to lose 500-600$ a month to health premiums. From working in the US, even being a well-paid employee at a great employer, there was a significant cost (mental and financial) in understanding yearly plan changes—even without chronic conditions.

In most places, faculty are unionized or quasi-unionized. This means you fall into a grid, and your salary increases will be based on a formula in the collective agreement. You can probably look this up online for each institution you visit. Hint: you want to move up the grid as much as possible before you start the job. So Prof. Le Goues’s advice on startup over salary might change, since your salary will be the baseline for future percentage increases.

Summary

I would sum up by saying Canada is an awesome place to do research, and I hope you apply to Canadian universities! Especially mine!

Resources

  • Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities: This is the Canadian equivalent (in all respects, good and bad) to US News and World Report. It divides universities into medical/doctoral, comprehensive, and primarily undergrad. Canada does not have the same diversity of higher education as the US—for example, there are few private institutions here. The main division for research is whether the school has a medical school or not, as med schools are tightly controlled (public health care dictates number of seats), and med schools tend to accumulate massive amounts of research funding. My school is categorized as a comprehensive, but I wouldn’t say this equates to “more teaching”.
  • NSERC: The main engineering funding body, similar to NSF.
  • Taulbee Survey: Various stats on academic CS jobs, including some from Canada.