Considered one of the two founding nations of Canada, France has always held a special place in Canada's socioeconomic fabric. In the last 2 decades, a series of bilateral agreements has helped cement these ties by means of scientific and technological knowledge exchanges and partnerships between the two countries. For the Canadian research community, this has meant a number of new and unique opportunities to study and work in France. Science's Next Wave spoke to a couple of program officers about two successful programs that fund scientific exchange between the two countries and got to know some of the details of the application process.

Foreign Government Award Program

For Canadian Ph.D. students looking to do part of their work abroad, finding the necessary financial support can be tricky. For Ph.D. students who have already initiated some form of joint collaborative effort with a research group or laboratory in France, the French government offers Ministry of Foreign Affairs research scholarships that provide financial support for Canadian Ph.D. students to live and work in France for up to a year. The Canadian government pays travel expenses to France, whereas the French government picks up the tab for the return flight and provides a monthly stipend of about €756 as well as health insurance costs. This scholarship represents only a partial contribution toward the payment of living expenses, so the recipient should expect to find supplemental funding through other Canadian or French sources.

Run by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, this exchange program is administered by the Ottawa-based Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), an umbrella nongovernmental organization comprising 200 colleges, universities, educational organizations, and businesses across Canada. Rowena Selby, CBIE program manager for international scholarships, says that the applications received go through a rigorous selection process that involves both countries. "The first committee is made up of 21 Canadian professors from various universities from across the country who decides on the initial list of candidates," she explains. "Then we send this list of these preselected candidates over to France, who makes the final selection of who they want to come into their country."

Applications are evaluated on the basis of academic achievement, letters of recommendation, a research plan, applicants' rationales for conducting research abroad, and knowledge of the relevant language of instruction. Selby adds that beyond seeking stellar academic records coupled with demonstrated leadership skills and motivation, the committee also looks for candidates who have made links with a French scientist in advance of the competition. "If the student has already decided on a university and shows some contact with their university in their application, then that definitely helps them out," she adds.

Although this program is not focused on science alone, candidates coming from the pure and applied sciences are encouraged to apply. Since the program's inception more than 10 years ago, on average 30% of scholarships have been awarded to young researchers working in medical research, biotechnology, and environmental biology and chemistry, among other scientific fields.

Selby is worried that the number of awards may be declining. This year, the number of awards stands at 10, down a couple from previous competitions due to cutbacks by the French government. There is also concern that that the new Canadian federal government may cut or freeze educational funding, but Selby holds out hope that her program will hold the line and even expand in the future.

For now, the odds of receiving an award are excellent. With the program receiving only about 20 applications each year, chances are very good that a candidate will win an award. "With the number of awards down this year, I encourage students to apply, as the odds look reasonably promising," says Selby. Applications are due by the end of October for the academic year beginning the following September. For more information, see the organization's Web page.

Franco-Quebecois Exchange

Since the 1960s, there has been a strong desire in France and Quebec to foster Franco-Québécois relationships in business and academia. Recently, a bilateral financial bursary program was developed that caters to Ph.D. students registered at universities in both locations, Quebec and France.

Nicolas Boulanger, French program officer at Quebec’s Ministry of International Relations, says that a convention was signed between the association for Quebec universities and their equivalent in France that allows Ph.D. students in essence to graduate from both their Quebec and partner university in France, as well as the other way round. More than 80 universities in France and many of the major Quebec universities except McGill have signed on to the exchange.

The aim of the Soutien aux Cotutelles de Thése de Doctorat award is to support three stays in France lasting 3 months--each over the course of a 3-year period during the studies of a Quebecois Ph.D. student who has already chosen to be part of this exchange program. The Quebec government offers $850 for travel to France, and the French government provides a 1060-euro monthly stipend.

According to Boulanger, what makes this award unique is that it is restricted to Quebec students who have "co-supervisors in each state and are already registered at both institutions." Another unique aspect to this award, he says, is that students need only pay tuition fees at one of the two universities.

Thirty Quebec students are registered in the program currently, and seven to 10 students usually finish the program each year, leaving these slots open to new applicants. Approximately 50 applications are received annually, and on average three or four students from pure and applied sciences end up winning the award. The long-term goal of the Quebec government, according to Boulanger, is to tighten French-Quebec cooperation and bring new scientific knowledge and expertise to the province’s universities and businesses. Also to this end, a unique conference will be held in Montreal on 18 to 19 May to explore innovative ways for French and Quebec academics to develop new cooperative projects from high school to postgraduate levels. Boulanger says that this meeting may result in new Quebec-France graduate funding opportunities.

Another goal of the program is to train the next generation of scientists and business leaders. "We are aiming to have students go over for multiple times in 3 years and come back with links and networks with French counterparts," Boulanger says. "No doubt, over the long term, this can only favor cooperation at the scientific level."

The next competition opens June 2007, with applications due by the end of October. More information on the program can be found on the Quebec Government Web site.

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Andrew Fazekas is a correspondent at Next Wave and may be reached at afazekas@aaas.org.

Andrew Fazekas is a correspondent at Next Wave and may be reached at afazekas@aaas.org.