I am an Australian interested in applying for a PhD (specifically in mathematics) at several universities in Canada. I have already got a Bachelor of Mathematical Sciences and a Master of Philosophy in pure mathematics.

I have put a bit of time into trying to verse myself in the various scholarship opportunities, PhD programmes and potential supervisors, but I am starting to think I don't fully understand the correct order to do these things in.

Is there a standard etiquette or order for applying to a PhD? For example, would you first apply to the institution, then apply for scholarships once you have an offer, then look for a supervisor? Perhaps all three should be done in unison?

In Australia (it is my understanding that) it is customary to get a supervisor willing to commence a project with you first, then apply for a scholarship.

Any advice on the correct pathway would be greatly appreciated!

  • 1
    What field are you in? In biology, Canada is much the same as Australia. – Emilie Jul 3 '17 at 12:43
  • @Emilie the OP specifically states "mathematics" (presumably pure mathematics, given his undergraduate qualifications) – Yemon Choi Jul 6 '17 at 0:07
  • @YemonChoi Wow, I really didn't see that! My mistake. – Emilie Jul 6 '17 at 12:29

You should visit website of universities that you are interested in. Most universities provide detailed information about their application process and scholarships in their website. The application procedure may be different for different universities or even for different departments within a university. For example, as I know and at the moment, Department of Computer Science in Simon Fraser University, University of Toronto and University of Western Ontario offer entry-level scholarships for applicants that receive an offer of admission. On the other hand, as a part of the application process, Carleton University asks applicants if they are willing to finance their own studies or like to be considered to scholarship knowing that the university will not offer admission if it cannot offer/afford funds. Many professors encourage applicants to contact them before applying but I have seen CS professors at University of Toronto that encourage applicants to apply without contacting them before applying.

So the advice that I can give is to visit the website of the universities of your interest. I know that this is a very general advice and that it can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process but in my experience, it is the most accurate one.

  • You are welcome all the same :). – MxNx Jul 5 '17 at 6:49

I applied to several Canadian universities for a PhD in mathematics. I am attending one of them as an international student.

At the universities I am familiar with, one applies to the department as a whole. Funding for a PhD at the universities I considered was guaranteed at a certain level - generally enough for tuition and basic living expenses. There may be additional university funding that requires an additional application.

I did not reach out to any perspective supervisors, and do not remember the university websites saying I should. However I did mention specific advisors on my application. It was clear from two offer letters at different Canadian universities that I was ultimately accepted by the particular advisor and not the school as a whole, as would be the case in the US.

At one school I know that someone on the admissions committee gave my application a preliminary review. Once I passed this screening my application was sent to the advisors I had mentioned on my application and other advisors the committee knew were looking for students in a similar subject area. The funding I was offered appeared to be partially from the particular advisors' grants. At the other school I was told that I needed to decide on an advisor before the semester began, and the offer email also mentioned which faculty were interested in working with me.

In conclusion it appears the process is somewhere in between the UK and US processes. I would recommend contacting advisors ahead of time, although I would expect most funding to come from the department, and the application to go through the department first.


From what I have seen (in UK at least) many research groups advertise PhD positions there or ask for you to email them if you are interesting in working with them. Should the interview be successful, they ask for you to apply through the university website with that supervisor name and all should be fine.

I would look for supervisors you are interested in first.

  • This seems to be less common in Canada than in the UK. (I have experience of both) – Yemon Choi Jul 6 '17 at 0:06

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