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Discovery Grants program

NSERC recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting researchers’ and students’ capacity to conduct their regular research and training activities. NSERC has published guidelines on the consideration of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on research and training activities. These guidelines provide direction on how to describe these impacts in an application and information on how they will be considered in the review of contributions to research and training and research and training plans.

To lessen the impact of COVID-19 and to support all of our researchers and highly qualified personnel, all active Discovery Grant holders can elect to receive a one-year extension with funds at their current funding level. For more information, please consult the NSERC program information in relation to COVID-19 webpage and the frequently asked questions.

In light of the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, NSERC is also taking action to ensure effective and timely delivery of the Discovery Grants competition by adjusting the in-person meeting component of the review to take place by videoconference. NSERC is committed to maintaining a peer review process of the highest quality, including fairness and consistency between evaluating committees and across competition years.

Duration Up to five years
Application deadline August 1 (notification of intent to apply)
November 1 (application)
Application procedure See below.
How to apply
For more information Consult the Contact list.


The Discovery Grants program assists in:

  • promoting and maintaining a diversified base of high-quality research capability in the natural sciences and engineering in Canadian universities;
  • fostering research excellence;
  • providing a stimulating environment for research training.


The Discovery Grants program supports ongoing programs of research with long-term goals rather than a single short-term project or collection of projects. These grants recognize the creativity and innovation that are at the heart of all research advances. Discovery Grants are typically five years in duration and are considered “grants in aid” of research, as they provide long-term operating funds and can facilitate access to funding from other programs but are not meant to support the full costs of a research program.

Recipients of Discovery Grants are not restricted to the specific activities described in their applications and may pursue new research interests, provided they are within NSERC’s mandate and adhere to the principles and directives governing the appropriate use of funds as outlined in the Tri-agency guide on financial administration. This provides researchers with the flexibility to pursue promising research avenues as they emerge and the opportunity to address higher risk (higher reward) topics. Researchers can use their grants to participate in collaborative efforts. 

Equity, diversity and inclusion

NSERC is acting on the evidence that achieving a more equitable, diverse and inclusive Canadian research enterprise is essential to creating the excellent, innovative and impactful research necessary to advance knowledge and understanding, and to respond to local, national and global challenges. This principle informs the commitments described in the Tri-agency statement on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Applicants are expected to increase the inclusion and advancement of under-represented groups in the natural sciences and engineering, as one means to enhance excellence in research and training. For more information, refer to the Discovery Grants application instructions and the Guide for applicants: Considering equity, diversity and inclusion in your application.

General eligibility principles

Discovery Grants are awarded to individual researchers, normally for five years. Researchers can apply for and hold only one Discovery Grant at a time. Researchers who hold a Discovery Grant cannot reapply for another Discovery Grant until the last year of their current award.

Applicants to the Discovery Grants program must meet the NSERC eligibility criteria for faculty.

Subject matter eligibility and funding from other sources

Applicants to the Discovery Grants program must present a program of research that is eligible under NSERC’s mandate, which is to promote and assist research in the natural sciences and engineering, other than health. The objectives of the research program must be to advance knowledge in the natural sciences or in engineering. The application will be rejected if NSERC determines, at any time during the review cycle, that the subject matter is outside of its mandate. Refer to This link will take you to another Web site Selecting the appropriate federal granting agency, the Addendum to the guidelines for the eligibility of applications related to health, the Peer review manual, and NSERC Discovery Grants process for decisions on mandate eligibility for further information on the eligibility of subject matter.

Applicants to the Discovery Grants program must present a program of research that is conceptually distinct from research supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) or the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

NSERC encourages researchers to obtain funds from other sources to support the full costs of the research program presented in their Discovery Grant application, as long as the funding source is not CIHR or SSHRC and the funds cover different expenses from the ones proposed in the Discovery Grant application.

Refer to the Peer review manual and Instructions for completing an application for further information.

Applicant categories

Applicants to the Discovery Grant program are categorized as either early career researchers or established researchers. Refer to the Discovery Grants – applicant categories for more information. Applicant categorization is the responsibility of NSERC staff and is based on the information provided by the applicant in the Canadian Common CV (CCV) and application.

Application procedure

To apply for a Discovery Grant, applicants must first submit a notification of intent (NOI) to apply by the deadline date. The NOI is a mandatory step in the application process. It allows NSERC to start the review process (e.g., preliminary assignment to an evaluation group (EG), selection of appropriate external reviewers and verification of the eligibility of the subject matter). Applicants must then complete and submit the application by the deadline date.

Applicants are required to complete and submit the NSERC version of the This link will take you to another Web site Canadian Common CV (CCV) at both the NOI and full application stages for this program. The CCV can be updated following the submission with the NOI, prior to submission with the full application.

Review procedures and selection criteria

Applications are submitted to the Discovery Grants program and not to a particular evaluation group (EG). Applications are reviewed by EGs. Each EG comprises Canadian and international peers with diversified expertise in the areas of research covered by the EG. There may also be input on applications from external reviewers. NSERC assigns applications to EGs on the basis of the research topics, the objectives of the proposed research program and input from both applicants and EGs. At the NOI stage, applicants are asked to suggest which EG they believe to be the most appropriate to review their application. The final decision of EG assignment is made by NSERC.

For interdisciplinary research, appropriate review of the application will be ensured by identifying appropriate EG members and external reviewers to review the application. Please see Guidelines for the preparation and review of applications in interdisciplinary research.

Applications are rated according to the following selection criteria. The onus is on applicants to address these explicitly in their application.

  • Scientific or engineering excellence of the researcher (see Policy and guidelines on contributions to research and training)
    • knowledge, expertise and experience
    • quality of contributions to, and impact on, the proposed and other areas of research in the natural sciences and engineering
    • importance of contributions to, and use by, other researchers and end-users
  • Merit of the proposal
    • originality and innovation; extent to which the proposal suggests and explores novel or potentially transformative concepts and lines of inquiry
    • significance and expected contributions to research; potential for policy and/or technology related impact
    • clarity and scope of objectives (research program with long-term goals rather than a single short-term project or collection of projects)
    • clarity and appropriateness of methodology
    • feasibility
    • consideration of sex, gender and diversity in the research design, where applicable to the field of research
    • extent to which the scope of the proposal addresses all relevant issues, including the need for varied expertise within or across disciplines
    • appropriateness of, and justification for, the budget
    • demonstration that the Discovery Grant proposal is conceptually distinct from research support held or applied for through CIHR and/or SSHRC
  • Contribution to the training of highly qualified personnel (HQP) (see Policy and guidelines on contributions to research and training)
    • quality and impact of past training of HQP (e.g., postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, technicians), including
      • training environment provided for HQP
      • HQP awards and research contributions
      • outcomes and skills gained by HQP
    • quality, suitability and clarity of the planned training of HQP, including
      • overall training philosophy
      • research training plan for individual HQP
    • consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion in past and planned training of HQP

The overall merit assessment of each application is based on the combination of ratings by the EG for each selection criterion. The final rating assigned and the applicant category will determine the grant level.