March 11, 2021
Dear Graduate Students,
I hope this message finds you and yours safe and well. Following President Eisgruber’s recent announcement regarding overall campus operations for fall 2020, I write to you to highlight the information most pertinent for graduate students and to share additional resources. As stated in the announcement, all graduate students are invited to campus.
Graduate-level courses, graduate advising, and research may occur in person or virtually for fall 2020, depending on the decisions of individual graduate programs. For specific academic or research-related questions, you should consult directly with your graduate program, as answers may vary from program to program. Rest assured, however, that while this fall semester may look different from last fall, we will all still be fully engaged in our shared learning, teaching, and research mission.
We have launched a new website, gradfall2020.princeton.edu, to provide more detailed FAQs regarding academic affairs, housing, dining, funding, health and wellness, events, and travel guidance. The site will be updated as more information becomes available. It contains individual contact information for Graduate School staff members as well as links to University resources.
Over the past few weeks, the Graduate School provided updates to all incoming and continuing graduate students regarding the phased resumption of on-campus laboratory-based research and the library’s phased resumption of on-site services and remote resources. Much of the recent guidance regarding research remains in place, and updates are available on the websites of the Office of the Dean for Research and the Princeton University Library. Work that can be conducted at home should continue to be conducted at home.
Regarding the resumption of research, some graduate students, particularly those in the laboratory sciences and engineering, may already be approved to be back on campus conducting their academic work. However, we recognize that some students may not be able – or may find it difficult – to be present in person, either temporarily or for an extended period, because of a variety of legitimate reasons, including, for example, underlying health risks, travel restrictions, or caregiving duties. The gradfall2020.princeton.edu website provides answers to some of the questions you may have about presence on campus and enrollment options.
As we prepare for the fall semester and begin to reopen parts of the campus, including laboratory spaces, we want to provide graduate students who are returning to their research and other activities with protections that are comparable to those that faculty and staff receive.
I am delighted to share that the Policy Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School has approved a new policy that guarantees graduate students a set number of days off from their regular duties for COVID-19-related issues. This measure aligns Graduate School COVID-19 policies with similar policies presently in effect for faculty and staff. In particular, it ensures that individual graduate students who are asked to return to in-person responsibilities have access to support comparable to what Human Resources provides to University staff. The COVID-19 leave policy for the 2020-21 academic year is available here.
The Graduate School is committed to providing graduate students with an educational environment consistent with University health and safety policies and free of undue pressure, as they resume research and other academic activities. For graduate students who cannot be present in person, we have requested that departments and programs work individually with students regarding any accommodations related to coursework, research obligations, and remote teaching assignments.
In addition to the new policy allowing for COVID-19 days, the Graduate School has developed a process to review exceptional situations where a graduate student remains concerned about whether a department can accommodate that student’s ongoing COVID-19-related absence in coursework, research, and/or teaching requirements after all existing accommodation procedures have been exhausted. We have developed an in-take process for review of requests for additional adjustments for any students who feel they need continued flexibility around in-person activities and such flexibility has not already been arranged. Given the high level of support that our faculty advisers provide their graduate students and the deep commitment that our graduate students themselves have to their fields, we expect that we will not need to make regular use of this process. But we want to be prepared to support all graduate students as necessary. If you would like a review of an exceptional situation, please complete this request form.
The fall semester was originally scheduled to begin on September 2, but the University now anticipates that courses will begin two days earlier on August 31. This change is intended to reduce travel that increases both the risk of infection and the need to quarantine.
If the plan is approved later this month by the faculty, the fall break will be converted from a full week into a long weekend. Undergraduate students will be sent home before Thanksgiving, and the fall semester reading period and exams will be fully remote. For the spring semester, the University will also convert the spring break into a long weekend to reduce travel during that semester.
Enrollment and funding cycles for continuing graduate students are already scheduled to advance as of August 1 under the new academic calendar. Beginning August 1, graduate student fall term course selection will also reopen along with the academic year sign-in period. Additionally, graduate students serving as Assistants in Instruction (AIs) for the fall semester may be called upon by faculty to assist with undergraduate course preparation beginning in the month of August. August stipends will include AI pay for students serving as AIs for the fall semester.
The health and safety of all members of the University community is our highest priority. All graduate students living or planning to live in campus housing have received information via email regarding instructions for completing a required COVID-19 Risk Assessment and information about self-quarantining, if necessary. Please note these procedures are based on health guidance issued by federal, state, and local governments. Detailed information about these procedures is available on the FAQs on this site.
In addition, all students and employees will be required to complete an online training outlining the University’s health and safety policies before moving into campus housing or receiving approval to resume work on campus. Additional details regarding this training will be made available in the coming weeks. Finally, graduate students who return to campus may also be required to undergo testing for COVID-19 at the start of the semester and periodically thereafter. Additional details concerning testing will be provided at a later date.
Many events, such as Graduate School New Student Orientation, will be conducted remotely this year, even though we expect that graduate students will, for the most part, be here in person. Please consult the Graduate School’s events calendar for other community-building, social, and professional development events.
I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to the Graduate Student Government (GSG) for their leadership and partnership in helping us create programs and find solutions that address the needs of all graduate students. The GSG, along with many other graduate student organizations, have demonstrated such a strong commitment to building and maintaining a sense of community and belonging among graduate students, even in these trying circumstances.
The past few months have brought unprecedented challenges for the Princeton community as we continue to face the health pandemic together and, at the same time, confront the pandemic of systemic racism in an effort to bring lasting and much-needed structural change. One step of many to come: graduate students who are studying public policy and international affairs will now earn their degrees from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. These are extraordinary times that call upon us all to do our part to help build a more just and equitable society — in service to humanity. As President Eisgruber requested of all units across campus, the Graduate School is beginning work on an action plan that will outline steps we will take as a unit to address systemic racism.
On behalf of the entire staff at the Graduate School, we look forward to supporting you in your academic endeavors throughout the coming year.
With all best wishes,
Cole M. Crittenden
Deputy Dean and Acting Dean of the Graduate School