COVID-19 UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES | Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies

COVID-19 UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES

UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES, Friday, May 29, 2020  5:53pm

It has been some time since my last (May 13) communication. This is largely a function of the limited updates to report. Here are a few exceptions:

  • On the teaching front, Charlotte Yates, the University Provost and Vice-President (Academic), announced this week the University’s preliminary plans for the fall semester. Reflecting a ‘hybrid’ approach, some courses will be taught and hosted in-person and some will be offered remotely. More details will be provided soon.
  • On the research front, work is being done to finalize a phase-in plan, which will, in due course, enable researchers, including graduate students, to access university facilities.  Please stay tuned; in the meantime, guidance on research continuity can be found on the Office of Research website.
  • Today, May 29, marks the deadline for tuition settlement for summer 2020. That said, for the summer 2020 semester, Student Financial Services (SFS) has waived late penalties and the financial arrangement fee, and will not be de-registering students from their programs for non-payment of their student account. If you are unable to pay your student account balance, you are able to defer the payment by submitting a completed financial arrangement request form. Until full payment is received, students will be prevented from securing:
    • release of final grades;
    • release of transcripts;
    • granting of a degree or diploma; and
    • registration for a subsequent semester.
  • This summer, the Grad Pathways team will be offering a Skills Development Certificate to recognize participation in a variety of synchronous (live) and asynchronous (“on-demand”) skills development content specifically for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. To register, please complete the registration form. To kick off the Certificate, Grad Pathways will be hosting three live events for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Please register for these live Zoom sessions using the links below.
    • June 9th - 9:30am-11:30am: Join Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, OVC Director of Well-Being Programming, as she helps us re-frame our negative thoughts. 
    • June 18th - 1:00pm-2:00pm: Join Sarah Birk, Student Wellness Navigator, and Peter Wedel, Student Wellness Counsellor, for a Q&A session about Student Wellness Services. 
    • June 25th - 1:00pm-2:00pm: Join Jana McDonald, Career Advisor, for a Q&A session about Career Services, online networking, and job searching during a pandemic. 

Please send your questions for the Q&A sessions to gradpath@uoguelph.ca in advance.

Please stay tuned for a more substantive update in the coming week or two. In the meantime, please continue to reach out to your Graduate Program Coordinators and Assistants for program-specific questions and support.

I wish you well and hope that you are able to be productive and buoyant in these challenging times.

Sincerely, Ben

Ben Bradshaw | Assistant Vice-President (Graduate Studies)
Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies | University of Guelph
University Centre | 50 Stone Rd E | Guelph, ON | N1G 2W1

 

UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES, Wednesday, May 13, 2020  7:43pm

Dear U of G graduate student,

Associate Dean Crease and I were pleased that some of you joined one or both online town halls last week.  We hope that we were able to address some of your questions and concerns.  Below we have captured some of your more pressing questions and our answers for the benefit of those who were unable to join.

Before turning to these, please allow me to direct your attention to two items.

Payments of Major Scholarships (e.g. Tri-Agency, OGS, etc.)

As you are aware, the tuition payment and 100% refund deadline for the Summer 2020 semester has been extended to May 29, 2020.   Given this change, scholarship payments have been similarly adjusted for this semester.  For those benefitting from major scholarships, it is important that you have the following information so that you can plan accordingly. 

The full value of any scholarship that has been awarded for the Summer semester will be applied to your student account in increments.  One-third (1/3) of the scholarship value will be released this week and should be in your account by May 15.  The remainder will be issued in the first week of June, after the payment deadline date and the 100% refund period.

Students who are using payroll deduction to pay for their tuition and fees will not have a payment deducted from their first paycheque in May.  Deductions will start with the May 28th pay.  


This information can also be found on the COVID-19 FAQ page for Student Financial Services.

Access to Bursaries and other Financial Aid

In my email of May 4, 2020, I directed students with financial needs to apply for aid through existing channels.  Of the options available, the most significant source of funds is the Bursary Program managed by Student Financial Services (SFS).  These bursaries, which are available to both domestic and international students (through different processes), are limited to full-time (FT) students.  This is partly externally mandated and partly justified by the fact that, like Scholarships and Awards, most financial aid programs exist to support students to focus fully on their studies.

For students who are beyond their normal program completion period (13+ semester PhDs and 7+ semester masters), the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (OGPS) has long relaxed documentation requirements to enable transfers to part-time (PT) to reduce tuition fees.  Students doing so, however, should recognize that a shift to PT impacts their eligibility for the above bursary and student loans.  It might, therefore, make sense for these students with more significant financial needs to register FT, apply for a bursary, and focus exclusively on completing their research and thesis-writing.  In addition to possible supports within your department or from your advisor, those students who register PT can access more modest financial supports through a GSA/University - Compassionate Bursary Application and, failing that, an OGPS Financial Assistance Application, both of which, when completed, should be emailed to grschol@uoguelph.ca.

In short, while we clearly are committed to supporting students who are close to the finish line and have financial needs, these students should recognize that our most significant source of student aid is limited to those who commit themselves full-time to their studies.

Pressing Questions and Answers from the May 4 Town Halls

Q: Students are paying fees for resources/services that they are no longer able to access (both for the end of Winter and Summer semester). Why?

  • Many student-facing services are indeed still available.  Specifically, Student Accessibility Services, Counselling Services, and services in other Student Wellness areas continue to be provided at full capacity and will continue to be provided throughout the summer, including in-person appointments with our medical doctors in the J.T. Powell Building as required (see FAQs for Student Wellness Services). Additionally, the International Student Experience team and our Student Housing team have increased their outreach activities to check in with graduate students and to provide new programs that mitigate the social and emotional impacts of Covid-19. All services from Student Wellness may be accessed at here and services for international graduate students may be accessed here.
     
  • In areas where services have been scaled back or suspended, fees have been reduced or suspended.  For example, the Athletic fee was reduced to 35% in recognition of reduced programming (note: some programming continues on Instagram and other electronic formats).  Some fees, like the Athletic building fee, are fixed given their approval by student associations via referendum.
     
  • As always, students who are beyond 200km from Guelph can apply for a distance fee waiver.  

Q: Many students are confused about the $2,500 funding. How do we know if we are eligible and where will it show up?

  • The University is making up to $2,500 available for the summer 2020 semester for both international and domestic graduate students. To be eligible for this Special Dean’s Award – COVID, students must:
     
    • be registered full-time for the entirety of the summer 2020 semester in a doctoral, thesis-based master’s, or a course-based (including major research project-based) master’s program (executive programs in the Lang School are not included);
       
    • be within the normal completion period for your program in summer 2020 (six full-time semesters for master’s, nine for DVSc, and 12 for PhD programs); and
       
    • have existing funding of less than $6,000 for the summer 2020 semester, including GRAs, GTAs and internal and external awards (note: the International Doctoral Tuition Scholarship (IDTS) is NOT included in the $6000).
       
  • The maximum overall funding for eligible students will be $6,000, including existing funding plus up to $2,500 in funds specified here. In other words, students with $6,000 or more in existing funding for summer 2020 will receive no additional funding, while eligible students with less than $6,000 in existing funding for summer 2020 will receive up to $2,500 to top up their funding to a maximum total of $6,000.
     
  • There is no need for an application.  Funds will be deposited in students’ financial accounts in WebAdvisor before the tuition deadline of May 29th, 2020.  

Q: Does GRA and GTA funding count as income for application to the CERB?

  • The CERB is, of course, a Federal Government program, which we must direct you to investigate on your own.  That said, we have learned a few things and can highlight the following:
     
    • Look at your T4/T4A form from last year. Funds reported on your T4 are considered income.  A portion of GTA income is reported on your T4 slip while the remainder is considered to be a bursary and is reported on the T4A.  GRA income in support of your own research is reported on your T4A.  GRAs or GSAs for work not directly related to your research program is reported on the T4.  Please check the Government of Canada website to determine whether or not income reported on T4A forms is eligible income for the CERB.  
       
    • We are aware that the Federal Government is approving CERB requests that might later be found to be ineligible.  Students should therefore recognize that they may secure funds that may later be reclaimed. 
       
    • The application form for the CESB will be available from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on May 15.  CRA advises students to set up a CRA “MyAccount” through which they can access the application form.  They can also apply by phone.
       
    • Students are not eligible to hold both a CERB and a CESB, and should not apply for a CESB if they are receiving funds via the CERB.  

Q: Could the University go to the Provincial Government and suggest that a tuition wavier/rebate be provided to all students.

  • Domestic tuition is inflexible given that it is regulated by the Provincial Government.  We are currently in year 2 of 10% reduced (relative to 2018-19) and frozen tuition.  
     
  • In partnership with the 21 other universities in Ontario, we have been lobbying the Provincial Government on your behalf.  In place of a waiver or rebate, we have called for additional funding to support continued enrollment with new funding and other accommodations in place (as we have done).

Q: What kind of supports can be offered to students who are going beyond their normal program completion period because of COVID?

  • Students are encouraged to look to their home departments and advisors, and existing financial aid.  Of the options available, the most significant source of funds is the Bursary Program managed by Student Financial Services (SFS).  These bursary programs are working with larger budgets than normal (as of May 1). 
     
  • Please trust that any student who was registered in Winter 2020 and/or Summer’20 will be implicitly recognized as distinct in future considerations, be they financial or around ongoing progress.  A comprehensive plan to address eventual extensions for these students is currently being developed. 
     
  • Students who must complete a Plan of Study (semester 7 of a masters, 10 of a DVSc, and 13 and 16 of a PhD) or an appeal for extension beyond maximum duration (semester 9 of a masters, 12 of a DVSc and 18 of a PhD) are still required to do so, but these will be approved by the OGPS records officers on behalf of the Admissions & Progress committee.  These forms ensure that students are checking in with the Advisory Committee and making plans to complete their degree under the circumstances.  They also provide OGPS with information about the impact of the pandemic on times to completion.

We encourage those of you with additional questions to raise them with your Graduate Program Coordinators, who will bring them to us if they are unable to answer them directly.

We hope to have good news to share in the coming weeks, especially around possible returns to normal or near-normal research activities.  In the meantime, we wish you well with your modified research and training, and thank you for your understanding.

Sincerely, Ben


Ben Bradshaw | Assistant Vice-President (Graduate Studies)
Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies | University of Guelph
University Centre | 50 Stone Rd E | Guelph, ON | N1G 2W1
 

 

UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES, Monday, May 4, 2020 10:28am

Dear U of G graduate student,

Though the winter semester is officially behind us, and May has arrived, I expect that many of you are feeling as we do – stuck in a time warp.  As our time in relative isolation continues, and the cases of, and deaths attributed to, Covid-19 grow (though thankfully at a slower rate), it is understandable that many of you are experiencing moments of anxiousness, uncertainty and malaise.  Please know that this is to be expected and look to familiar sources of support including University resources.

We are keen to let you know that Associate Dean Teresa Crease and I will host two open town halls through WebEx with those of you who wish to ask questions or share concerns about summer registration and funding in light of the Covid-19 Pandemic disruption.  These are scheduled for:

  1. Tuesday May 5, 2-3pm:
    •  WebEx link;
    • meeting number (access code): 795 596 000;
    • meeting password: S6Na76f9vbY (76627639 from phones and video systems);
    • or join by phone 1-416-915-6530 Canada Toll;
    • or join from a video system or application by dialing 795596000@uoguelph.webex.com (you can also dial 173.243.2.68 and enter your meeting number)
    • or join using Microsoft Lync or Microsoft Skype for Business by dialing 795596000.uoguelph@lync.webex.com
       
  2. Tuesday May 5, 8-9pm:
    • WebEx link;
    • meeting number (access code): 797 732 030;
    • meeting password: qSJJxiQr274 (77559477 from phones and video systems);
    • or join by phone 1-416-915-6530 Canada Toll;
    • or join from a video system or application by dialing 797732030@uoguelph.webex.com (you can also dial 173.243.2.68 and enter your meeting number)
    • or join using Microsoft Lync or Microsoft Skype for Business by dialing  797732030.uoguelph@lync.webex.com

Those of you who would prefer to deliver a question in advance of the meeting can do so by emailing Sarah Cahill at cahills@uoguelph.ca.  During the WebEx meeting, you can also message Sarah "privately" and she will raise your question.  Even if you do not have a question, please feel free to join to listen to others’ questions and our responses.

As I have your attention, please allow me to use the rest of this message to offer an update.

During the past seven weeks, those of us who manage graduate studies at the University have sought to identify impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic for your studies and develop accommodations.  Our sources of information have been robust.  In early April, your Graduate Student Association launched an extensive survey, which, to date, 590 of you have completed.  From it, we learned about your concerns relating to maintaining productivity and potentially needing program extensions and funding at a future date.  We also learned that many of you are experiencing growing feelings of isolation, anxiety and even depression, and are seeking additional, accessible mental health supports.  We also heard that many of you are looking for increased communication around what comes next, especially relating to permissible research activities.

In addition, we surveyed, again extensively, international graduate students to understand their specific concerns and needs.  From that survey, we have a better understanding of the proportion of international students who require financial support this summer and their needs, including necessities for graduate studies such as study space and reliable internet access.

As a complement to these two representative data sets, we were pleased to receive an open letter from 400+ of you, which included numerous individual, poignant testimonials.  That letter was especially insightful with respect to the additional challenges faced by some of you who, for example, may not find enough support in universal responses such as a Special Deans’ Award of $2,500 or for whom online delivery of course materials compounds existing barriers to learning. 

Unfortunately, the open letter misidentified the status of University resources available to you, which we want to correct here to ensure that you are aware of the many services that continue to be provided.  Specifically, Student Accessibility Services, Counselling Services, and services in other Student Wellness areas continue to be provided at full capacity and will continue to be provided throughout the summer, including in-person appointments with our medical doctors in the J.T. Powell Building as required (see FAQs for Student Wellness Services). Additionally, the International Student Experience team and our Student Housing team have increased their outreach activities to check in with graduate students and to provide new programs that mitigate the social and emotional impacts of Covid-19. All services from Student Wellness may be accessed at wellness.uoguelph.ca/ and services for international graduate students may be accessed at graduatestudies.uoguelph.ca/support-international-students.

The open letter made five specific requests, which we are happy to address here for the benefit of all graduate students’ knowledge.

  1. We have already moved to allow students to complete a single progress report for the winter and summer semesters, while providing students the option to complete two if they so desire.  This will not automatically extend a student’s Maximum Program Duration.  However, as addressed in these FAQs, the University is supportive of students’ efforts to ‘cross the finish line’ and therefore routinely supports program extensions and provides financial accommodations (e.g. covering the cost of tuition for the first four to six weeks of a new semester).  In terms of completing important milestones such as Qualifying Examinations and the submission of Research Proposals, all faculty advisors and programs appreciate that there will be delays in winter’20 and summer’20.  With respect to final (online) thesis defences, a majority have proceeded as planned, though some students have chosen to postpone.
     
  2. In support of student enrolments in summer’20, programs and faculty advisors have committed to fulfilling existing funding commitments, to which an award of up to $2,500 is being added for some students with more modest funding commitments.  In addition, students without committed funding are securing $2,500, which equates to the cost of domestic tuition (plus most ancillary fees) for most students.  This appears to be unique in Ontario.
     
  3. For those students with additional needs, we are encouraging applications for student financial aid through existing channels.  Financial aid budgets have been bolstered in preparation for increased student need, and some of the eligibility conditions have been relaxed.  At the same time, we must encourage students to investigate other options for securing financial support, including newly announced federal government supports such as the CESB (and the more established CERB).  Universities alone cannot address students’ academic and personal needs; rather, we seek to provide complementary supports in as integrated a fashion as possible.
     
  4. Through a number of tables within the Council of Ontario Universities and Universities Canada, the University of Guelph has indeed been “working with other higher education institutions to encourage broader and coordinated advocacy and support for graduate students.”
     
  5. We will continue to work with the GSA to “identify and implement additional substantive measures… to effectively support graduate students.” 

This last point is especially important.  We recognize that further responses, and especially accommodations, will be required to support you and ensure the successful and timely completion of your various degree programs.  In partnership with the seven Colleges, and especially their Associate Deans (Research and Graduate Studies), we continue to envision new supports for students and possible adjustments to standard operating procedures.  These will be communicated as they are developed and in relation to external conditions.

Stay well, Ben

Ben Bradshaw | Assistant Vice-President (Graduate Studies)
Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies | University of Guelph
University Centre | 50 Stone Rd E | Guelph, ON | N1G 2W1

 

 

UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES, Thursday, April 16, 2020 8:43pm

Dear University of Guelph Graduate Student,

In follow up to my email of April 4, I can now report that guidance has been delivered to your Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) and your Faculty Advisor (for thesis-based students) regarding registration and funding for the summer’20 semester in light of Covid-19 disruptions.  This guidance will enable informed conversations between you and your GPC and/or Faculty Advisor, especially for those of you who have yet to finalize summer’20 registration, or those of you who have already sought to shift to part-time enrolment or to take a leave of absence due to these disruptions.

The overarching aim of this guidance is to encourage and enable continuity wherever possible, and especially ongoing full-time enrollment.

The University of Guelph is committed to supporting you in making progress during summer’20 toward the completion of your program and degree.  To this end, we are committed to fulfilling existing funding commitments for those of you who are able to advance your thesis research or program completion as originally planned and register full-time in summer’20.  For those students who face barriers to the completion of originally planned research or programs due to inaccessible labs, field sites and practicum locations, we encourage you to consult with your Faculty Advisor or GPC to explore alternative research and academic activities that can fulfill program requirements.  This might include, for example, field research at a more proximate site, theoretical work in place of experimental work, completing an online course, composing and refining non-empirical dissertation chapters or sections of manuscripts, or pursuing professional skill development opportunities (see Grad Pathways website).  Those of you who settle upon such alternatives should similarly register full-time in summer’20 in order to secure funding as originally committed by your program.

For those of you worried about how Covid-19 circumstances might affect timely completion one, two or even three years from now, please know that any student nearing completion of a thesis-based program can expect to receive support from the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to cross the finish line, be it around enabling ongoing registration beyond one’s maximum program duration and/or securing funds to cover tuition payments during the first four to six weeks of a new semester.  This will be especially true for students who were registered in the winter’20 and summer’20 semesters. In short, worries about timely completion in the future should not influence your current decisions around registration.  

We recognize that many of you with limited or no funds are facing new financial challenges that may limit your capacity to maintain full-time studies, thereby jeopardizing the completion of degree programs in which you have already invested much time and effort. In support of summer’20 full-time registration, domestic and international graduate students enrolled in thesis- and course-based programs (excluding Executive Programs in the Lang School and CSAHS’s new Masters of Conservation Leadership) with no committed funding (i.e. unfunded students) or with existing committed funding of less than $6,000 in summer’20 (inclusive of all GRAs, GTAs, and internal and external awards), and who are still within their normal program completion period, are eligible for one-time funding in summer’20 of up to $2,500 (to a maximum overall funding level of $6,000).  These additional funds will be applied to your tuition account as long as you register full time during summer’20 and remain enrolled.  

Finally, we note that federal and provincial supports continue to evolve for graduate students.  We encourage you to investigate options for which you might be well suited (e.g. federal government supports).  We also encourage those of you in need to apply for emergency support from existing financial aid mechanisms at the University of Guelph.

We hope that this message has offered some certainty during these uncertain times. Those of you who are already registered full-time for summer’20 and are reassured by this message should continue as planned.  Those of you who have not yet registered, but now see options for doing so based on the abovementioned, should reach out to your GPC and/or Faculty Advisor. The same applies to those who have already sought to shift to part-time enrolment or to take a leave of absence but now are questioning that decision.

I regret that we were unable to communicate these details sooner due to changing circumstances and information.  As I have said before, we are working hard to attend to pressing matters in graduate studies as needed. Please know that further accommodations may be developed in the coming weeks depending on how this situation evolves.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.

We hope that you will be able to continue your studies full-time, even if in a modified form, and continue to enrich our University.

Sincerely, Ben

Ben Bradshaw | Assistant Vice-President (Graduate Studies)
Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies | University of Guelph
University Centre | 50 Stone Rd E | Guelph, ON | N1G 2W1

 

 

UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES, APRIL 4, 8:00AM

Dear University of Guelph Graduate Students,

It has been just over 10 days since I last communicated with you on critical topics such as the completion of your graduate courses, thesis defences and QEs.  For many of you, those 10 days probably felt even longer as the complications associated with managing the Covid-19 pandemic grow both professionally and personally. 

Those of us who manage Graduate Studies appreciate that this has been a difficult time.  We know that some of you have family on the other side of closed national borders.  Some of you are caring for dependents.  Many of you have seen your research progress stalled with uncertainties around how you might move forward.  And all of us are experiencing fewer points of meaningful personal contact in our daily lives.

We also know that many of you have questions, which we have been working to address.  Indeed, in addition to these direct emails (archived here), please visit our Grad Studies-specific FAQ page, which is accessible via the University’s main Covid-19 information page (see the right side for all FAQs) to find answers to some of your questions.

One set of questions that is not addressed in our current FAQs relate to your registration status for the summer’20 semester and funding.  We have been working hard to address these questions, and will be delivering guidance to that end to your Faculty Advisor and/or Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) early next week.  For now, please know that this guidance is informed by the following principles:

  1. Student health and well-being must be privileged during these challenging times;
  2. Wherever possible and, indeed, in most circumstance, in-program graduate students should maintain their current registration status with funding as originally committed;
  3. A student’s registration status (full-time, part-time, or leave of absence) should reflect their capacity to make progress toward degree completion; and
  4. Registration decisions should be consistent with evolving academic and research principles and directives across the University (e.g. policies on accessing campus research facilities).

Please stay tuned for outreach next week from your Faculty Advisor or GPC.

In the meantime, please be assured that, on your behalf, we continue to investigate and advocate for provincial and federal financial assistance.  We continue to do the same for those of you with direct or indirect external funding from, for example, CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC, and OGS.  During the coming days and weeks, we will provide information as it becomes available.  And, of course, please know that you can always access financial aid through normal OGPS channels.  We recognize that Government and University financial assistance will be especially important for those of you who have relied on, but have lost, part-time work (on- or off-campus) to pay for rent and groceries.   In addition to accessing financial assistance where needed, please do not hesitate to reach out to your Advisor and/or Graduate Program Coordinator to report on your particular circumstances and needs.

Before I sign off, I would like to return to a topic that I covered in my email of March 17, 2020 (archived here).  Those of you who, at an earlier time, were working in a University research lab or facility on your own research or that of your Faculty Advisor may no longer do so.  Exceptions to this rule require the securing of approvals; details about the process may be accessed here (see points #8 and 9).  For those with research activities outside of University labs and facilities, please review guidance from the Office of Research.

I hope each of you is able to find some downtime this weekend and perhaps even a little lightheartedness.

Sincerely, Ben

Ben Bradshaw | Assistant Vice-President (Graduate Studies)
Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies | University of Guelph
University Centre | 50 Stone Rd E | Guelph, ON | N1G 2W1

 

UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES, MARCH 23, 7:23 PM

Dear University of Guelph Graduate Students,

All of us who oversee graduate studies at the University, from those of us in the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to your supervisor, course instructors, Graduate Program Coordinator, Graduate Program Assistant, and College’s Associate Dean, appreciate that this a challenging time, with many of you simultaneously working at a more fevered pitch and feeling the inevitable stress associated with trying to manage the COVID-19 pandemic personally. 

Please be sure to take care of yourselves and each other.  You have undoubtedly developed useful practices in this regard, and external guidance is already plentiful, and so I will not give you further guidance except to say:

Adding to my communication of Mar 17, this email serves to provide you with an update on three matters (of varying relevance to each of you): the completion of your current graduate courses; planning for forthcoming thesis defences; and planning for PhD Qualifying Examinations.  With so many unknowns and so many issues to address, we are trying our best to develop and communicate plans in the order in which they are needed, and in response to expressed concerns from the graduate studies community.  Please anticipate further communications very soon, one of which will, of course, focus on your options for the summer semester.

Completion of current graduate courses

As you are aware, the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have led to significant changes to the structure and delivery of your courses for the remainder of the Winter 2020 semester. Your instructors have been authorized to make adjustments following University Policy on Academic Disruption.  These adjustments have been designed to provide you with options in recognition of the strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on all of us, including your ability to cover original course material and be assessed on the learning outcomes. 

More specifically, a revised grading structure and extended drop date have been implemented for the Winter 2020 semester.  Final Grades that have been received in the Office of Registrarial Services will show on WebAdvisor beginning April 30, 2020.  Grades will continue to be updated on WebAdvisor as they are received until May 6, 2020. At that time, you may choose one of the following options:

  • keep final awarded numeric grade;
  • assign a satisfactory “SAT” provided you achieved a passing grade (The “SAT” designation does not affect your semester average or your cumulative GPA; you will receive credit for the course); or 
  • drop the course.

You will have until Wednesday, May 20, 2020 to decide whether to retain the numerical grade, opt for a “SAT” designation or drop the course. To request a “SAT,” you will use an electronic form provided by the Office of Registrarial Services. To drop a course, you will do so through WebAdvisor.  It is important that you look into future program requirements before making decisions regarding dropping a course versus taking a “SAT” designation or retaining the numerical grade.  These instructions will also be posted on WebAdvisor and CourseLink.

In addition, please note:

  • Students with a current request for academic consideration should note these are being reviewed by your instructor as faculty and staff continue to work remotely. 
  • New requests for academic consideration related to the format of course delivery, grading scheme, or a revised final examination should be sent to your instructor. A decision to request academic consideration must be made before dropping a course.
  • The credits from a “SAT” designation will be counted in the cumulative credit total.  
  • A “SAT” designation will count toward prerequisites in the same manner as a numerical grade.
  • A “SAT” designation will be sufficient to satisfy Provisional status.
  • The University will work with departments where there are numerical grade requirements for specific courses.

We understand that you may have questions or concerns regarding changes to the remainder of your courses.  To address these in an effective and efficient manner, we ask that you follow the directions below.

  1. If you have questions about the general approach taken by the university to finish the academic year or are having difficulties with online delivery, please see the Academic FAQs, on the University’s COVID website (news.uoguelph.ca/2019-novel-coronavirus-information/).
  2. If you have specific questions about your course(s), including course material, assignments, exams or grade weightings, alternative delivery and particular accommodations, please contact your instructor.
  3. If you need to request Deferred Privileges for your course, because you cannot complete a final term assignment/test or final exam, please contact your instructor.

Planning for forthcoming thesis defences

While we previously announced that forthcoming thesis defences should proceed through use of communication technologies, it became evident that further direction was needed.  To that end, guidelines have been developed for your Graduate Program Coordinators to use.  Here are the key elements of those guidelines for forthcoming thesis defences.

  • For those of you who have moved to a point in your research where you are ready to defend, we commit to seeing you though the defence procedures in a timely way. Wherever possible, master’s and doctoral thesis defences that have already been scheduled should occur via web/teleconference (e.g., WebEx, Microsoft Teams).  In this regard:
    • it is the responsibility of your Department to facilitate the web/teleconference-based defence;
    • remote thesis defences should adhere to the normal requirements and procedures as much as possible;
    • thesis defences are usually open to the public, but this requirement can be relaxed under the circumstances to reduce internet bandwidth (please discuss with the chair of the examination committee how audience streaming and/or questions will be handled during your remote defence); and
    • at the discretion of the chair of the examination committee, a defence in progress may be stopped and rescheduled if technical difficulties prevent the student, chair or more than one examiner from participating.
  • Given the challenging circumstances for both students and faculty, either party may request that a thesis defence be postponed (up to 4 weeks). To request that your defence be postponed, please contact your Graduate Program Coordinator.
  • Students who request to postpone a scheduled defence, or whose defence is postponed for reasons beyond their control, and thus cannot complete their degree requirements in Winter 2020 must register for the Summer 2020 semester. The deadline to register without late fees is April 26, 2020
  • If you are blocked from registering as per the program duration policy, submission of a Plan of Study or Appeal for Extension of Maximum Program Duration is not required if your defence has been scheduled or if you have already submitted your thesis to the department for defence. If this applies to you, please contact your Graduate Program Assistant for guidance in removing the registration block.
  • If you are at or nearing maximum program duration and blocked from registering, were planning to submit your thesis to the department for defence in early-April, and are now unsure of whether or not that deadline can be met, we strongly recommend that you submit an Appeal for Extension of Maximum Program Duration by April 9, 2020 to be considered at the next Admissions and Progress (A&P) meeting on April 16, 2020.
  • The deadline to pay tuition with personal funds has been extended to May 29, 2020. Students who expect to pay via payroll deduction, scholarships or OSAP loans must submit a Graduate Settlement Form by April 26, 2020.
  • Requests for tuition reduction or relief for those students who face delays in scheduling defences past May 29, 2020 will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Please contact your Graduate Program Coordinator to this end.

The above guidelines aim to maintain the academic integrity of our graduate programs without causing undue stress to you or to faculty under the current circumstances. Of course, your health and wellbeing is of utmost importance; if you are feeling unwell, your defense should be postponed.

Planning for forthcoming PhD Qualifying Examinations

While we previously announced that PhD Qualifying Examinations (QEs) should proceed through use of communication technologies, it became evident that further direction was needed.  Here too we want to meet the expectations of PhD students who are ready to complete their QEs.  At the same time, we recognize that QEs may be delayed with fewer implications for student progress.  Here are the key elements of the guidelines for forthcoming PhD QEs.

  • Wherever possible, QEs that have already been scheduled should occur via web/teleconference (e.g., WebEx, Microsoft Teams). In this regard:
    • it is the responsibility of your Department to facilitate the web/teleconference-based examination;
    • remote QEs should adhere to the normal departmental requirements and procedures as much as possible;
    • at the discretion of the chair of the examination committee, an exam in progress may be stopped and rescheduled if technical difficulties prevent the student, chair or more than one examiner from participating.
  • Students or faculty may request that a QE be delayed. To request that your QE be delayed, please contact your Graduate Program Coordinator.
  • For QEs that involve written, closed-book exams, your Department will work with OpenEd to develop a protocol for remote QE proctoring.

The above guidelines aim to maintain the academic integrity of our graduate programs without causing undue stress to you or to our faculty under the current circumstances. Of course, your health and wellbeing is of utmost importance; if you are feeling unwell, your QE should be postponed.

Before signing off, I must acknowledge that I regret that this email, and its guidance, hasn’t reached you sooner.  I appreciate that many of you are looking for answers to questions that seem to multiply with each day that passes.   As I said above, we are trying our best to develop and communicate plans in the order in which they are needed, and in response to expressed concerns.  Please stay tuned for more.  In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to your Graduate Program Coordinator, who is well-positioned to address some concerns and relay others to your Associate Deans, me and my office colleagues.

Sincerely, Ben

Ben Bradshaw | Assistant Vice-President (Graduate Studies)
Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies | University of Guelph
University Centre | 50 Stone Rd E | Guelph, ON | N1G 2W1
 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE FROM THE AVP GRADUATE STUDIES, MARCH 17, 9:15 AM

 

Dear Graduate Students at the University of Guelph,

 

By now, you will have received a new (March 16) communication from the President to the campus community, which is also available via the University’s COVID-19 update page (see https://news.uoguelph.ca/2019-novel-coronavirus-information/).  Given the nature of graduate studies, some questions remain unanswered, which I will seek to address here.

 

As noted in the President’s communication, faculty and staff are now being encouraged to work from home where operationally possible.  Further, faculty and researchers are being asked to think though how they might temporarily postpone, limit or adapt research-related activities as necessary.  Consistent with this message, all graduate students should no longer seek to, nor agree to, work in a University research lab until instructed otherwise.  I appreciate that, for some labs with essential operations, a transition period of a day or two might be required to achieve this end; please work with your supervisor to enable this.

 

Graduate research will continue as it is able, consistent with the many known practices for mitigating the spread of the Covid-19 (see https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/public-health-measures-mitigate-covid-19.html).  More specifically:

  • Those of you completing thesis-based research should, in partnership with your supervisor via remote communications, review your research plans to address how to adapt research-related activities if necessary.
  • Thesis defences that are scheduled for the rest of this week and the weeks that follow can proceed, though accommodations should be developed to move the defences online (e.g. https://www.uoguelph.ca/ccs/webex).
  • PhD Qualifying Examinations can similarly proceed online if you and your committees wish, though these are more easily delayed to a later time.
  • Travel to off-campus field work sites, so long as they are within Canada, is still allowed.  Such travel should be done only if deemed necessary and should follow standard protocols (e.g. (https://www.uoguelph.ca/hr/system/files/new-field-research-safety-plan-form-_jan11_.pdf).

 

If you are an international graduate student, please note that a mass communication to international students encouraging immediate return to your home countries was mistakenly sent to you as well (rather than just international undergraduate students as was intended).  We apologize for that error.  A correction can be found here

 

I appreciate that other graduate-specific issues remain unanswered, including for issues such as the recovery of expenses incurred by some you for now cancelled conferences and our plans beyond April 30, 2020.  These too will be addressed in due course.

 

Many thanks for your patience.  Please stay healthy and reach out to us if you need help.

 

Ben Bradshaw | Assistant Vice-President (Graduate Studies)
Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies | University of Guelph
University Centre | 50 Stone Rd E | Guelph, ON | N1G 2W1