Graduate School / COVID-19 and Graduate Education: FAQs

COVID-19 and Graduate Education: FAQs

Frequently asked questions related to COVID-19 & Graduate Education

The University’s Safe-Campus Website should be your first stop for COVID-19 related questions. 

The decentralized structure of our University means that the answers to many questions related to the pandemic and graduate education will vary by college, department or program. When the Graduate School has specific information about an issue or question, we will provide it below. If the information is best found elsewhere at the University, we will make every effort to point you directly to it,  

If you have a question related to graduate education and fall semester that isn't answered below or on the University’s Safe Campus site, please submit your question via this Google Form. Graduate School staff will respond to you as soon as possible. Please note that we often receive multiple questions that are essentially seeking the same information. In these cases, we aggregate these questions and thus it may look somewhat different from the original question posed. 

Please note that these FAQs make frequent reference to the University's Sunrise Plan. All labs are required to submit individualized Sunrise Plans in response to COVID-19, and all students working in labs are to be provided a copy of their lab's Sunrise Plan by the lab supervisor. If you have not received your lab's Sunrise Plan, please contact your lab supervisor or your advisor.

Resources

For Students/Prospective Students

How can I take an English language proficiency exam while testing centers are closed?

Please see our English Language Proficiency page for testing options during COVID-19.

How are processing for i20s and visa interviews affected by COVID-19?

Students should check with their local consulates regularly for the most up-to-date information on the resumption of visa services, and schedule appointments as soon as they are able.

For Faculty/Staff

What if an international student is already in the U.S. at another institution?

These students are NOT required to travel overseas for visa purposes and they are NOT required to visit a U.S. consulate before starting their grad program at the U of M. In general you should expect these students to be able to report to campus just as a domestic student would.

 

Who do I contact if I have a COVID exposure?

Students should contact Boynton Health, and their supervisor(s) or HR directly if they are employed.  Boynton will conduct any required notifications, like contact tracing.  Supervisors/HR should be versed in what else is needed, for example, covering class assignments if the grad student is a TA. 

Who do I contact if I test positive for COVID? See above. 

Note that Boynton will do contact tracing. 

Who should I contact to view my Sunrise Plan?

Your lab supervisor. All labs have submitted individualized Sunrise Plans in response to COVID-19. Students working in a lab are to be provided with a copy of their lab's Sunrise Plan by the lab supervisor.

Who should I talk to if there are deviations from my Sunrise Plan?

Your Graduate Associate Dean. You may also report concerns at https://umn.ethicaladvocate.com/ or https://compliance.umn.edu/report

What is the threshold of on campus infections that will cause a reduction in effort?

Please refer to the University's safe-campus website for the most current information, links, and archived materials.

How much notice will we receive if we go back to essential workers only? 

We don’t anticipate that the University will make such a decision. However, it is possible that the Governor will and we have no way of knowing how much advance notice we would be given. The University endeavors to provide as much notice as practicable. Please refer to the University's safe-campus website for the most current information, links, and archived materials.

Are there any guidelines on the maximum number of people who can work in a lab at the same time?

The approved Sunrise plan for your lab.

Do I have to work if I don't feel safe?

No. However, if you are employed to do work that can only be done on campus, then you should consider all potential impacts of not working including funding stipulations, VISA requirements, etc. and the possible need to resign from that RA/TA/GA position, or fellowship.

How specifically are we protected from repercussions if our lab requires us to come in and we decline to do so?

Students cannot be forced or pressured to come to school/work.  Students should Notify the Student Conflict Resolution Center if they feel pressured to come to work. Please note that if you are employed to do work that can only be done on campus, then you should consider all potential impacts of not working including funding stipulations, VISA requirements, etc. and the possible need to resign from that RA/TA/GA position, or fellowship.

If I only go to the lab for 2-3 hours a day, can I get discounted parking? 

President Gabel approved a parking cost reduction plan to allow faculty, staff and select graduate students to suspend their parking contract payments, while continuing to work.  For specific job codes that meet eligibility requirements, please visit the Parking and Transportation website.  Additionally, individual departments may purchase vouchers for individuals based on specific concerns/needs.  Please also note the U’s 624-Walk Program, available for any student/staff.  A security monitor is available to walk you to your cars/buildings 24/7.  

How should labs plan ahead in case a lab member tests positive but has active research going on?

Please refer to the University's safe-campus website for the most current information, links, and archived materials.

What are the policies about notification if someone in your lab/neighboring lab/floor tests positive?

Please refer to the University's safe-campus website for the most current information, links, and archived materials.

Are there any efforts to have regular (i.e., weekly) testing of on campus personnel to ensure there are not asymptomatic spread?

Please refer to the University's safe-campus website for the most current information, links, and archived materials.

When will we change phases in the Sunrise Plan? What are the Phases? How do they pertain to me?

Please refer to the University's safe-campus website for the most current information, links, and archived materials. 

What steps do I have to take before I can go back into my lab for the first time post COVID?

Please refer to the University's safe-campus website for the most current information, links, and archived materials.

Will there be university, college-level, or department level guidance for researchers travelling for holidays/in general for visiting families?

Please refer to this link for the latest travel information. We strongly encourage all who are considering travel, whether for work, study, or personal reasons, to explore the travel resources from the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and your selected airline. The restriction on all international travel for University business by students, faculty, and staff has been extended to March 31, 2021. However, faculty, staff, and graduate students may apply for an exception to the restriction. Domestic travel by staff or faculty using personal or fleet services vehicles continues to be allowed, but faculty and staff domestic air travel for University purposes is discouraged unless absolutely necessary. While University-related international travel for undergraduates is currently not permitted, the University is monitoring conditions for travel to certain University-approved education abroad programs to determine whether this travel will be permitted prior to March 31, 2021.

What online teaching resources are available for TAs?

There are currently two central locations where TAs can get support for online teaching:

The Keep Teaching website includes:
  • Support for academic technology (i.e. teaching with Zoom and Canvas)
  • Online consultations
The Center for Educational Innovation website includes:

During this time period, will electronic signatures from committee members be acceptable on prelim and final oral exam forms? 

Academic Support Resources is committed to minimizing impacts on degree progress or degree clearance for students. Contact GSSP at gssp@umn.edu to discuss options for alternate signatures.

I’m scheduled to take my doctoral preliminary oral soon. What are my options? Can I take the exam off site? 

In-person events like doctoral preliminary oral examinations must be conducted electronically to allow for off-site participation until further notice. Refer to information about requirements and best practices related to the University’s policy allowing for remote participation in graduate examinations. Using Zoom to conduct the examination is strongly recommended. Refer to the “Using Zoom for Meetings or Exams” FAQ for tech assistance related to Zoom.

One of my doctoral advisees is scheduled to defend their dissertation soon. What are our options? Can the student participate from an off-site location? Can the committee members do so? 

In-person events like doctoral preliminary oral examinations must be conducted electronically to allow for off-site participation until further notice. Refer to information about requirements and best practices related to the University’s policy allowing for remote participation in graduate examinations. Using Zoom to conduct the examination is strongly recommended. Refer to the “Using Zoom for Meetings or Exams” FAQ for tech assistance related to Zoom.

The final doctoral defense requires a public presentation prior to the closed examination. Is that still required? 

Yes. University policy requires the doctoral final oral examination to include a public presentation of the dissertation to the doctoral final oral examination committee/invited scholarly community, followed by a closed session (open only to the doctoral final oral examination committee and the student) immediately following the public presentation. Using Zoom to conduct both the public presentation and final oral examination is strongly recommended. Refer to the “Using Zoom for Meetings or Exams” FAQ for tech assistance related to Zoom.

Our program’s doctoral preliminary written examinations are scheduled to be given soon. Students are required to sit for the examination at a specified UMN site with a proctor. Do we have to reschedule/cancel this semester’s scheduled prelim written exam? 

Graduate programs may hold in-person doctoral preliminary written examinations, with the understanding that all University social distancing and safe classroom protocols are followed. For written examinations that require proctors, assignments must comply with the departmental/unit sunrise plan.

Our graduate program has master’s students scheduled to take their final oral examinations this semester. Can the student and committee members participate remotely? 

In-person events like master’s final oral examinations must be conducted electronically to allow for off-site participation until further notice. Refer to information about requirements and best practices related to the University’s policy allowing for remote participation in graduate examinations. Using Zoom to conduct the examination is strongly recommended. Refer to the “Using Zoom for Meetings or Exams” FAQ for tech assistance related to Zoom.

Our master’s program requires a final written examination. Students are required to sit for the examination at a specified UMN site with a proctor.  Is an on-site master’s written examination allowed?

Graduate programs may conduct on-site master’s final written examinations, with the understanding that all University social distancing and safe classroom protocols are followed.  For written examinations that require proctors, assignments must comply with the departmental/unit sunrise plan.

How do I submit forms to the Graduate Student Services and Progress (GSSP) office? 

The GSSP office strongly encourages individuals to email forms/documents to gssp@umn.edu to ensure the quickest service. Those unable to send via email should contact gssp@umn.edu to discuss alternative options.

When we conduct virtual milestone examinations (master’s finals, doctoral preliminary and final orals), what do we do about obtaining the required signatures from the committee members? 

The Graduate Student Services and Progress office (GSSP) is introducing flexibility around their signature standards. Electronic signatures, such as DocuSign and mouse-based signatures, will be accepted on graduate and professional student forms, such as examination forms, submitted to GSSP. Please contact the GSSP office directly at gssp@umn.edu with questions about e-signatures.

What can you tell me about the a recent proclamation by the U.S. government that will ban the entry of certain F-1 and J-1 graduate students and visiting scholars from China effective June 1, 2020?

There is a lot that is unknown about the details of the proclamation and how it will be implemented, but we want to be clear that this does not affect undergraduate students who are currently studying in the United States and does not have any immediate impact on current graduate students or scholars.

The proclamation states that it does NOT apply to:

  • All new and continuing undergraduate students regardless of their majors
  • All legal permanent residents
  • A spouse of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident
  • F-1 or J-1 graduate students or visiting scholars "in a field involving information that would not contribute to the PRC’s military‑civil fusion strategy" (This section of the proclamation is vague and will be defined by the U.S. Secretaries of State and Homeland Security. We will update you as we know more.)

The focus of the proclamation is on new graduate F-1 or J-1 students and visiting scholars with connections to an entity in the People's Republic of China “that implements or supports the PRC’s 'military-civil fusion strategy,'" which is broadly defined as "actions by or at the behest of the PRC to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC’s military capabilities."

The proclamation also says that the U.S. Secretary of State may determine if current F-1 or J-1 graduate students and visiting scholars who meet the criteria regarding involvement in "military-fusion strategy" could have their visas revoked. Again, this is vague and we do not have further guidance at this time. Note that visa revocation is not the same thing as being forced to leave the U.S.; it means the person no longer has permission to enter the U.S. if they leave.

If you have concerns about your specific situation, reach out to ISSS. We will try our best to address your concerns, but please understand there may be many questions we are not yet able to answer without further information from the U.S. Secretary of State.

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