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COVID-19 Updates for PhD Students

Messaging relevant to PhD students during the COVID-19 outbreak will be posted here. In addition, please also note the following important links:

Following is the most recent communication sent to PhD students:

 

July 27, 2020

Dear PhD Students,

I am writing to follow up on the previous messages that you have received from Provost Madigan and Chancellor Henderson about the University’s COVID-19 response and Northeastern’s reopening process for the fall highlighting aspects that support PhD Education.  All decisions have been guided by the central priority of the health and wellbeing of our community.  These communications have included information about maintaining a healthy and safe community, resumption of research, and Hybrid NUflex.

We are committed to delivering the highest-quality Northeastern experience for each one of our students, in a way that gives each student flexible options that serve their educational goals.  As PhD students your education programs inherently include research in addition to classroom and independent learning (e.g. preparing for the qualifying exam) and in many cases, also responsibilities associated with your assistantships.  Quite a bit of information has already been sent to you in messages to the university community and is available on the Northeastern Reopening Website.  The purpose of this email is to describe to you the many decisions, resources and actions that may impact you as a PhD student.  This email is organized in three sections that:

(I)     Describe the planning related to the health and wellbeing of the university community;

(II)    Describe how the Hybrid NUflex model fits with PhD Education across your research activities, classroom coursework, independent learning, and your funding;

(III)   Outline the important steps that you will need to keep in mind as we approach the beginning of the fall term.

 

I. HEALTH AND WELLBEING OF THE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY

Our overarching goal is to create an environment where Northeastern is undertaking significant measures to protect its community, and each person in our community is taking individual responsibility to protect themselves and each other.  Previous communications to the community have described the many activities in place to promote health and wellbeing, which includes a myriad of information related to daily hygiene, facial covering, healthy distancing, and cleaning and sanitizing and this section reiterates much of the information that you have already received.

Campus Preparations: All air filters have been cleaned and changed as well as rigorous cleaning measures have taken place at all campus locations.  In addition, in keeping with our goal of every individual protecting themselves and others, each PhD student should clean the areas they use for research, study or the assistantships.  Cleaning materials will be accessible in all buildings and there will be hand-sanitizer stations at building entrances, labs, classrooms and other high-traffic areas.  Signage has been placed that describes physical distancing expectations for a particular area.  Protocols for cleaning, facial coverings and healthy physical distancing are described within the COVID-19 Hygiene and Cleaning Protocol.

Usage of Face Masks: Face masks or cloth face coverings must be worn at all times outdoors and inside all buildings across our campus network, including in classrooms, in research labs and associated spaces, in administrative offices, and in the common spaces.  Students, faculty, and staff will be asked to provide their own face masks or face coverings, but face masks will be available if needed.  PhD students in research labs will be provided with any specialized Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cleaning materials specified in the lab’s research resumption physical distancing plan.  Questions related to PPE in the research lab should be directed to your faculty research advisor or the space manager.  Detailed information about face masks is available in the COVID-19 face covering protocol.

COVID-19 Testing: Key to the health and wellbeing of our community is the COVID-19 anterior nasal swab testing program integrated with contact tracing.  PhD students who have already been approved to be on campus during summer 2020 as part of the research resumption process will be contacted in early August regarding scheduling their first COVID-19 test appointment and will be notified about a regularized schedule of testing that will continue going forward.  A testing schedule for students arriving to campus in late August and September will be announced later in the summer and each PhD student at the Boston Northeastern campus will receive a regular COVID-19 test.  There is no cost to PhD students for this COVID-19 testing.  All PhD students who wish to return to the Boston campus are required to sign a Health & Safety Attestation prior to returning to campus.  This attestation is described in Section III of this email.  All test results are kept confidential, consistent with federal, state and local laws.

Contact Tracing:  The university has established an internal contact tracing program. Contact tracers will personally reach out and act as case workers for any PhD student who receives a positive diagnosis, helping the person to understand next steps and to access care.  They will identify close contacts of anyone who has received a positive COVID-19 test and help close contacts take next steps for their own safety and the safety of the community.  This means that you will not be notified if any member of your research group is identified as COVID-19 positive.  Rather, you will be notified if you are an identified close contact with someone (for example, in your research group) who has received a positive COVID-19 test.

Mental Health: PhD students in Boston will have access to University Counseling and Health Services.  In addition, the Northeastern University Student Health Program (NUSHP) provides Blue Cross Blue Shield based health insurance to PhD students, unless a PhD student has explicitly waived this insurance in preference an alternate provider.  Resources available to support mental health include Find@Northeastern where PhD students can access a mental health provider through tele or in person visits anywhere in the world.

Transportation To & From Campus: We understand that finding the most appropriate transportation options to access the Boston campus is on top of mind for many members of our community.  Paid parking at the Boston Campus is currently available and managed by MasParc. Through our collaboration with MasParc, a new parking debit card program has been created.  The parking debit card provides a flexible “pay-as-you-go” option for those who do not want to purchase an unlimited annual or semester permit.  Northeastern will offer a subsidy for PhD students who decide to participate in this program. This subsidy will reduce the daily parking fee for PhD students who are parking debit card holders to $8.00 for a 10-hour or less stay, or $13.00 for a 10 to 24 hour stay, which is a reduction from the current list price for fall debit card parking of $18.00 and daily coupon of $23.00.  This subsidy is provided for up to 45 parking sessions during the fall 2020 term, which is equivalent to an average of three trips to campus per week.  Additional details about how the subsidy parking will be implemented with PhD students will be communicated in the coming weeks.

 

II. YOUR PHD EDUCATION AND HYBRID NUFLEX

Hybrid NUflex recognizes the diversity of PhD Education, an inherently research-based degree program, along with your coursework and any assistantship responsibilities.  Much of the university communication to date about Hybrid NUflex has been around traditional classroom learning and teaching.  Following is a description about how Hybrid NUflex fits with your PhD education.  The intent of Hybrid NUflex is to provide flexibility between in-classroom and remote participation, if that is what you wish, while also having access to campus facilities when required for research, coursework and your assistantship responsibilities.

Research Resumption: The university’s research enterprise has been active.  Among the critical projects across the university’s research labs, research to combat and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic remains a top priority.  A few weeks ago, researchers working on critical projects have started to return to laboratories while adhering to rigorous health and safety protocols that maintain healthy distancing and promote the safety of our researchers.  The research resumption process begins with the PI initiating a research resumption application for a particular lab, experimental or qualitative.  The requester, who is the PI or a designee, prepares a physical distancing plan that includes a listing of all laboratory members. This physical distancing plan includes methods for managing density in the laboratory (and supporting areas) and includes a scheduling process to enable you to flex in and out of the lab area as required by your research.   If you are listed as a member of a research group returning to campus, you will receive an email requesting that you Opt-In to have access to the research space.  PhD students who wish to have access when needed, even if 1 day a week or less, should still Opt-In.  This step ensures that all laboratory safety training is in order and that you will have access to the research space with your Husky ID.  PhD students who Opt-Out will not be granted access to the laboratory.  PhD students who require high throughput computational access to perform remote research that requires access to large datasets on the cloud or a virtual desktop environment for visualization may request a cellular hotspot through Information Technology Services.

Classes and Dynamic Attendance Scheduling: As PhD students your coursework may be in the form of classroom courses, special topics, seminars, research or other small group or individual formats.  Hybrid NUflex gives you the flexibility to choose when and where you engage in your courses.  Classroom density will be reduced based on current density restrictions and the latest public health guidance.  Classroom density will be closely monitored based on current density restrictions, and if the number of students wishing to attend exceeds the low-density capacity, we will allocate in-class spots on a rotating basis to maintain healthy distancing. At each of our campus locations, and for both undergraduate and graduate populations, Northeastern will use Hybrid NUflex, a model in the classroom that allows Northeastern to reduce density and offer flexibility to faculty and students. Some students will be present in the classroom and others will be participating remotely via videoconferencing at the same time. Remote students will be continuously connected to the classroom conversation and able to participate by chat or by video. A dynamic scheduling tool, integrated into the Student Hub, will allow you to indicate and inform faculty whether you will be participating face-to-face in class in a given week, or whether you will attend remotely. Combining new and existing applications, including COVID-19 related information, into one integrated platform will provide you with immediate access to the tools, services and information that you access and use most often.

Independent Learning: Most of your PhD education coursework and learning occurs outside the traditional classroom.  Whether you are taking a research course, participating in seminars, journal clubs or PhD milestone exams we ask that you make decisions about your participation within the context of healthy physical distancing practices, to always wear a mask and follow guidelines for small group meetings as described in the Campus Community Safety Protocols.  Seminars and other larger groups for PhD Defenses, for example, should flex to use meeting technology such as Microsoft Teams.  Graduate Office space management will be handled within each department and furniture will be arranged to adhere to physical distancing guidelines.  PhD students who have access to desk space should plan to flex enabling the same desk to be used by multiple students at different times while also adhering to healthy physical distancing.  Cleaning supplies will be available in or near each space.  Graduate student space available for use will vary by department and their associated physical distancing plans.

PhD Network Travel Funding: Professional meetings are an important component of PhD education. PhD students are eligible to request funding from the PhD Network for virtual professional meetings as well as meetings that require travel, if absolutely necessary and approved.  Due to the global pandemic PhD students may request travel funds twice during the 2021 academic year (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021) with a total request up to $500 from the PhD Network. On March 12 the university announced a suspension of all non-essential university travel.  Recently effective on July 1, PhD students who wish to undertake university travel may do so provided that there is strict adherence with the current university travel procedures.  These procedures were developed to promote the health and the wellbeing of the university community.  There will be an announcement by August 15 regarding whether these travel procedures will be continued, adjusted, or discontinued.

PhD Student Funding: If you are supported through a Graduate Stipended Assistantship (SGA) as a Research Assistant (RA) or a Teaching Assistant (TA) your assignments will not exceed 20 hours a week, consistent with Conditions of Admissions and Assignment Responsibility.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, you will be asked to perform many of your assistantship activities using technology to minimize group meetings.  Research assignments will be performed consistent with the physical distancing plans developed through the research resumption process.  Teaching Assistants are asked to hold office hours and small group tutoring sessions remotely.  Those who are in a classroom or teaching a laboratory will have limited time in the classroom setting.  Each department has developed physical distancing plans for the teaching labs.  PhD students who normally attend class as part of their TA responsibilities will be trained with the technology in the classroom to help support any remote learners.  The responsibilities for each TA and RA will be assigned to minimize interactions in group settings and always adhering to the Campus Community Safety Protocols.  Funding and stipends continue to be in effect for PhD students during the fall 2020 term and in accordance with admissions letters and/or funding arrangements made post enrollment.  PhD students who wish to continue their research away from campus should engage with their faculty advisors to re-prioritize their research and funding assignments.  PhD students who wish to not come to campus for any reason due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19 may petition for a Modified Academic Plan (MAP) as described in Section III.

 

III. IMPORTANT STEPS PRIOR TO THE FALL 2020 SEMESTER

We believe that an on-campus presence is important for you to make the most of our PhD education.  The activities described above are put in place to help you feel comfortable being on campus and to provide you with the flexibility about where and how you pursue different aspects of your PhD education.    The fall semester is rapidly approaching.  Following is a summary of the important steps you will need to take prior to the beginning of the fall term.  This section ends with information about how to petition for a Modified Academic Plan (MAP) in the event that you choose not to come to campus for any activities during the fall 2020 academic term.

A. Review and Agree to the Health and Safety Attestation available to complete now

To support the health and wellbeing of the university community, every student returning to campus will be asked to read and agree to the health and safety attestation.  You may have already completed this health and safety attestation as part of the research resumption process.  If so, you do not need to do it again.  If not, please take the time to read and acknowledge this attestation at your earliest convenience.  As described above, all PhD students returning to campus will be required to participate in the COVID-19 testing and contact tracing programs along with all campus community members.  Completing this attestation is an important step prior to the fall 2020 semester.

B. Register for Fall Classesregistration is open now

All PhD student support whether through a Stipended Graduate Assistantship (SGA), Fellowship, or other Northeastern funds require that PhD students are enrolled as full-time students each term that they receive funding, including the summer term.  If any changes in registration are required, those can be made up to September 22, 2020.  Please refer to the Conditions of Admission and Assignment Responsibility for more information about PhD student funding.  The 2020-2021 academic year calendar includes important dates about your registration.  PhD students must be registered for classes on or before the first day of classes to receive the first stipend distribution, which occurs before the usual semester deadline to add or drop a course without penalty.  This is different from the past when PhD students could register by the add/drop deadline and still receive their first stipend distribution on time.

C. PhD “I Am Here” Process planned launch via email on August 15

Beginning in January 2020 the university initiated the “PhD I Am Here” process, designed to ensure that PhD student course registration is appropriately aligned with research or experiential PhD activities they are doing during the upcoming term as well as the location of those activities.  You will be invited to complete the “PhD I Am Here” by email and the process consists of your answering questions about your registration intentions.  We received feedback from the summer 2020 “I Am Here” that the question about campus location was unclear in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.  So, if your location is within commuting distance of the Boston campus, yet you plan to pursue much of your research from home, select Boston as your campus.  Students planning to continue their studies while outside the greater Boston area during the fall 2020 academic term should complete a petition for a COVID-MAP described at the end of this email.

D. Schedule Your First COVID-19 Test – planned to open for scheduling in mid-August

You will be notified later in the summer with instructions about scheduling your first COVID-19 test.  After your first test you will be put on a set testing schedule, which is aligned to the days that you normally come to campus.

E. Requesting a COVID-MAP to Pursue PhD Education Away from Campusdue by August 7

With the flexibility that Hybrid NUflex provides to PhD students who will choose to “flex” many of their own activities on or remote from campus during fall 2020, we recognize that there will be cases where PhD students will wish to not come to campus for any activities due to concerns about COVID-19 exposure.  These students may request a Modified Academic Plan (also known as a MAP) for fall 2020 for reasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The COVID-MAP temporary policy and procedure provides information about how PhD students who wish to may request an arrangement to continue all of their PhD education activities (including assistantship responsibilities) remotely during the fall 2020 term.  A PhD student request of a COVID-MAP will trigger a review of course registration, assistantship responsibilities and any research activities within the context of student location while continuing their PhD education.  The intent is to develop and approve a MAP that will enable academic progress and maintain assistantship funding.  All reasonable requests will be honored.  PhD students on an approved MAP that allows them to remain remote for the fall academic term will be required to remain away from campus for the duration of the term.  MAPs will be approved for the fall semester and students will need to re-petition for a spring 2021 MAP.

 

In closing, as you review the information in this email, I know you will have many questions.  The reopening process is driven by the reopening implementation team that meets daily and hundreds of staff are working tirelessly to plan for the fall and to make it a success for all community members, guided by the health and wellbeing of our entire community.  Please continue to monitor your email and the COVID-19 reopening website.  Your questions and ideas are beneficial to many; please continue to share your questions, concerns, and ideas at the PhD COVID-19 Question Website.  Answers to common questions from PhD students will be made available at the PhD Network site here.

As always, thank you for your cooperation in the interests of the broader health and safety of our community.  We will be in touch again soon.

Best regards,

Sara Wadia-Fascetti
Vice Provost for the PhD Network