COVID-19 Information 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:


March 25, 2020

Dear PhD Students,

I am writing as a follow-up to the message that I sent you on March 12 and the survey that was sent to you during the week of March 16. Thank you for your input about travel and remote research needs.  First and foremost, your health and safety are most important and in as much as you are ready, we want to do everything possible to help you continue towards your degree without delays. The following information answers most of the questions that have come in from PhD students:

Health and Safety on Campus:  Over the past week the university has taken all possible measures to reduce the density on campus to assure the safety of our students and the broader Northeastern community. As of March 24, only individuals with permission to perform on-site essential research may go to the laboratory and graduate office spaces (see section below on “Status of Research”). The university continues to take extensive precautions to assure lab safety. Anyone who comes into the lab with symptoms should be sent home, and faculty, staff, or students should inform the PhD Network at the COVID-19 Question weblink.  All safety concerns are reviewed and escalated to appropriate personnel within the day.

Several health and wellbeing resources are available to you by the university, including:

  • NUSHP coverage continues for enrolled students, which will include COVID-19 health-related expenses.
  • University Health and Counseling Services remains open and as of March 17, 2020, all services have been moved to telephone consultation. Students who are feeling ill should contact their Primary Care Physician by telephone.
  • Find@Northeastern is a 24/7 Mental Health Support available to all full-time degree seeking students.
  • The Graduate Ombuds Office will be open to assist graduate students, confidentially. This includes helping students navigate conflicts or concerns in the context of the COVID-19 health crisis. For more information please visit the Graduate Ombuds Website.


Traveling: As you are aware, university-sponsored travel has been suspended. PhD students who wish to return to their home country or move closer to family within the USA may continue their PhD education activities.  Students who seek to leave the USA should notify the PhD Network about conducting research abroad.  Notification to the PhD Network will trigger the development of an education plan with your advisor and college associate dean outlining how education and research activities may be able to continue out of country.  This education plan will ensure that activities meet research compliance requirements.  The Office of Global Services will advise international students.

As described in the March 12 communication to PhD students, existing university policies continue to apply to university-related travel and access to PhD Network travel funds.  Anyone traveling on university-related business must continue to adhere to social distancing expectations. The PhD Network will reimburse PhD students for Network travel grants for nonrefundable expenses.  Any student who has incurred expenses for university-related travel who is not part of a PhD Network travel award should see their department offices.

PhD students who commute to campus should follow social distancing best-practices.  Do not commute on crowded trains or subways.  PhDs permitted on campus for critical research will have access to on-campus parking.  If you require access to the university parking garages please contact your department for accommodation.

Continuing PhD Education Academic Progress Remotely: Consistent with university announcements, PhD students will continue their education remotely using conferencing technology such as Microsoft Teams. This includes all coursework, seminars, research group meetings, peer collaborations and PhD milestones including qualifying exams, research proposals and dissertation defenses. Our goal is to help you continue your education and meet your graduation requirements – especially for those graduating this May 2020 or August 2020.  Most PhD students will be able to continue their research without daily laboratory activities, which may be able to be performed away from campus. Where possible, please reprioritize your research so that you can make progress remotely.

If your research must be done in the laboratory, please speak with your faculty advisor. If your research requires going to the laboratory and you are not comfortable, please let your advisor and me know about your concerns.  You can inform me by using the COVID-19 PhD Questions WebLink.

Status of Research on Campus: Following the March 23 communication from the Office of the Chancellor, only on-site essential research team members will be permitted on Massachusetts campuses. PhD students who are unable to conduct essential experiments off campus are also permitted to be on site.

In-person human subjects research has been suspended and PIs have been asked to revise their IRB Human Subjects plans.  If your dissertation research relies on human subjects or non-essential laboratory-based research, please work with your advisor to reprioritize your current activities so that you can continue your research remotely.  Any PhD student who believes they require access to a university laboratory must contact their faculty advisor and be approved for a “Northeastern University Travel Authorization Letter.” Beginning March 24, access to a Massachusetts Northeastern facility will require a “Travel Letter,” Northeastern ID, and the SafeZone mobile app on your cell phone. Faculty advisors have been notified about the process to issue these letters.

Preparing to do Research Remotely: Your responses to the survey sent last week provided us with important information with anticipated needs to support remote research.  These include access to facilities to reboot or restart workstations or server systems, access to specific tools, materials to continue from home, and in some cases, additional WiFi bandwidth.  We expect to have a form available for PhD students to request research accommodations in the coming days.

Continuity of PhD Student Funding: Funding and stipends will continue to be in effect as SGAs move forward with remote research and teaching functions, in accordance with their assistantship commitments.  Likewise, fellowships will continue in accordance with fellowship agreements.  The university understands that some SGAs may be unable to conduct their assigned activities remotely.  For this group, the university will be continuing stipends at least through the academic year.  The university is working to facilitate a remote research environment as necessary to accommodate the COVID-19 emergency circumstances.  Every PhD student, including those on research assistantships, is expected to engage with their faculty advisors in conversations about how to reprioritize research to minimize the need for physical laboratory presence.  Our goal is to maximize continuity within the many constraints handed to us by the government agencies and funders so that everyone can continue their research without issue.  The university is continually assessing operational needs and challenges during this crisis and changes could be made depending upon evolving circumstances.

Please use the resources available to you including Find@Northeastern and the Graduate Ombuds website, and continue to monitor the University COVID-19 website for the latest university messages. Your questions and ideas are beneficial to many; please continue to share your questions, concerns, and ideas at the COVID-19 Question weblink.  Answers to questions from PhD students are available at the PhD Network site here.

Thank you for your cooperation in the interests of the broader health and safety of our community.



Sara Wadia-Fascetti

Vice Provost for the PhD Network