Dear Graduate and Professional Students and Graduate Faculty,
As I look back upon the past 10 weeks of the fall term, I feel pride and gratitude for all the effort, creativity and flexibility you have put into learning, teaching and research during this challenging time. Thank you for making graduate and professional studies at the University of Pittsburgh as strong and innovative as ever.
As we head into the last few weeks of the term, it is important that we stay safe and healthy, and also that we connect with each other and engage in important societal issues. As you know, November 3 is Election Day. I urge you to vote if you can and to take part in this fundamental responsibility we hold as citizens in a democracy.
We also know that the days leading up to and following the election will be stressful for many, so I urge you to focus on your well-being. At the University of Pittsburgh, a number of support resources and events are available to graduate and professional students.
Additionally, I will be holding drop-in “Election and Reflection” group conversations just for graduate and professional students from 9 to 10 a.m. EST and from 4 to 5 p.m. EST on November 4 and from noon to 1 p.m. EST on November 5. More information about how to attend these Zoom discussions can be found on the graduate student events webpage.
If you are teaching this term, please try to be flexible with assignments and attendance on Election Day since it may be hard to predict the amount of time it might take to vote at the polls. Faculty members who supervise teaching assistants and teaching fellows (TA/TFs) should talk to their instructional team about plans for Election Day and strategies for supporting students who may feel anxious and stressed.
I am pleased to share information about another support and advocacy group for graduate and professional students. The Pan-African Graduate and Professional Student Association (PANAF) has been reactivated at the University of Pittsburgh. PANAF serves all graduate and professional students at Pitt with research and/or cultural interests in Black America, the African Continent, the Caribbean, West Indies, Latin America, and the entire Diaspora. Stay tuned for more information on their meetings and events.
This term has also brought new proposed regulations from the Department of Homeland Security that would affect the “Duration of Status” for all F-1 and J-1 visa holders. The University of Pittsburgh is opposed to the proposed changes and is submitting official comments voicing its opposition and joining in a combined effort against these regulations to advocate on your behalf.
I am hearing from students, colleagues and staff about the difficulty of maintaining work-life balance during the pandemic, particularly when we do much of our work from home. Graduate faculty, advisors, and students who serve as TA/TFs might want to consider how to help each other and your students take healthy breaks from studying and other academic endeavors, such as aiming to send emails and texts only during daytime hours (not in the evenings or weekends) or setting aside a few hours a week when no meetings will take place to counteract Zoom fatigue.
Recently, the University issued a shelter-in-place recommendation for all undergraduate students during the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Break. Note that this shelter-in-place message does not affect attendance for in-person classes or academic activities. If you are a graduate or professional student who is traveling during the upcoming break, please consider following the advice of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office provided to undergraduates on Monday, October 26, 2020. We know that your situation is different, but all Pitt students should take the appropriate steps to help mitigate the virus when visiting with family, friends and loved ones. The optional testing that will be available to undergraduates will also be available to you if you are interested; the COVID-19 Medical Response Office will provide more details on this program via email and on coronavirus.pitt.edu in the following days.
Looking ahead to the spring term, please review the revised spring academic calendar and note that the University will continue operating according to the Flex@Pitt hybrid model. Teaching assistants and teaching fellows will continue to have the choice of whether to teach in person or remotely. Please talk with your program as early as possible about your plans for spring.
Students engaged in research as part of their academic appointment—including graduate student researchers, graduate student assistants, pre-doctoral fellows, and others—should review the “Guidelines for Research Trainees during COVID-19 Operations” and talk to their faculty advisor and someone in the school not involved in the research to determine the conditions under which they will be physically present on campus. As always, any concerns can be shared with your Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, School Ombudsperson, or with the Graduate Studies team via email.
I want to thank all of you for taking your responsibilities and studies seriously during a very challenging time. I hope you have a productive and smooth rest of the term.