Office of the Provost
Nathan Urban in his work-from-home office

Dear Graduate and Professional Students and Postdocs,

Hello from my work-from-home office—which is really a chair in my living room, with a table on one side for my coffee and moving boxes on the other side—as I begin to pack in preparation for my move this summer to become provost at Lehigh University. I picked this location for my office because it's close to my wireless router, allowing the best bandwidth for Zoom and Skype conferencing.

While I hope that most of you have adapted to the initial changes of moving to remote classes, instruction, and research, I am sure questions will arise in the weeks ahead. We will continue to provide information and answer questions via the University of Pittsburgh’s COVID-19 Response website. The Resources for Graduate and Professional Students and Postdocs during the COVID-19 Pandemic webpage covers topics like essential research, technology assistance, health insurance, and visas. Also, don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns.

In response to these uncertain days, we have created the Student Emergency Assistance Fund is a new joint venture led by the Office of the Provost, Office of Philanthropic & Alumni Engagement, Student Government Board, Graduate and Professional Student Government, and the Division of Student Affairs. This fund will be used to provide financial support for graduate and undergraduate degree-seeking Pitt students with unanticipated and insurmountable expenses related to emergency situations that may cause financial hardship.

My sense is that the rapid transition to online instruction has generally gone well, but this is a big change that can create certain challenges. This is one reason why the Provost announced that for any course using letter grades, students will be able to elect to convert these to a satisfactory/no credit grading scheme after the letter grade is assigned. Details on this policy are being worked out, but we hope that this should reduce some of the stress associated with this semester. Most research also has moved to be remote, and journal clubs, thesis committee meetings, electronic thesis and dissertation (ETD) submission, and other program milestones should all be handled remotely at this point. The Provost recently announced that summer courses will be conducted remotely, with the possibility of a few exceptions for clinical or field experiences that may become possible later in the summer.

In addition to disruptions to academic life, we have all had to change the ways that we interact and socialize. For graduate students and postdocs living alone this can create a sense of disconnection from the community. While conversations over coffee after a class or while conducting research in a lab cannot be replaced completely by virtual interactions, I would encourage all of you to use the resources that we have available for electronic communication to maintain and even forge new connections with others. Several groups on campus, including the Graduate and Professional Student Government, the University of Pittsburgh Postdoctoral Association, and a special University-wide committee, are developing ideas to help maintain social support even as we need to physically distance from each other.

To continue to provide opportunities for professional development, the Graduate Studies office will be coordinating a series of online events. The first will be about Demystifying Government Jobs and features an interview with Arianne Gallagher. This event is part of a new partnership between Pitt and the Volcker Alliance designed to inform students and postdocs about career opportunities in federal, state and local government. About one in eight jobs in this country are in government, and these jobs typically have excellent benefits and high levels of satisfaction. But to the non-expert, finding and understanding government job listings can be a challenge. Arianne, a Pitt Political Science and Law School alumna, will explain how to find career opportunities in government, including the Presidential Management Fellows Program.

Next week we will launch the celebration of Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week by offering an online Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition, which will include a People’s Choice vote. In an Improvisation for Mentoring Conversations virtual workshop, participants will be introduced to the principles of improvisation and practice using improv in everyday situations. The focus will be placed on building conversational and networking skills, in particular as they relate to initiating and cultivating mentoring relationships.

Consider exploring opportunities for mentoring, networking, and connecting with people in the Pitt community through Pitt Commons. Students and postdocs who are parents can join the Pitt Parents Yammer Group to share information and ideas with one another, including child care resources, tips for teaching at home, and managing remote work and child care. Volunteer to help provide vital services if you are able. And don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Counseling services are available online for Pitt students; Life Solutions stands by to assist any postdocs, faculty, and staff members in need.


Demystifying Government Jobs: April 2, 2020, noon to 1 p.m. 

Fulbright Information Session: April 3, 2020, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Online Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition: Submissions due April 6, 2020, 5 p.m. Voting to follow.

Improvisation for Mentoring Conversations: April 9, 2020, 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Join the movement to eradicate sexual assault and harassment. Events, sponsored by the Title IX Office within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, are aimed at raising awareness and preventing all forms of sexual misconduct.

Supporting Survivors: Messages of Support, Allyship and Survivorship: To the survivors visiting this page: we see you, we support you, and you are not alone.     

Virtual Resource Fair: A different campus or community resource will be featured each day from April 1-17, 2020. Check the online schedule for live virtual question and answer sessions.

Supporting Survivors: A Workshop for Faculty, Staff, and Graduate Students: April 6, 2020, 10 a.m. to noon

Bystander Intervention Training Just for Graduate Students: April 14, 2020, noon to 1:30 p.m.

Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct: April 15, 2020, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.


My next monthly office hour is on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., via Zoom. No appointment is necessary. I welcome the opportunity to answer questions and to discuss graduate studies and postdoctoral training at Pitt.


Nathan Urban
Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Strategic Initiatives

Graduate News, Policies and Events
Postdoc Resources