Dean’s messages

Archive of Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates for the U of T graduate community.

Dear graduate students,

As we embark on a new year, I would like to welcome you, and welcome you back, to the University of Toronto. I hope you had a restorative winter break, as well as an opportunity to take stock of the past year and set goals for the year ahead. Throughout the course of this pandemic, with its innumerable ups and downs, I have found great comfort in returning to these rituals. Even when things are uncertain, they remind me of our collective ability to move forward in the face of unexpected challenges.

In December, I wrote to you about the University’s new safety measures in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. With the rise in COVID-19 cases and the announcement of new restrictions in Ontario, your wellbeing is our top priority.

As of January 5, the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (OVPRI) has released a list of changes – effective immediately – to research work conducted on and off campus. Please read through this announcement carefully as you make the required changes to your research. I’ve highlighted some of the mandated changes below.

  • On-campus research: Until Monday, January 31, all research work that can be conducted remotely must be done remotely. For those who are required to be on-site in a research space (e.g. in a lab), at least 2-metre physical distancing is in effect. If you are conducting on-campus research, please ensure you are following any guidance provided by your academic division or department. For graduate students, the decision to conduct research activities on-site or remotely is ideally a joint decision with your supervisor, but ultimately the decision to be on-site rests with the student.
  • Human participant research: Given the increased risk of community transmission, face-to-face (F2F, in-person) research involving human participants (for research that was approved by the University’s Research Ethics Board), should be paused from now until Monday, January 31, 2022. Please refer to the announcement on the OVPRI website for a list of exceptions. You should also take a look at the Review of Face-To-Face (F2F) Human Participant and Off-Campus Research page for information on protocol amendments and new approvals for F2F research.
  • Off-campus research: If you wish to conduct research at an off-campus site or conduct on-site field research (e.g. Koffler Scientific Reserve, Hart House Farm, Gull Lake) that does not involve any face-to-face (F2F) research components, please review the University’s Guidance on Research and Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Off-Campus Safety Planning Record. For graduate students, the decision to conduct research activities at sites off-campus is ideally a joint decision with your supervisor, but ultimately the decision rests with the student.
  • International travel: In line with the federal government’s travel advisory, all university-sanctioned activities outside of Canada have been cancelled as of December 15, 2021, until further notice.If you are a PhD student looking to conduct thesis-related research outside of Canada, please defer your travel if you can. Otherwise, please contact safety.abroad@utoronto.ca to discuss your options.
  • Essential campus visits: If you must come to campus, please remember to complete your UCheck screening beforehand and follow the directions if you receive a red status screen.

The University will continue to update the OVPRI website with the latest research guidelines and requirements as the situation evolves. I encourage you to check back regularly for updates and also to be in regular and frequent contact with your supervisor. And please don’t hesitate to use the mental health supports listed below. You are not alone, and we will make every effort to make sure you have what you need, when you need it.

My colleagues and I recognize that many of you have experienced significant delays and changes to your research trajectory due to the pandemic. We want to help. When you receive the monthly Gradschool e-news tomorrow, please take a few minutes to fill out the survey we have included about ongoing COVID-19-related research delays. We want to understand the nature of those delays and re-evaluate how we can best support you in making progress.

Thank you all for everything you have done and continue to do to keep each other safe. This new year has brought with it some further challenges, but it is also an opportunity to reset and look ahead. I hope you find joy and purpose in your work, your community, and your personal growth. Make time to mark and celebrate every achievement, no matter how small.

I wish you all the best for a fulfilling semester.

Sincerely,

Joshua Barker, PhD
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

Supports for you
GradHub
My SSP (support available 24/7/365)
Good2Talk Student Helpline
Student Mental Health Resource Website (new)
Navi
St. George, Health and Wellness Centre
UTSC, Health and Wellness Centre
UTM, Health & Counselling Centre

Dear Graduate Community,

On December 15th, the University leadership announced new measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant of concern. These measures will result in a sharp reduction in on-campus activity—effective today and continuing through January—in order to keep our community safe. I strongly advise you to read that memo, if you have not done so already. In this message, I highlight how these changes will impact the graduate community.  

Graduate Classes and In-Class Exams

As of today, Fall term graduate in-person exams will not be proceeding. Instructors or programs will be reaching out to confirm arrangements in affected courses.

Winter term graduate and undergraduate classes are expected to start as scheduled in January; however, a vast majority of these will be delivered online until January 31, 2022. A small number of graduate courses may continue to require in-person meetings, placements, or practica, so please watch for updates from your instructor or program administrator on a particular course.

Departmental Examinations

Departmental graduate examinations (e.g. qualifying exams, comprehensive exams, thesis proposal defenses, etc.) will be solely online until January 31, 2022.

Final Oral Examinations for Doctoral Students

Final oral examinations for doctoral students that are scheduled to take place prior to January 31, 2022, and which were approved to be in an in-person or hybrid format, will now be transitioned back to an online format. SGS will continue to schedule in-person and hybrid final oral examinations for dates starting January 31, 2022. For any questions, please contact: sgs.doctoral@utoronto.ca.

Placements, Internships and Other Experiential Program Elements

Please refer to your graduate program for further information regarding placements, internships, and other experiential program components for the month of January.

Graduate Research on Campus

Our on-campus laboratories continue to operate but those who can work remotely should do so until January 31, 2022. For graduate students, the decision to conduct research activities in-person or remotely is ideally a joint decision with your supervisor, but ultimately the decision to be in-person rests with the student. It is imperative that we continue to use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow all public health guidance.

All in-person research with participants who are from vulnerable populations must stop now until January 31, 2022. Vulnerable populations include for example, the unvaccinated, undervaccinated (e.g. have not had two COVID-19 vaccines), immune compromised, long term care residents and Indigenous communities.  Questions about whether your population is vulnerable should be directed to: f2f.research@utoronto.ca. All virtual research may continue. Any research that can be moved virtually, should be moved now to those alternative methods.

For all other in-person research that is not with vulnerable populations and which cannot be moved virtually or paused, emergency stop and contact tracing plans must be reviewed and researchers should continue to monitor local public health guidance and travel advisories.

All researchers should monitor the OVPRI website for updates as the situation evolves.

Working Remotely – Teaching Assistants and Employee Postdoctoral Fellows

With the latest provincial announcement, all employees, including Teaching Assistants and Postdoctoral Fellows, should work remotely until Monday, January 31, 2022, with the exception of those who must work on campus, such as employees who provide in-person student support, or who are needed for specific in-person research activities.

If you are a teaching assistant, please reach out to your course instructor for further information. If you are a postdoctoral fellow, please reach out to your supervisor/principal investigator.

If you have not already done so, please ensure you have uploaded your proof of vaccination to Ucheck; this is required for all employees, even those working remotely.

Students and International Travel

Given that the federal government has issued a global travel advisory advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada, as of December 15, 2021, all university sanctioned activities outside of Canada are cancelled for U of T students, until further notice.

If you are a PhD student looking to conduct thesis related research outside of Canada – if you can defer your travel, please do so at this time; otherwise, please contact safetyabroad@utoronto.ca to discuss your options.

If you are considering personal travel over the winter break, please be aware that restrictions around travel including requirements for return to Canada may change without any notice. There is the possibility that you will have difficulty returning to Canada including significant delays and being required to quarantine when able to return.

For additional information please refer to the frequently asked questions by students on the VP Students COVID-19 FAQ page.

SGS Student Services

SGS operations will continue with minor modifications in how we deliver our services. We will now only offer virtual and phone appointments in lieu of in-person appointments, until January 31, 2022.

We understand this period may particularly be stressful for graduate students who will be joining the University of Toronto for the first time in January. We look forward to welcoming you and answering your questions. We hope you will attend our Virtual Winter Orientation.

I will be in contact again as the University continues to monitor the latest announcements from the provincial and federal governments. In the meantime, I hope you can make the time to rest and connect with your loved ones safely. It has been a challenging year, and you deserve a break.

Please remember that help is available if you need it. We have put in place health and mental health supports for members of our community. If you need to talk, do not hesitate to reach out (see resource list below).

Sincerely,

Joshua Barker, PhD
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

Supports for graduate students: 
SGS Grad Hub 
My SSP (support available 24/7/365) 
Good2Talk Student Helpline 
Student Mental Health Resource Website 
Navi 
St. George, Health and Wellness Centre 
UTSC, Health and Wellness Centre 
UTM, Health & Counselling Centre

Dear Graduate Students,

I hope this message finds you well and that you are now deeply engaged in your academic work for the Fall term. Much of the SGS team has been fully back on campus for several weeks now, and it is energizing to see in-person activity resuming. The pandemic continues, and with it the precautions, but I am hearing from student leaders that there is a good deal of eagerness to be on campus. This is certainly not universal, and we are by no means returning to a pre-pandemic state of affairs. But it feels to me that we are emerging from an emergency mindset and discovering ways to get on with things as much as circumstances allow.  

As we do so, I ask two things of you: patience and understanding. We need your patience because the resumption of some activities is going to take time. The pandemic has strained our systems and our staff, and any changes we make need to be thoroughly examined and done with care, for all of our safety. We also need your understanding because not all members of our community are on the same page right now. This is understandable, as the impacts of the pandemic—in academic, socio-economic, as well as physical and mental health terms—have been so uneven. We must continue to recognize this unevenness and, as a community, work to be flexible so that all members feel supported through what remains a very uncertain time.   Across the University, there are a number of changes underway that are relevant to graduate students, so I am listing them below to make sure you are aware of them. For those of you who are new to the University, I also include information about supports that are available to graduate students at the end of this message; I encourage you to make use of them.  

Vaccination Policies  

You are now aware that the university requires proof of full vaccination for all students, faculty, staff, and others who plan to be on campus. Thank you to all of you who have taken steps to upload your proof of vaccination on UCheck. SGS has also prepared a set of FAQs on vaccine validation for those working in hospitals or other third-party sites. Please make sure you are compliant with all the vaccine policies that pertain to you and your work. If you have questions about your compliance, please get in touch with ovps@utoronto.ca.  

Occupancy in Research Laboratories on Campus
 
As of October 15, divisions have been given the jurisdiction to open academic research labs at full capacity and without 2m distancing, as long as all other public health guidelines are being followed. Divisional leaders will make decisions about lab capacity, considering local contexts and safety provisions, including general building operations to mitigate congestion, line-ups, etc.  

If divisions allow for a re-opening, supervisors will then decide when their own lab re-opens. We have encouraged graduate faculty leaders and supervisors in your units to be sensitive to the variety of perspectives and responses from graduate students and post-doctoral fellows regarding these decisions. We have also recommended clear and continuous communication between supervisor(s) and graduate students, and a consultative approach in determining when/how to increase levels of activity in labs. That means there will be some variation in how different research labs, departments, and campuses approach this process. If you have any concerns about returning to the lab, we encourage you to speak with your supervisor.  

Conducting Research On-Campus or Off-Campus

For those who have been working remotely: the decision to return to in-person activities is ideally a joint decision with your supervisor, but ultimately the decision to re-enter in-person research rests with the student. To support your return to in-person University research activities either at a university research site or at an off-campus research site, we have created this form [PDF] that all new graduate students can submit to their supervisor/Principal Investigator. Your access to these research sites is conditional upon your compliance with public health guidelines and local policies.  

On-Campus Graduate Student Study Spaces  

As more graduate students return to our campuses in person, I know that it is important that there be space on campus for you to study, work, or eat in-between classes. The University has recently published the following news item, listing some spaces that are available to you. We are also advising departments and divisions that have not yet done so to make available as much graduate student space as they can while continuing to conform with public health guidelines.  

Off-Campus International Research Travel

University activities at international sites remain suspended until the end of the calendar year for graduate students. If you are a PhD student or Research Master’s student who needs to travel internationally for degree completion, you may request an exception by contacting the Safety Abroad Office (safety.abroad@utoronto.ca).  

Mentoring Meetings during the COVID-19 Pandemic  

In some units, this is the time for annual mentoring meetings. Even if it is not, it is important to keep a line of communication open with your supervisor. If you are experiencing delays due to the pandemic, keep them informed of this. Guidance on topics to address in these meetings can be found in the SGS Supervision Guidelines.  

Financial Supports  

If you are experiencing immediate financial hardship, remember that you can apply for an SGS Emergency Loan or SGS Emergency Grant. Information about additional university financial aid supports and provincial and federal government programs are available through the Funding Opportunity Directory. Students are also encouraged to check their unit websites for possible additional resources.  

Graduate students who meet the eligibility criteria may, with approval of their graduate units, register with a tuition fee exemption for up to one academic session. Many of you have applied for and received such an exemption – details of the program continue to be available on the SGS website.  

To assist with PhD completion, SGS has increased the budget for the Dissertation Completion Awards by 20% over the past two years. Dissertation Completion Awards are funded by SGS and administered by departments and divisions; please contact your graduate unit for all application procedures and details.  

Please also be aware of longstanding SGS financial supports, including the SGS parental grant, the summer gym bursary, the conference grant, and the travel grant.  

Looking Ahead  

The School of Graduate Studies continues to be open for virtual and in-person services at 63 St. George St. Don’t hesitate to get in touch and draw on these resources and services. You can find an archive of my updates on the SGS Looking Ahead page.  

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at sgs.dean@utoronto.ca.

Sincerely,  

Joshua Barker, PhD
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and  
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research & Education  

Supports for graduate students:  
SGS Grad Hub  
My SSP (support available 24/7/365)  
Good2Talk Student Helpline  
Student Mental Health Resource Website  
Navi  
St. George, Health and Wellness Centre  
UTSC, Health and Wellness Centre  
UTM, Health & Counselling Centre

Dear graduate students,

Welcome, and welcome back, to the School of Graduate Studies.

Over the summer, the University of Toronto has worked hard to prepare for a safe and gradual return to campus life. While this is exciting news, I know the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic will continue to cause many in our graduate community to feel some degree of trepidation as the term gets underway.  

With the university requiring proof of vaccination for all students, faculty, staff, and others who plan to be on campus, you may have questions about vaccines, quarantines, and remote learning. To help you prepare, SGS has put together a set of FAQs on vaccine validation, including specific guidelines for students who will be working in hospitals. I also recommend taking a look at the UTogether website as well as the latest COVID-19 updates from the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students for tips on preparing for your arrival on campus.

The second thing to remember is to check in with your graduate unit. Even as the university moves toward in-person instruction, each faculty or academic division will be determining for itself the steps and pace of that process. As you move forward with your planning for the semester, please be sure to check with your faculty for the latest updates regarding in-person and remote learning.

Incoming students
I’m very pleased that those of you beginning your graduate journey this fall can look forward to getting to know your community in person. On-campus life may not resume in full swing right away, but I hope you will get a sense of the community and camaraderie that make graduate education so rewarding. And with some restrictions having been lifted in Ontario, I’m hopeful that you will be able to explore – with a few modifications and precautions – the vast array of attractions the city has to offer.

To ensure everyone’s comfort and safety, we’ve designed SGS’s Fall 2021 virtual orientation as a course on Quercus, U of T’s online teaching and learning environment. On the SGS Virtual Orientation Site you’ll find both live and pre-recorded events about programs and services for graduate students. I also want to remind you that the SGS official online welcome event for incoming students will take place on September 9, from 10 am to 12 pm (ET), so please mark your calendars! Tune in on MS Live Events at that time to hear from me, Vice-Dean Charmaine Williams, our keynote speaker, and our graduate-student panelists. I look forward to seeing you there.

Returning students
If you are returning to the university after the ups and downs of the past year and a half, the coming semester will be a time of re-orientation. There are new methods and guidelines for conducting research, new opportunities (and challenges) related to professional development, and new rhythms to create for your time and work. To help jumpstart your semester, we’ve put together some FAQs on resuming research, with a number of tips and suggestions for connecting with your supervisor. And SGS’s Looking Ahead page contains a wealth of information on student supports, COVID-19 updates, and much more. (New students can also find important information here.)

However you’re feeling, please know that all of us at the School of Graduate Studies as well as our incredible librarians and student services staff are here to support you any way we can. From mental health supports to sports medicine to spiritual practice, we have a comprehensive list of wellness resources for you on the SGS GradHub. And as always, we’ll do our best to give you the flexibility and support you need to make this a fulfilling fall semester.

Finally, it’s important to remember that we haven’t put this pandemic behind us. We will need to stay adaptable as the semester unfolds, and the university will continue to keep a close eye on public health guidelines. The safety of students, staff, and faculty members continues to be U of T’s top priority.

I wish you a happy and rewarding fall semester.

Sincerely, 

Joshua 

Joshua Barker, PhD
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

Dear Graduate Students,

On April 16, 2021, the provincial government announced additional measures related to the Stay-at-Home order that has been in place since the declaration of the provincial State of Emergency on April 8. The University has carefully reviewed the new Regulations pertaining to these measures, and there are no new impacts on our research activities. However, with rising COVID-19 case counts and the growing prevalence of variants of concern, this is a good moment for all of us to review and reinforce the measures we have in place.

Working Remotely vs. On-Site

Our shared objective is to limit the spread of COVID-19. To do this and to comply with the Provincial public health measures, the University requires all those whose activities can be performed from their homes to do so until further notice. We encourage graduate students to please carefully reconsider whether they must be on-site to conduct any of their research activities during this period of enhanced public health measures. If it is essential to come to campus, please continue to follow the Provincial and University guidelines. Anyone coming to campus should complete UCheck, stay two meters apart, and wear a mask and a face shield or googles if necessary. Those experiencing symptoms should inform their supervisor or graduate coordinator/chair, stay at home, get tested and seek medical attention if necessary.

As a reminder, in cases where on-site research has been approved to continue, graduate students engaged in research towards their degree completion retain the right to decide whether or not to attend the research site. Coercion or intimidation of students to attend on-site research activities will not be tolerated. Graduate students who feel uncomfortable coming into the lab or other research site for any reason should discuss their concerns with their supervisor, graduate coordinator or departmental chair. They may also contact SGS directly at sgs.vdeanstudents@utoronto.ca

As indicated by the Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, those who need to come to campus for research and are given divisional permission to do so may be given specific times when they are allowed on campus so that numbers are limited to the same cohort. They are also expected to return home upon completion of their research task or activity (e.g., come to the lab to run an experiment and then return home to continue with other aspects of the research that can be performed remotely). For those working in U of T affiliated hospitals, including their Research Institutes, hospital regulations and directions apply.

Be Flexible and Stay Connected

In our graduate student Pulse survey about COVID-19, students across disciplines said that flexibility—in expectations, program requirements, and when and where they can work—was fundamental to making academic progress during the pandemic. With that in mind, I encourage everyone to be flexible and to do their best to accommodate any unique needs and challenges. For example, with schools closed it is important for supervisors to be mindful of family obligations of their students and be flexible in scheduling. Supervisors and students are also encouraged to remain connected, especially if working remotely.  

Vaccinations

The priority groups for vaccination are not determined by the University, but rather by the Province and continue to evolve. When you are eligible for vaccination, please consider rolling up your sleeve and getting your first shot.  Vaccination provides an extra layer of protection, but all public health precautions should continue to be followed as you may still become infected and can be contagious.  The University will continue to follow the guidance of the province when it comes to health and safety requirements, and will provide updated information about vaccines on the UTogether website when it receives it. 

Library Services

U of T Libraries have updated their services in keeping with the Stay-at-Home order. Please visit the U of T Libraries website for more information. 

Mentoring Meetings

As you engage in mentoring meetings and annual check-ins, be sure to address ongoing and emerging issues due to COVID-19, including:  

  • disrupted access to research environments or resources; 
  • success or problems associated with pivoting research in response to COVID-19 barriers; 
  • increased stress/workload affecting academic progress.

Graduate Student Supports

As the pandemic continues, I wish to draw your attention to the supports available to graduate students and the guidelines for graduate students engaged in research towards degree completion.

Resources for student mental health and wellbeing are available on the SGS GradHub or through Navi. Supports include:

My SSP (support available 24/7/365) 
Good2Talk Student Helpline 
Student Mental Health Resource Website
St. George, Health and Wellness Centre 
UTSC, Health and Wellness Centre 
UTM, Health & Counselling Centre 

University of Toronto: UTogether
SGS COVID-19 Looking Ahead

Thank you for all your continuing efforts to support one another through these challenging times. If you have any comments or concerns, please feel free to contact me at sgs.dean@utoronto.ca.

Joshua Barker
Dean, School of Graduate Studies &
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

Dear graduate students,

Happy New Year! Welcome back and for some of you, welcome to the University of Toronto. As the pandemic continues, I find it is important to mark these transitions, personally and collectively. I hope you have found ways of ushering in the new year that is meaningful to you. In reflecting on 2020, I am reminded of last spring’s hardship, the tremendous stress and loss faced by many in our community, and for some, the unexpected pleasures of the new normal. With the new year, I feel hope, with a vaccine on the horizon, and tired, as the pandemic persists and COVID-19 numbers continue rising. Overwhelmingly, the good deeds and significant work undertaken by U of T students, faculty, and staff over the past ten months continues to inspire me; I am grateful to be part of such an action-oriented and caring community.

Directly hearing from you shapes my understanding of your experiences and contributes to SGS’ ongoing approach to supporting graduate students. I invite you to join me for Dean’s virtual coffee chats this semester to share your views and concerns. Click here to register.  

Please note these upcoming SGS dates:

  • The registration deadline for all graduate students is January 25. The deadline for students to defer fees on ACORN is also January 25.
  • The refund schedule for Winter registration and S section courses is posted on the Student Accounts website.
  • The deadline to cancel course enrolment on ACORN is March 1.

These dates are published in the Sessional Dates schedule and the SGS Calendar, however please check with your graduate unit to confirm if they have set their own deadlines for students to enroll and waitlist for courses on ACORN.

As the pandemic continues, I wish to remind you of the supports available to graduate students and encourage you to reach out any time you need assistance. Wherever this message finds you, the new year presents an opportunity to reset and look ahead. I wish you strength and perseverance for the upcoming semester and the year ahead.

Best wishes,

Joshua

Joshua Barker, PhD
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research & Education

Supports for you
My SSP (support available 24/7/365)
Good2Talk Student Helpline
Student Mental Health Resource Website (new)
Navi
St. George, Health and Wellness Centre
UTSC, Health and Wellness Centre
UTM, Health & Counselling Centre
 

COVID-19 information

For all the latest information related to the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please take time to review the following pages that may apply to you:

University of Toronto

SGS links

Date issued: December 7, 2020

Dear U of T graduate community,

As we enter the final month of this challenging year, I am writing to follow-up on the President’s November 20 email regarding your Winter 2021 term. The University will be closed from December 23 until January 4, as planned. For graduate and professional programs, the start date for winter term classes will vary. In some programs, the start date will shift to Monday, January 11. However, in other programs it will be necessary to keep to the original schedule and resume classes on Monday, January 4 – this is to ensure that students in these programs can complete their courses in a timely manner as planned. As start and end dates are decided and implemented at the graduate unit level, please visit the UTogether page or contact your graduate administrator/chair for more details.

Please note that certain key SGS dates have been changed to reflect the new schedule:

  • The registration deadline for all graduate students will shift from January 18 to January 25. The deadline for students to defer fees on ACORN will also be extended by a week, to January 25.
  • The refund schedule for Winter registration and S section courses has been extended by one week; the revised schedule will be posted on the Student Accounts website.
  • The deadline to cancel course enrolment on ACORN will be extended by one week, from February 22 to March 1, 2021.

These dates are published in the Sessional Dates schedule and the SGS Calendar, however graduate units that are starting classes later than January 4 will set their own deadlines for students to enroll and waitlist for courses on ACORN. Please check with your graduate unit accordingly.

I am aware that with the two-week closure and the additional week of reduced activity on campus, some in our community may feel disconnected. In the month ahead, and especially during the winter break, please take the time to focus on your wellbeing. I encourage you to explore these U of T digital spaces and resources:

  • SGS GradHub, a tool designed to help you shape and make the most of your graduate experience.
  • The interactive Winter Break Programs Calendar and webpage contains a range of fun, restorative and supportive virtual programs and resources (both live and asynchronous) to help you wind down, meet and mingle, or get ready for the next semester.
  • There are links to campus health and mental health supports at the bottom of this email and many more virtual activities offered in Toronto and around the world that may provide additional comfort and solace – or you can start your own virtual traditions using the Digital Connections Toolkit.

The entire U of T community has worked tirelessly this year to adjust to the new reality and I know how much we will all appreciate this opportunity to pause, rest, and reflect. We are living through an extraordinarily challenging time and it takes a toll on us in a lot of different ways. Wherever you are in the world, and whether you start back the week of January 4 or 11, I wish you the best during your break.

Reminder of supports

Over the past eight months of the pandemic, we have learned that the impacts of COVID-19 are uneven and evolving. Some students—either because of the nature or stage of your research or because of your personal circumstances—are more profoundly affected by this pandemic than others. Further, research has indicated that women, racialized, and Indigenous groups are negatively impacted in disproportionate ways by the pandemic. As a result, we take an individual and flexible approach to graduate research continuity planning. As the pandemic continues, we wish to remind you of the supports available to graduate students.

Research

For those of you involved in research, I also want to draw your attention to some important information related to the most recent lockdown posted by the Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation (OVPRI) on their website, including:

As always, if you have questions about the impact of public health measures or the university closure on your research activities, please be in touch with your supervisor for guidance.

The SGS team continues to help students virtually, so don’t hesitate to get in touch and draw on these resources and services. If you have any further questions or items to address, I encourage you to email me directly by responding to this email or to contact the University via the COVID-19 contact page. You can find an archive of my updates on the SGS Looking Ahead page. I also encourage you to complete the SGS Graduate Student Pulse Survey before December 10 – you will receive a reminder later today. The information you provide is vital in helping us to design and improve SGS programs and offerings in the year ahead.

I wish you the best as you complete your term. Please don’t forget about the many services, supports, and tools available to you to manage this difficult time. I appreciate your hard work and persistence during this ever-changing situation and the many ways you continue to come together and support each other across the U of T community.

Sincerely,

Joshua

Joshua Barker, PhD
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research & Education

Supports for you:
My SSP (support available 24/7/365)
Good2Talk Student Helpline
Student Mental Health Resource Website (new)
Navi
St. George, Health and Wellness Centre
UTSC, Health and Wellness Centre
UTM, Health & Counselling Centre
 

COVID-19 information:
For all the latest information related to the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please take time to review the following pages that may apply to you:

University of Toronto

SGS links


News & memos

Date issued: September 17, 2020

Dear graduate student community,

Welcome, and welcome back, to the School of Graduate Studies. For many of us, life as we know it has gone in a completely new direction as the world continues to deal with COVID-19. That might mean that you are reading this in another city, province, or country. You could be experiencing challenges adapting to this new reality. Or for some of you, this might be easier! Wherever this message finds you, I want to thank you for your patience, your resilience, and your understanding as we begin the year in the “new normal” that will mark the 2020-2021 academic year.

To kick off the year, I’m excited to share the new SGS GradHub—our new virtual gateway to U of T’s resources, supports, campus offerings, communities, and more through a graduate student lens. I encourage you to take some time to explore it in the coming weeks and consider the many ways you can get involved in the year ahead—from course unions, clubs, athletics, arts and culture, professional development, mentoring, volunteering, and more. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, there are countless ways—and funds—to create it.

I want to emphasize the power and necessity of social relationships through this time. You will likely develop strong connections in your home graduate unit, but remember that if you wish to expand your network, there are so many possibilities and opportunities in our 20,000+ strong graduate student community. Although our usual in-person welcome events are not taking place, the SGS Virtual Orientation Site—available to all graduate students on Quercus—contains key information, links, and videos, and it also holds information on where to go to find your communities.

Your health—which includes your mental health—is essential. Learn about the many mental health resources and supports available at the university and in the community. Write them down, bookmark them, reference them on the Student Life app, and return to them as needed. We are Canada’s largest university, but one thing that connects all of us who work, teach, supervise, mentor, and research here is how much we care and commit to your safety, health, comfort, and success. Although we are a large institution, we have proven over the past six months that we can be adaptive and agile. We understand that the impacts of this pandemic are unequal, and we have designed responses that are flexible and inclusive. When we reach out to you for your input, for example, in student surveys, we take your responses seriously and use them to make real improvements in our services and offerings.

What we offer students and how—from the design of our student mental health supports to the establishment of new bursaries and scholarships to support Black and Indigenous students, to the curriculum of our graduate student professionalization offerings—all of these are the result of what current and former students have told us about what they need to make their graduate experience as excellent as it can be. So, when you get that email or Quercus alert asking you for your input, I encourage you to participate and use your voice to improve the graduate experience for yourself, your peers, and future students.

We are living through a time of heightened awareness about the uncertainty of our collective future. We don’t know what will come for our campus or our society, but what I am seeing is a tremendous spirit of caring for one another combined with a great capacity to adapt. As Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, I am committed to co-creating the conditions for you and your colleagues to continue to thrive. You are the next generation of scholars, leaders, scientists, teachers, and professionals. You are advancing your fields and pushing our society forward to be more courageous, inclusive, and just. I encourage you to keep bringing your resilience, intelligence, and grit to all you do. The world needs your bold visions for the future.

And even when it doesn’t feel like it, you are not alone. We are together in this.

Best wishes in the year ahead,

Joshua Barker
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

Date issued: May 15, 2020

Dear graduate student community,  

It’s been close to eight weeks since the School of Graduate Studies paused its campus-based activities and started to work remotely. It feels like a lifetime.  

In that time, many things have happened. Some of you have moved or travelled home. You’ve set up home offices in kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, or wherever you’re reading this. You became at-home teachers and caregivers to loved ones of all ages. You’ve turned in final papers and completed your exams. You’ve adjusted your research plans. You’ve done things you never thought you’d do, like baking sourdough, starting an at-home fitness routine, or meditating. And if you’re anything like me, you started all those things with the best of intentions but have found that making these changes has not been easy.

Remarkably, over this time, more than 140 of your graduate classmates have virtually defended their theses. Close to 4,000 of you will have completed your course requirements and are set to virtually convocate  June 2. Amalia Gil of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, won U of T’s 3 Minute Thesis competition with her compelling presentation on identifying distractions in surgery with eye-tracking. Indeed, I’ve heard countless other ways people and departments across U of T are experimenting, organizing, innovating, supporting others, and rising in these unprecedented times. 

While we celebrate these achievements, we also recognize that it hasn’t been easy to have our lives upended. The sense of uncertainty that we all feel right now has taken a significant toll. Within our community, some are at the front lines of the health emergency, either because they have lost loved ones or fallen sick themselves, or because they’re braving the risks of exposure in hospitals and other sites of essential services at a time when personal protective equipment is still not always available. It’s important that we keep these people in mind.  

Away from the front lines, some are much more profoundly affected than others. And since this is a cascading event, with the health emergency giving rise to an economic crisis and a reordering of social relations, the impacts extend well beyond the immediate risks posed by the virus. Pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities have been amplified and new dimensions of vulnerability and inequality have been layered upon them.  

To appreciate this unevenness, one need only think of the very different realities currently faced by various members of the graduate student community. Many can work from home and are eligible for government supports. Others aren’t eligible for government supports, have lost outside jobs, and find themselves experiencing significant financial hardships. And those with caregiver responsibilities or accessibility challenges may be finding it particularly challenging to work from home and advance their academic work. Letters I have received in recent weeks from both students and faculty alike have all drawn attention to the need to keep these distinctions in mind as we chart our path forward. 

Addressing these challenges in a fair and sustainable way requires creativity and flexibility on all our parts. In collaboration with our student advisory bodies, graduate councils, working groups, and others from the U of T community, we’ve been developing principles, processes, and supports to allow those most affected by COVID-19 to obtain a range of accommodations. Our approach prioritizes the health, wellness and safety of students; recognizes the diversity in the student body and in learning opportunities; seeks to minimize the financial impact of disruptions on students while facilitating their academic progress; and recognizes that the impacts of COVID-19 on students are both uneven and evolving, so won’t be fully known for some time.  

Here are some resources we have put in place to support graduate students in both the research and professional streams:

  • Continued SGS and Faculty-level supports to students experiencing financial need related to COVID-19 (e.g. SGS Emergency Grants and Loans).  
  • Increases to both the duration and amount of the SGS parental grant (retroactive to the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year). 
  • Adjustments to the SGS Summer Gym Bursary to cover summer gym purchases to access online programs being developed by athletic facilities on campus.
  • Virtual programs & services through the Graduate Professional Skills Program, Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, Grad Life and the Division of Student Life.
  • New resources on remote mentoring and supervision
  • Updates on relevant funding information, such as the new Funding Opportunity Directory that provides resources to access University financial aid supports as well as provincial and federal government programs. 

In addition to these general resources, let me describe how we have been addressing some of the particular needs of professional students, research-stream students, and students with personal circumstances that are affecting their academic progress during COVID-19 (caregiving responsibilities, illness, disability, etc.).  

Students in professional programs

Since professional students generally move through their programs as a cohort and many such cohorts move in ‘lockstep’, the impacts of COVID-19 have often required program-level responses that could be available to all students at particular points in their program. For example, in those professional programs where placements or performances simply could not take place, adjustments have been made to ensure students are still able to meet their program requirements in a timely way. Where this means extending studies beyond the program length, arrangements have been made to ensure students don’t have to pay additional tuition. (Students in those professional programs with major research components and who experience disruptions may benefit from reading the section below).

Students in research-stream programs

The experiences of our research-stream students and those professional students who are engaged in research are harder to characterize in general terms. There are many who, due to the stage of their program or the nature of their research, are continuing to make meaningful academic progress. This could be because their course work, research, or writing can readily be done remotely; or it could be because they have found ways to re-order the sequencing of their planned program of work, or to pivot it in a way that allows the disruption to be managed. For many, these adjustments will carry them through to the end of their program, which is great.

But I have heard from a good number of students who say that although they can remain productive for the time being, they are worried about what will happen if they reach a point when they have exhausted all their alternatives and can’t progress anymore. What then?    

More distressing still are reports of students who are already hitting that wall: a lab-based student who has lost years of usable data with the temporary closure of a lab’s work; a student who had recently embarked on an extended international field research project only to have it cut short, before meaningful progress could be made; a student whose research partnership with industry was abruptly halted, leaving them in the lurch. Students in these circumstances may be able to pause their work or pivot to a related project, but they will be wondering what this might mean for their time to degree, their funding, and their obligations vis-a-vis tuition and fees.

These examples illustrate why the institutional response to these challenges needs to take an individual approach. It should start with a conversation between a student and their supervisor/supervisory committee, and be ongoing, recognizing that a student who is currently able to adapt to the conditions of the pandemic may eventually be unable to progress, depending on how things evolve. (Or more optimistically: how a student who has just hit a wall in their research may find out in retrospect that it was a surmountable one!) This approach will allow the institutional response to be proportionate to the problems each student is facing.

SGS asks that a student and their supervisor/supervisory committee take a staged approach to addressing any potential research interruption.

  • First, assess and document the interruption (SGS has already distributed a COVID-19 mentoring record to assist with this, so please check it out) and take steps to transition to other academic activities where progress can be made.
  • Once this approach has reached the limits of its usefulness, consider pivoting the research by revising the research questions, the methods of data collection, or analyses, as some examples. A number of Faculties are making plans to offer new COVID-19 research pivot funding to assist with additional costs associated with this. Some may have this funding in place as soon as July.
  • Finally, should it become necessary, request registration with a tuition fee exemption. A student who was making good progress with their dissertation, but whose data collection or access to necessary sources/materials has been significantly impeded, who has completed all feasible alternative academic activities, and who ends up requiring additional time beyond the program length will have tuition fees waived (non-tuition ancillary and incidental fees will still be charged). Students may also be able to pair this support with new or existing funding available through their department or Faculty. This might include, for example, a Doctoral Completion Award, RAships/TAships/GRAships, PI stipendiary support, emergency grants, and/or new COVID-19 research completion funding that some Faculties are putting in place.

Students with personal circumstances affecting academic progress

We are keenly aware that COVID-19 has had multiple impacts on students’ personal lives. Some students are attempting to maintain academic progress while also serving on the frontlines of the healthcare system, caring for dependent family members, or managing illness or disability that may be caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. The economic disruption has created financial crises for many. In addition, the directive to stay at home has altered the conditions under which students are attempting to complete their academic work, often with negative consequences for their productivity.

These personal circumstances, like research disruption, may require interventions like transitioning, pivoting or extending time to complete degree requirements. Students should be aware that personal circumstances can be the basis for exercising options like taking a personal leave, altering the order of academic activities, or seeking extensions for coursework or completing milestone academic tasks. Students in such situations also may be eligible for COVID-19 student bursaries or grants offered by Faculties or by SGS.

Please also know that we will continue to evaluate our approaches in all these areas and to adapt them to the changing circumstances as they unfold.

Looking ahead

As talk turns to relaxing social distancing measures, and the possible resumption of some in-person research and learning activities that had been paused, we have heard concerns from students about what this will mean for them. SGS, with direct student input, and in collaboration with the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, has already started work on establishing clear principles and protocols for the return to labs, in-person and field research that prioritize student safety and consider the needs of students to progress through their programs. SGS is also collaborating with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Academic Programs, to ensure planning for courses in the Fall takes account of graduate students’ multiple roles as students, researchers, and TAs. We will do all we can to make sure these upcoming transitions are as smooth and transparent as possible for everyone, and respect student interests.

As the pandemic continues to impact your life and shape our world, I invite you to explore the SGS COVID-19 page and the links below. Please don’t hesitate to email us to let us know how you’re doing and how we can continue to support you on this journey. 

With tremendous care and support,  

Joshua Barker 
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and  
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education 

Key Links and Contacts

Date issued: April 13, 2020

Dear Graduate Students & Supervisors,

We understand that research-stream graduate students and their supervisors may have concerns about how the COVID-19 epidemic is impacting graduate research and how this will in turn affect students’ academic progress through their programs. Already, most U of T labs have paused their work, research involving direct contact with participants has been paused (or methodologies changed), libraries have closed their physical locations, and research travel has been curtailed. In addition, students and faculty with caregiving responsibilities have had to adapt to school/daycare closures and other challenges. While we do not know how long this situation will last, it is prudent to be planning for the likelihood that social distancing measures and travel restrictions, in one form or another, will be part of our research landscape for some time yet.

As such, the School of Graduate Studies asks that supervisors/advisors and their research-stream Master’s and Ph.D. students plan to have an online mentoring meeting to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the student’s research plans and academic progress. Strategies to mitigate this impact, if needed, should be discussed and recorded. For doctoral students, this mentoring meeting may be part of the Annual Progress Report meeting; or it may be a special meeting. Click here for the online COVID-19 Mentoring Meeting Record Form or visit the Supervision Guidelines page for a supplemental Word version of the form to document the results of this meeting. When completed, please return it to your Graduate Coordinator, no later than May 15, 2020.  

For the graduate student and their supervisor, this mentoring meeting is not only an important check-in, but in light of this disruption, it will also help to ensure that students and supervisors have an opportunity to discuss any concerns that have emerged due to these unanticipated events. Collectively, the information gathered through this exercise will inform ongoing planning by departments, divisions and institutional leaders aimed at supporting students’ academic progress in these challenging times. To address the needs of students whose research has been seriously impacted by COVID-19, we are considering employing a range of tools, such as: program extensions, tuition waivers, research pivot bursaries, and research completion bursaries. Students in the funded cohort need to know that the commitments outlined in their annual funding letters, including research stipendiary payments, continue to remain in effect.

Since this pandemic is still unfolding, we expect the full impacts on much graduate research will only become known with time. For continuing students, we are therefore planning now for a follow-up mentoring meeting in October.

Sincerely,

Joshua Barker
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

Date issued: March 17, 2020

Dear Graduate Students,

We understand that some graduate students are faced with difficult decisions regarding whether to leave University of Toronto campuses, and/or the city, and return home, given the increasing challenges with travel arrangements and advice around social distancing. While each student has a unique set of circumstances and will have to evaluate their own situation, the University is taking steps to ensure most graduate activity can continue to take place without having to be present on campus. Here is an update on where things currently stand:

Graduate Courses

As of March 16 and continuing until at least April 3, all graduate courses across U of T’s three campuses are being delivered through alternative means (which may include existing online platforms). Students are receiving details about courses and revised session dates from their graduate program directly. Please contact your program with any questions.

Departmental Examinations

Most departmental examinations (e.g. qualifying, comprehensive, and/or general examinations) can take place without physical presence. More information will follow from your graduate program regarding arrangements for the completion of departmental examinations in your program.

Placements, Internships and Other Program Requirements

Please refer to your graduate program for further information.

Final Oral Examinations for Doctoral Students

For doctoral students with scheduled final oral examinations, SGS will make accommodations to allow these examinations to proceed as scheduled without physical presence. Alternatively, we will offer the option of postponement.

Graduate Research

We understand that this is a highly stressful time for many of you and we remain committed to providing you with highly engaged academic support. The University is advising that all lab-based research operations must be shut down no later than 5 PM, Friday March 20, 2020, other than critical COVID-19 research and time-sensitive critical projects. Other research settings, including many off-campus sites, are also shutting down. Please stay informed of the status of activities in your own research setting. In many cases, plans for future research may also need to be changed and contingency plans developed. Consult with your research supervisor about your planning. Please also consult the website of the Office of Vice-President Research and Innovation which will be updated daily.

Students in International Locations

The University is monitoring developments involving COVID-19, including the Canadian government’s latest advisory that it is time to return to your home country. If you are a graduate student undertaking university activity outside of Canada and are registered with U of T Safety Abroad, you will have received a message from Safety Abroad recently. Safety Abroad has heard from many of you. If you have not yet responded, please do so.

Please note that the Government of Canada has announced that non-Canadians and non-Permanent Residents of Canada will not be able to enter Canada on flights scheduled to arrive after 12:00 p.m., March 18, 2020. Safety Abroad is supporting travel adjustments and students who have already responded to the recent message do not need to resend. Safety Abroad will reach out to you if you have completed the form for a flight. If you have booked your own flight, please send Safety Abroad a copy of your ticket and let them know when you have safely landed. You may be able to apply for emergency bursary support to assist with additional travel costs. If you are registered with U of T Safety Abroad and have not received an email, please check your @mail.utoronto.ca email inbox and respond as soon as possible.

If you are currently outside Canada on university activity and have not registered with U of T Safety Abroad, please contact safety.abroad@utoronto.ca immediately. If you are returning or have just returned to Canada, please follow public health guidance for 14-days of self-isolation.

Libraries and Graduate Spaces

Selected libraries remain open, with limited hours, limited services, social distancing measures, and with access restricted to U of T users. For up to date information, please refer to the University of Toronto Libraries COVID-19 webpage. All University buildings will be closed as of 11:59 p.m., March 17, 2020 to the general public, members of the University community will need key or fob access to enter the buildings or present University identification to campus security. We advise all students to practice social distancing in line with the advice given by Public Health authorities. Please consider carefully how this advice applies to your own circumstances and adjust your routines accordingly.

Graduate Funding and TAships

Funded graduate students, including those on stipends, will continue to receive their funding packages as stated in their funding letters. Current TA contracts may need to be adjusted to reflect the fact that undergraduate courses are no longer in-person, but the overall number of hours allocated in the contracts will not be reduced.

Emergency Funds

If you are experiencing immediate financial hardship, you can apply for an SGS emergency loan or emergency grant. We are usually able to pay out emergency loans within 24-hours and emergency grants within one week.

SGS Student Services

SGS operations continue with modifications in how we deliver our services. We are now offering virtual and phone appointments in lieu of in-person appointments. Full updates are available here.

Your Safety and Community Safety

The University’s response is guided by the need to ensure the health of our community and, as much as possible, the continuity of our graduate activities. If you feel compelled by anyone to do something that, under the circumstances, feels unsafe, please contact your graduate Chair immediately to seek resolution. You may also contact the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies directly at sgs.dean@utoronto.ca.

Accessibility

Graduate students registered with Accessibility Services should continue to contact Accessibility Services to receive accommodations and supports.

Monitoring COVID-19 Updates

We will update this SGS page regularly with important updates for U of T’s graduate community. Check the University of Toronto’s coronavirus updates and frequently asked questions pages for updates relevant to the whole U of T community, including links to travel advisories and public health guidance on self-isolation. It is also important to stay up to date with the advice provided by your department/Faculty. We know this situation brings a whole new level of stress for everyone – and some will feel this harder than others. Please know that if you are struggling, there are excellent resources you can use. The University has a list of helpful Quick Links to health resources.

Sincerely,

Joshua Barker
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education