Research Recovery and Adaptation for Graduate Students

General approach to research recovery and adaptation


Research continuity planning for students in research-stream and select professional programs begins with meeting with your supervisor and/or your supervisory committee. An individual and flexible approach to graduate research continuity planning will be needed given that impacts of COVID-19 on students are both uneven and evolving. Some students—either because of the nature or stage of their research or because of their personal circumstances—will be more profoundly affected by this pandemic than others.

You should have received a COVID-19 Mentoring Form that encourages a dialogue between you and your supervisor about potential research disruption as well as potential mitigating strategies for research continuity. If you haven’t received this form, please contact your graduate coordinator.  As the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on students’ research may not be seen for some time yet, documenting disruptions now may help to inform future planning to mitigate any disruptions and address degree completion.

If your research has been affected by COVID-19 restrictions, we recommend an individual and staged approach. The diagram below provides a visual representation.

Transition


Consider transitioning your time and attention to other academic learning activities that advance your progress towards degree completion and overall professional preparation (e.g., writing literature reviews, methodology, or discussion sections of thesis/dissertation; preparation of a publication; coursework; engaging in professional development activities such as GCAC and GPS offerings). This option means waiting until you can carry out your planned data collection, so speak with your supervisor, about how long you should wait before shifting to the next option.

Pivot


Another option to consider, (in consultation with your supervisor and/or supervisory committee), is pivoting the planned thesis/dissertation so you can make academic progress. Pivoting may take the form of revising aspects of a research question or objectives, the methodological approach or methods, or analyses. This may be a relevant mitigation strategy if you haven’t started data collection, or if you’re in the early stages of the program.

Extend


In some cases, pivoting research won’t be possible or the research disruptions are so significant that you may require additional time beyond the program length to complete your program requirements.

Students who:

  • were making good progress with their research before the pandemic, but whose data collection or access to necessary sources and materials has been significantly impeded due to COVID-19 related disruptions,
  • have completed all feasible alternative academic activities,
  • now need additional time beyond the program length,

may apply for additional time with tuition fees waived (non-tuition ancillary and incidental fees will still be charged). Click here for more information.

Students in research-stream programs


In addition to the FAQs below, please see the SGS Research Engagement/Re-Engagement Guidelines.

Consider transitioning your time and attention to other academic learning activities that advance your progress towards degree completion and overall professional preparation (e.g., writing literature reviews, methodology or discussion sections of thesis/dissertation; preparing a publication; coursework; engaging in professional development activities such as GCAC and GPS offerings).

This option means waiting until you can carry out your planned data collection, so speak with your supervisor about how long you should wait before shifting to the next option. (e.g., are there alternative modes of collecting data/information considering COVID-19 related restrictions?).

Depending on the nature of the research and how far along you are in the degree program, there are several options to consider:

  1. Transition your time and attention to other academic learning activities that advance your progress towards degree completion and overall professional preparation (e.g., writing literature reviews, methodology or discussion sections of thesis/dissertation; preparing a publication; coursework; engaging in professional development activities such as GCAC and GPS offerings).

This option means waiting until you can carry out your planned data collection, so speak with your supervisor about how long you should wait before shifting to the next option.

  1. Pivot your planned thesis/dissertation (in consultation with your supervisor and/or supervisory committee) so you can make academic progress. Pivoting may take the form of revising aspects of a research question or objectives, the methodological approach or methods, or analyses. This may be a relevant strategy if you haven’t started data collection or if you’re in the early stages of the program.
  2. Depending on where you were in your research when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, you may want to speak with your supervisory committee about whether you have sufficient data to complete the thesis/dissertation or whether you could undertake alternative tasks to complete (e.g., additional analyses of data)?
  3. The interruption to your thesis/dissertation might be so substantial that you won’t be able to finish your degree within the identified program length. Students who were making progress with their thesis/dissertation before the pandemic, but whose data collection or access to necessary sources/materials have been significantly impeded due to COVID-19, who have completed all feasible alternative academic activities, and who need time beyond the program length, may apply for registration with a tuition waiver. Please see below for more information about applying for additional time beyond program length.

With the support of your supervisory committee, consider pivoting your research plans (e.g., revising aspects of a research question or objectives, methodological approach, methods, data collection procedures), and/or data used for the thesis/dissertation.

For some students, pivoting research may enable them to complete the degree within the program length but others will need more time. Students who were making good progress with their research before the pandemic, but whose data collection or access to necessary sources and materials has been significantly impeded due to COVID-19, who have completed all feasible alternative academic activities, and who end up requiring additional time beyond the program length, may be permitted to register with a tuition fee exemption for up to one academic session. This duration may be re-assessed if needed. Non-tuition ancillary and incidental fees will still be charged.

Students who were making good progress with their research before the pandemic, but whose data collection or access to necessary sources and materials has been significantly impeded due to COVID-19, who have completed all feasible alternative academic activities, and who end up requiring additional time beyond the program length may apply to be exempt from tuition for up to one academic session. This duration may be re-assessed as the situation evolves. Students will still be charged the usual non-tuition ancillary, incidental and system access fees that are associated with the registration session. Click here for more information.

Graduate students who demonstrate that their academic progress was significantly impeded due to COVID-19 related disruptions will have the option to register with a tuition exemption for up to one academic session. This duration may be re-assessed as the situation evolves. Students will still be charged the usual non-tuition ancillary, incidental and system access fees that are associated with the registration session.

If it is apparent that additional time will be needed, you may apply for additional registration with a tuition exemption. If it becomes apparent further along in your program that the COVID-19 related disruptions will necessitate additional time, you may apply for additional registration with a tuition exemption at a later date. It would be helpful to document any disruptions now and record your progress until the end of your program. One way to start documenting these developments is to complete the COVID-19 Mentoring Form.

The criteria for approving registration with a tuition fee exemption are as follows:

  1. Students were making good progress with their thesis/dissertation prior to COVID-19 and data collection or access to necessary sources has been significantly impeded due to pandemic-related impacts (e.g., labs closed, fieldwork cancelled, access to materials, archives or library sources has been impeded, personal circumstances).
  2. Additional work is needed before the thesis/dissertation can be defended (e.g., insufficient data or material).
  3. All feasible alternative academic activities (e.g., writing sections of dissertation or publications, coursework, professional development) have been completed.
  4. The revised research plan will require additional time.
  5. The student will be outside the funded cohort and will receive little or no other funding towards tuition charged in the session for which they are applying for an exemption.
  6. Supervisory committee agrees that conditions (1) through (4) have been met.
  7. Departmental/SGS approval.

A number of faculties are offering new COVID-19 research pivot funding to help with additional costs associated with pivoting. You may be eligible if your research or other learning activities are no longer available (e.g., data collection or access to other necessary information has been significantly impeded due to COVID-19 and/or data have been lost; there are insufficient data to defend a thesis/dissertation; and, all feasible alternative academic activities have been completed).

COVID-19 research pivot funding helps students re-direct research impacted by COVID-19 in ways that enable them to resume research activities. These funds are to be used to assist with additional costs incurred as a result of pivoting the research. While there is agreement in principle to make pivot funds available to eligible students, faculties are currently planning for the development of criteria and processes for the allocation of this funding. Please connect with your home faculty for more information about pivot and completion funds.

Yes, a notation has been placed on student transcripts stating the following:

“In the 2019-20 academic year, the University of Toronto was affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Instructional methods were modified and some students were graded on the University’s approved credit/no credit scale for courses completed in Winter 2020. For more information, see: https://www.transcripts.utoronto.ca/transcriptguide/.“

Students in professional programs


In addition to the FAQs below, please see the SGS Research Engagement/Re-Engagement Guidelines.

In most cases, faculties have made adjustments to ensure students are still able to meet their program requirements in a timely way. Please contact your program coordinator or chair to learn more.

Transition

Consider transitioning your time and attention to other academic learning activities that advance your progress towards degree completion and overall professional preparation (e.g., writing literature reviews, methodology or discussion sections of thesis/dissertation; preparing a publication; coursework; engaging in professional development activities such as as GCAC and GPS offerings). This option means waiting until you can carry out your planned data collection, so speak with your supervisor about how long you should wait before shifting to the next option.

Pivot

Another option to consider (in consultation with your supervisor and/or supervisory committee) is pivoting the planned thesis/dissertation so you can make academic progress. Pivoting may take the form of revising aspects of a research question or objectives, the methodological approach or methods, or analyses. This may be a relevant strategy if you haven’t started data collection or if you’re in the early stages of the program.

Extend

In some cases, pivoting research won’t be possible or the research disruptions are so significant that you require additional time to complete program requirements.

Students who:

  • were making good progress with their research before the pandemic, but whose data collection or access to necessary sources/materials has been significantly impeded
  • have completed all feasible alternative academic activities
  • now need additional time beyond the program length

may apply for additional time with tuition fees waived (non-tuition ancillary and incidental fees will still be charged).

Students conducting research in hospitals


In addition to the FAQs below, please see the SGS Research Engagement/Re-Engagement Guidelines.

For research hosted at third party sites (e.g., community organization, Indigenous community, private sector partner, or affiliated hospital), these host institutions will decide on readiness to open. Graduate students will need to follow any additional restrictions set out by the host organization.

If you are a member of a research group led by a faculty member and intend to return to the research site, you are required to complete the COVID-19 Graduate Students/Non-Employee Postdoctoral Fellows Acknowledgement: Conducting Research On-Campus or at Off-Campus Research SiteWhen completed, please submit it to your supervisor/principal investigator.

If you are not a member of a research group but conduct research individually under the supervision of a faculty member, you will need to complete the COVID-19 Graduate Students/Non-Employee Postdoctoral Fellows Acknowledgement: Conducting Research On-Campus or at Off-Campus Research SiteWhen completed, please submit it to your supervisor/principal investigator.

Graduate students with employment relationships with hospitals will continue to follow policies, procedures and protocols of their hospital employer. For more information on guidance for hospitals to ramp-up research, please refer to ‘TAHSN Hospital-Based Academic Recovery Strategy & Guidelines’.

Work together with your faculty supervisor to develop a mutually agreeable plan that allows for you to start or return gradually to on-campus or off-campus research as circumstances and your ability to return permit. If you and your supervisor cannot reach a mutually agreeable plan, please connect with your graduate chair or coordinator for assistance. If additional assistance is needed, please contact sgs.vdeanstudents@utoronto.ca.

For graduate students conducting research at an affiliated hospital site and/or with an employment relationship with the hospital, please consult with policies, procedures and protocols of the hospital.

To address safety and public health directives, each department and research institute may sequence the opening of buildings and laboratories/studios or off-campus research. In addition, faculty mentors/PIs may sequence the start or restart of projects within their research programs. The principles of equity and inclusion, the requirement for physical distancing, consideration for restart capacity, graduate student research completion, and the nature of research collaborations and funding, may necessitate the need to prioritize certain research types, groups or locations during the initial gradual phased return to work.

Each of these decisions should recognize that every graduate student has an individual need to make degree progress, and that such degree progress is potentially impacted by the sequencing of the restart. Further, each of these decisions will also be impacted by individual student’s personal circumstances. Departments, research institutes and faculty mentors should clearly communicate restart plans, so that graduate students can determine how to allocate their time between remote and on-campus or off-campus research activities during the research engagement/re-engagement. It is important to recognize that these new plans may look quite different than what had been expected previously.

At this time, any research that involves face-to-face in-person contact will not restart on- or off-campus (although there may be rare exceptions which will require specific prior approval, a process available through your supervisor). Virtual or remote (e.g., surveys) research with human participants is encouraged where appropriate. For hospital-based research, it will be up to the hospital’s policies, procedures and protocols. Additional institutional directives, based on government directives, will be developed to inform such research. For more information on REB review involving human participants, please visit the REB’s webpage.

PhD students planning to travel abroad for dissertation research during this time should contact safety.abroad@utoronto.ca. Given the current situation, there are significant travel restrictions and it will be difficult for you to make travel arrangements. We encourage you to postpone or shift your travel to a later date if you’re able to do so. If your work abroad can be carried out safely and in consideration of government advisories regarding travel, you may be able to proceed. Safety Abroad will work with you, your supervisor, and your academic unit to minimize disruption to your research.

Graduate students engaged in hospital-based research should consult with the policies of the hospital on international travel, including quarantine requirements for hospitals once they return from any potential travel.

The University is planning to open some research facilities slowly and gradually. During this time, other buildings on campus remain closed. As soon as we are able to confirm that other on-campus activities can resume (in the current context these will still be with restrictions), we will prioritize students who need access to on-campus material and space to progress in their research. All work that can be done remotely must continue to be done remotely. If a visit to campus is permitted, complete this work as efficiently as possible and then continue to work from home.

Due to the ongoing restrictions on the use of space, supervisors may need to gradually permit research team members to return and to implement the use of shifts in order to adhere to physical distancing requirements. As supervisors have a responsibility to mitigate risk, your supervisor may encourage you to work from home if your physical presence in the research space is not needed for your academic progress.

If you have a pre-existing or new health issue that increases susceptibility to COVID-19 and/or increases the severity of COVID-19 related symptoms, you should continue to work from home. If you need academic accommodation, please consult with Accessibility Services.

If someone you live with that has a pre-existing or new health issue that increases susceptibility to COVID-19 and/or increases the severity of COVID-19 related symptoms, you should continue to work from home. If you need academic consideration, please consult with your supervisor or graduate chair.

In some circumstances, if you are engaged in hospital-based research, you may have to liaise with the hospital’s Occupation Health Department/ Human Resources/Supervisor for any accommodations.

There are a number of possible options you may discuss with your supervisor to address this situation, for example: working remotely; pivoting your research plans; or travelling to campus in off-hours when transit is less busy. As the local conditions change, please discuss with your supervisor.

If you have caregiving responsibilities that make a return to the research site impossible, please discuss the possibility of working remotely with your supervisor. Pivoting your research plans to enable ongoing remote work may also be an option to discuss with your supervisor. If, after discussion with your supervisor, it is concluded that neither working remotely nor pivoting your research plans is feasible, a leave may be considered at an appropriate time. Please be assured that the decision to take a leave in this case remains the prerogative of the student.

The first step is to try to reach a mutually satisfactory research plan with your supervisor but if these attempts have been unsuccessful, the next step is to contact your graduate coordinator/chair. If a resolution has not been reached at this level, please contact SGS at sgs.vdeanstudents@utoronto.ca.

It is important that you notify others of your concerns to protect the health and safety of all involved. Please talk with your supervisor/PI first, and if it is not resolved, please contact ehs.office@utoronto.ca.

If you are engaged in hospital-based research, please contact the Occupation Health department at the hospital, and in addition, we also recommend that you get in touch with graduate coordinators and chairs if you have concerns.

The first resource is within your department or Faculty through graduate chairs or coordinators or a designated ombudsperson within the department or program. Outside of the department or program, the School of Graduate Studies is an important resource.

Everyone should stay home, not work, and self-isolate if they have flu-like symptoms.

If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g. fever, cough, difficulty breathing etc.), please follow this Ontario Ministry of Health self-assessment tool.

A number of dedicated assessment centres have been established across the Greater Toronto Region to facilitate assessment and testing. Information on locations is available on local public health websites including Toronto and Peel Region.

If you are advised by a public health authority that you have tested positive for COVID-19, please contact ehs.occhealth@utoronto.ca immediately. If you are engaged in hospital-based research, please also contact the hospital’s Occupation Health department in addition to the above indicated contacts.

If you test positive for COVID-19please notify U of T’s Occupational Health Nurse immediately by email at ehs.occhealth@utoronto. If you are engaged in hospital-based research, please also contact the hospital’s Occupation Health department.