Research and Academic Resiliency and Adaptation Tool Kit


Graduate students can have their research forestalled for several reasons. Examples of unforeseen circumstances may include:

  • inability to do field research due to travel advisories
  • lack of access to necessary materials, including archives or libraries
  • shutdown of laboratory environments
  • personal life circumstances
  • changes in professional and personal interests
  • supervisory issues and changes
  • need for more skill development

Helping students maintain timely research and academic progress, while considering the students personal and professional goals, is paramount. For example, one student may prefer to remain an extra year to conduct another series of experiments after a disruption; whereas, another student may prefer an adjustment to their proposed project in order to remain on their original timeline as prior to the disruption.

If a graduate student’s research has been disrupted or impacted, we recommend an individual approach using different elements of this tool kit. If an entire of cohort of students is affected, also refer to resources offered by the Vice-Provost, Academic Programs.

Graduate Faculty and Departmental Supports for Academic, Personal, and Financial Advice

Graduate students experiencing a disruption and/or otherwise impacted trajectory can often access supports and services through the Registrar’s Office or Graduate Unit, including academic and financial advising:

  • Academic Advice and Referral — help in formulating and/or adjusting your short- or long-term goals, including course selection and interpreting degree requirements, understanding university regulations, grading and exam practices, petitions, academic skills, important dates and deadlines.
  • Personal Advice and Referral — assistance with any matter that is getting in the way of your success as a student including illness, family emergency.
  • Financial Advice and Referral — help with financial planning, budgeting and overcoming financial emergencies, connecting with SGS and other central offices to provide assistance.

Initial Step

The first step is for the student and supervisor(s) to discuss the context of the disruption and/or otherwise impacted trajectory, and possible avenues forward.

The student and supervisor may also want to consult with the graduate chair/coordinator/program director and convene the supervisory committee (for PhD students) for additional input and advice.

Graduate programs have inherent flexibility in helping students meet their program learning outcomes. 


To keep the student on their original trajectory as much as possible, consider a transition of their time to other academic learning activities that advance their 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 the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication or Centre for Graduate Professional Development).

This may be a particularly relevant mitigation strategy with short-term disruptions where the students are still able to complete other work.


In consultation with the supervisory committee (as applicable), pivot the planned major project/thesis/dissertation to 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 particularly relevant mitigation strategy if the student has not started data collection and is in the early stages of the program.

Pivoting the research may also be helpful and/or necessary after supervisory changes and if the nature of the student’s personal and professional interests or circumstances change. 


In some cases, pivoting research will not be feasible or the research disruptions may be so significant that students may require additional time beyond the program length to complete program requirements. 

Creating a Research and Academic Plan

Student in collaboration with their supervisor(s) should create a research and academic plan:
— Assess the student’s skills, interests, and values relevant to their research and professional goals
— Consider transition and pivot strategies from the original research and academic plan
— If additional training, courses, workshops etc., are needed to enhance skills (e.g., statistical analytic methods, online data collection), determine how these will be obtained
— Consider whether elements of the tool kit below are needed, such as course substitutions, exemptions, or extensions
— Make a detailed timeline for achieving the student’s academic and professional goals
— Consider the implications for funding and immigration status (for international students), as well as the potential opportunity costs of any transition and pivot plans
— Identify individuals who can facilitate the plan (e.g., other students, graduate coordinator, supervisory committee member)
— Proactively think of potential problems and solutions to the problems
— Build in check-in points, and modes and frequency of communications

SGS Supports for Promoting Research and Academic Resiliency and Adaptation

In considering how to operationalize supports, students, supervisors, and graduate faculty leaders can use relevant SGS policies and forms to request flexibility to deadlines, course enrolment, and registration, as applicable. For advice about academic progress and the resources that are available across the institution, students can contact the Frontline Student Academic Services office at

  • Exemption with Substitution (PDF). The graduate unit along with SGS can approve an exemption for students from a specific course requirement, permitting the substitution of another course to meet degree requirements.

Students who are unable to make academic progress can request time away from the program: 

  • Leave of Absence. A graduate unit can approve a leave of absence for up to a year for medical, parental, or personal reasons for students. The graduate unit, along with SGS, can approve subsequent leaves of absence for up to a year at a time. With a leave of absence, the time away is not included in the time period for completion of the degree. Funding packages and scholarships must be reviewed and either paused or adjusted retroactively as students are ineligible for funding in sessions where there is no registration. With their graduate unit and SGS approval, leaves can be retroactive to when the student began experiencing challenges, which may result in a partial or full reversal of fees (in accordance with the University’s tuition refund schedule (Fall 2021 / Winter 2022) for graduate studies).
  • Stop-Out (PDF). Graduate units can approve a program temporary stop-out (PDF) for up to one year for registered full-time students in coursework-only programs that do not require continuous registration. Part-time students also can stop-out, but are not required to request approval. With a stop-out, the time away is counted towards the time period for degree completion.
  • Coursework Extensions. The graduate unit can grant a first coursework extension for up to a semester for students. A second extension requires the SGS Vice-Dean, Students’ approval.
  • Extension to Achieve Candidacy. The graduate unit can approve an extension to achieve candidacy by a maximum of 12 months for students. A second extension requires the SGS Vice-Dean, Students’ approval.
  • Program Extension. The graduate unit can grant a maximum of two one-year extensions for master’s and doctoral students when the student has not completed all the requirements for the degree within the program time limit specified in the degree regulations. The graduate unit can recommend an additional two one-year program extensions for doctoral students, and one one-year program extension for master’s students, which requires the SGS Vice-Dean, Students’ approval.

This tuition exemption is for graduate students who began their programs in or before the Winter 2020 session, who are experiencing delays to their academic progress due to COVID-19, and who are enrolled in a research-stream program or professional programs with a thesis / major research component, or a coursework-only program (including those with internships or practicum requirements). Divisions and / or graduate units will set their own policies regarding whether approval beyond one tuition exemption is allowed and how applications will be reviewed – please contact your division / graduate unit regarding their internal policies and processes. Apply through the Register with Tuition Exemption on Basis of Progress Delays due to COVID-19 form. 

The Centre for Graduate Mentorship and Supervision (CGMS) provides supervisors, students, and graduate faculty leaders support with issues within a supervisory relationship, including student academic resiliency and adaptation.

The Centre for Graduate Professional Development (CGPD) provides students with opportunities to enhance their professional development, including developing research and communication skills, and refining professional goals.

The Graduate Centre for Academic Communication (GCAC) provides students with opportunities to enhance their academic writing and speaking skills, including individual writing support and dissertation bootcamps.

SGS Supports for Financial Aid

Graduate students experiencing a disruption may need financial support. For advice regarding financial supports that are available across the institution, students can contact SGS Financial Aid and Advising Office at

  • Emergency Grants and Bursaries. Non-repayable grants to provide short-term relief for students in immediate financial distress caused by an unforeseen situation and / or unexpected expenses often preventing their ability to continue in the program. Emergency grants and bursaries are available through SGS and many Registrar’s Offices.
  • SGS Emergency Loan. Up to 4-month interest-free loans for students who are expecting university issued resources to be forthcoming that are not currently accessible. Apply through an application to SGS.

The Master’s Completion Bursary is a financial aid program that assists master’s students who have experienced a delay in their program due to unanticipated factors beyond their control, and must therefore register as a full-time student beyond the program length to complete a small or minimal amount of work in order to graduate. 

Apply through an application to SGS.

The Scholars-at Risk Fellowship is for registered or incoming students whose current or proposed program of study has been impacted by changing political environments in their country of current or future study, including changes in immigration law. This Fellowship is open to a student who is, or who have been within the last 5 years, an asylum/refugee seeker anywhere in the world (regardless of status in Canada). Fellowships will be awarded and held in addition to the program’s normal funding commitment (for those within the funded cohort).​

Applications are available annually each spring through SGS.

The SGS Parental Grant aims to provide financial support to doctoral students within the funded cohort by helping to offset the loss of funding as a result of taking an approved parental leave of absence at the time of birth or adoption in order to provide full-time care during the child’s first year or the first year the child comes into care.

Applications are made to graduate units.

SGS advisors can connect students with other offices to provide assistance:

Register Without Payment 
Full-time graduate students receiving university funding (major award, research stipend, or teaching assistantship) OSAP or through an approved external funding agency may be eligible to register without making the required minimum payment (fee deferral) through their ACORN account or by submitting a request form to their Registrar or graduate office.

SGS Financial Aid and Advising Office can also, in some circumstances, assist students navigate financial obstacles preventing their ability to continuously register. Continuing graduate students who have a financial hold placed on their account (due to arrears) or are unable to make the minimum payment to register are encouraged to contact the SGS Financial Aid and Advising Office at to discuss available options.

Information for Graduate Units

Graduate Chairs & Graduate Coordinators can consult the following webpage for additional information. (UTORid Login required).