COVID-19 considerations

Creating campuses that are equitable and inclusive requires a closer look at the underlying policies in consultation with members and students from different communities. A policy provides the framework for program design and determines how services are delivered. Embedding principles of equity in all policies and planning processes is a crucial step toward targeting discrimination and violence, promoting social inclusion, and enhancing access to resources.

Increased flexibility

Increased FlexibilityResearch activities are significantly affected by the mandated physical-distancing directives. This includes the inability to perform laboratory and fieldwork (including in-person research data collection via interviews), limited access to resources (such as library, full access to online software/platforms off-campus), and connecting with international networks due to the travel restrictions. Furthermore, during this time, graduate students have restricted access to supervisors and committees, both of which are essential for the continuation and completion of their studies. To adapt to this new online and travel-reduced environment, supervisors may need to provide more coaching and/or facilitate peer-to-peer information sharing and troubleshooting. Moreover, many graduate students are active carers for dependents or have now become the key source of childcare in their households. They may no longer have the time or uninterrupted space available in the coming months to dedicate to their academic work. These new realities will most likely require a lengthening of project timelines. Things graduate students may need are flexibility on degree timelines, funding and emergency financial support, and additional help navigating an uncertain job market.

Address inequity challenges

Address inequity challengesWhile there has always been variability among students due to a number of factors, this current crisis will undoubtedly cause even more disparities. Moreover, not all graduate students and early career scholars will be equally disrupted by coronavirus. Instead, those who are already most vulnerable will become doubly disadvantaged. With the switch to online teaching, graduate students whose funding depends on teaching will be spending more time working and less time researching. Graduate students living in poverty, who do not have access to high-speed internet or a quiet workplace, will also be particularly hard hit. Hiring committees, supervisory committees and institutional units administering scholarships and awards should encourage applicants to explain their unique situations in cover letters and interviews as appropriate. Any explicable gap in productivity should be considered, since it does not reflect the applicants’ true ability to meet and/or exceed expectations, when not working in the midst of a global health crisis.

Hybrid course delivery

Puzzle PiecesWhile it can be very difficult for campuses to predict how the 2020-21 academic year might proceed during the pandemic, many institutions are choosing a hybrid model for graduate-level courses. In some cases, this could mean synchronous online courses, coupled with in-person attendance for smaller class sizes (such as less than 15 students). In other cases, courses are delivered in-person and online simultaneously, giving students the flexibility to choose whether they will attend in person. This may be particularly important for international students whose only options may be to take online classes due to border closures, visa issues and travel restrictions. Graduate programs tend to be small and involve critical discussions. In a new hybrid reality, supervisors will need to consider how they replicate these discussions that promote critical thinking and decision-making in virtual environments, and across cultures and time zones. Graduate students taking online courses may also have to take online proctored examinations, which can be another source of considerable stress. Instructors should consider implementing alternate forms of evaluation such as take-home examinations and assignments.

Increased formal and informal supports

Hands TogetherDuring these challenging times, students will need continued access to counselling and academic supports. Many institutions have successfully made the transition to providing e-mental health supports for students. See the references below corresponding to the following citations for some examples of e-mental health policies and procedures.[1] uploads/2019/04/TISCGuidelines_Mar2019_EN.pdf[2] recommendations-for-social-workers-and-social-service-workers/[3] Other forms of support, such as thesis-writing groups, peer support groups, fitness and nutrition counselling could also be helpful. In the absence of in-person graduate student events, like socials and pub nights, consider organizing webinars, virtual events and chatting platforms for students to remain engaged with their community.

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