Graduate School COVID-19 update: Academic calendar changes and more

March 23, 2020

Dear Graduate School Community,

I am writing with updates and additional information. This is a difficult time for everyone. Many of us are worried and uncertain about what might come next. We are all trying to adjust our lives and set up remote workstations while we safeguard our health and the well-being of those around us. We appreciate the patience, flexibility, and resilience that graduate students, faculty, staff, and graduate fields are exhibiting.

We know that working remotely is complicated, and involves navigating daily with those sharing our work-from-home situation, whether that includes roommates, partners, children, parents, other relatives, or friends. Everyone is under a great deal of stress and operating under conditions of uncertainty and rapid change. Please take care of yourself and stay (virtually) connected with those from whom you draw support.

The situation continues to be dynamic. Changes in the last several days include postponement of Cornell’s Commencement, extension of the academic year, and additional campus access restrictions based on NY Governor Cuomo’s recent order that non-essential New York state businesses must move to all-remote work. Below is a recap of recent updates and frequent questions.

Academic Calendar

Due to the pause in classes as the university moves to remote instruction, the academic calendar (for the Ithaca campus, including undergraduate and graduate programs; some professional degree programs and Cornell Tech have program-specific calendars) has changed to the following:

  • First day of online instruction: Monday, April 6
  • Last day of drop/grade change: Tuesday, April 21
  • Last day of online instruction: Tuesday, May 12
  • Exam period: May 16-May 23

Assistantships and Stipends

Graduate assistantship and fellowship stipends will be maintained, as communicated by the Provost on March 15, and by the Graduate School on March 13. The salaries and stipends of staff, students, and postdocs will continue on grants or other sources as usual. (See COVID-19 Update: Conduct of Research from 3/15/20 and the FAQs from the Research Division for more information.) Work on your academic, research, scholarship, and teaching responsibilities remotely, and stay in touch with your faculty advisor/supervisor to gain their guidance on how to plan your activities over the coming weeks to be most productive.

Faculty supervisors and graduate students should remember that University Policy 1.3 is still in effect, with the hours/week limits on assistantship duties as required in that policy. (See Additional Guidance for Faculty from 3/13/20.) Cornell’s Research Division emphasizes: “It is important to remember that under no circumstances should graduate students or postdocs be required to go into the laboratory or perform any essential research tasks against their will. Students with concerns should contact their Director of Graduate Studies, Department Chair, or the Dean of the Graduate School.”

To take care of your physical health, follow Cornell Health advice. Please let your supervisor know if you become ill and need to have time to get well, including if you are directed by a primary care physician, health department, or other health professional to self-quarantine or isolate, and you are temporarily not able to conduct activities associated with your academic progress, or to conduct duties associated with your assistantship.

Graduate students are not required to use vacation time available to them under University Policy 1.3 to cover time away because of illness. Graduate students on fellowships and assistantships who experience illness and need time to get well, including if you are directed by a health professional to self-quarantine or isolate because of pandemic-related issues, will continue to receive their assistantships. This includes assistantships funded by sponsored awards.

The approval process normally required by University Policy 1.3 (p.14) is not required when a graduate student has been directed to quarantine or isolate by an authorized health professional. Take the time you need to recover and be well, and to continue to practice social distancing (or isolation/quarantine) from others.

Recent Communications and FAQs

With national, state, and local restrictions changing frequently, the university is working hard to keep students updated. Policies have evolved considerably over the past week. I encourage you to review Cornell statements and news, especially the messages for faculty, graduate students, and for teaching and learning. All COVID-19 university statements are posted.

The Graduate School resource page includes links to virtual wellness opportunities, public health information, Cornell COVID-19 websites, tips on working remotely, and much more. These are updated frequently.

Getting Support

Graduate School staff are available with extended hours to help students in different time zones and on varying schedules navigate rapidly changing requirements. All offices, including our administrative and deans offices, are available by phone or email. Several offices have extended their hours, including Student Services, Student Life, and Inclusion and Student Engagement to meet varying graduate student needs and living locations. See Updated Graduate School Hours for more complete information.

Cornell Health remains open, but is deferring non-urgent visits and expanding their telehealth capabilities. Please visit their website for up-to-date information about making appointments, picking up prescriptions, and talking with or seeing health care professionals.

Moving Forward

As we acclimate to remote workspaces, staying connected (virtually) to your faculty, colleagues, and peers, as well as friends, neighbors, and family will become increasingly important. We are all in this together.

Reach out and share a virtual lunch, schedule meetings, and check-in with the people in your life. Video call and conferencing over Facetime, Zoom, and with other technologies can help you feel more connected and help you keep motived and on task with your academic progress. Already, some students have set up virtual writing groups, virtual lab meetings, and virtual journal clubs. See these suggested virtual engagement tools.

The Graduate School is collecting your ideas for staying connected and being productive. I invite you to share ideas for establishing community and being productive while working remotely. We’ll collect these and post to our website and in our weekly Announcements. Submit your ideas here.

I thank our graduate community - staff, faculty, and students - for working together and rising to meet these difficult challenges. If you have questions, please contact us at

Best wishes, and stay well!


Barbara Knuth, Dean of the Graduate School

COVID-19 Update: Conduct of Research (March 15)