Graduate School COVID-19 update

March 30, 2020

Dear Graduate School Community:

I hope you and those important to you continue to be healthy through this pandemic, and that those who require medical care have appropriate access. Aside from the significant disruptions to daily life and academic studies that all of us are experiencing, undoubtedly many of us will personally know someone whose health is directly affected by COVID-19. That’s true in my case, with my younger daughter in New York City. I empathize with those of you who also are trying to stay in touch with distant loved ones.

Graduate students may not have received the March 30 communication to faculty and staff from the Provost and the Executive Vice President on managing the financial impact of COVID-19. I am writing to address some of the issues raised in that communication, and other topics that may be useful to graduate students, graduate faculty, and staff supporting graduate programs.

The March 30 communication acknowledges that there are, and will continue to be for many semesters, significant financial impacts associated with COVID-19 disruptions. University leadership is implementing several steps to manage risks associated with economic uncertainty, including a hiring freeze on staff and temporary workers, a salary freeze, a travel ban, changes to summer programs, curtailment of discretionary spending, and reevaluation of capital projects. Details are in the March 30 communication.

For the Graduate School, we anticipate consequences of the actions detailed in this communication (March 30) will include the following:

  • Travel Funding: Related to the travel ban, we will strive to continue to make Graduate School funding available for our research travel grant program for graduate students after general pandemic-related travel restrictions are lifted. It is quite likely that conference travel grants will not be available until Cornell’s travel ban is lessened or lifted.
  • Summer Teaching Opportunities: Due to changes in summer programs, summer teaching opportunities for graduate students will be limited. Students who were planning to engage in summer teaching should check with the summer supervisor to learn whether online teaching opportunities will continue to be available.
  • Professional Development: Professional development programming (Pathways to Success) will continue, with modifications that include online opportunities. Future in-person opportunities once restrictions are lifted will not include food or refreshments until the curtailment of discretionary spending is loosened. We also anticipate that engagement of external speakers will be curtailed except where sponsored funds are available to cover the costs.

In addition, we ask that graduate students and graduate faculty consider, together, the following points in your ongoing discussions as appropriate to your situation:

  • Continuing Research and Scholarship: Cornell continues to operate, with all teaching online and research scholarship continuing remotely as appropriate to individual circumstances. We encourage faculty and students to discuss effective ways to remain productive remotely, including writing proposals or thesis/dissertation chapters, entering and analyzing data, conducting literature reviews, doing computational analysis or theoretical work, etc. We also encourage you to discuss any necessary pivots you might need to make in the focus of your scholarship, such as modifications in your research project direction or topic(s), so that you can continue to progress toward degree completion.
  • Student Progress Review: For research degree students and faculty advisors (special committee chairs), please use the annual Student Progress Review as an opportunity to plan activities for the coming year, and to reflect, together, on how disruptions associated with the pandemic have caused changes to planned activities this year, modifications to academic activities and anticipated progress, and strategies to continue being productive academically.
  • Funding: As noted in earlier communications (see COVID-19 statements from Graduate School March 13 and University March 15 Provost message to faculty), assistantship and fellowship funding continues, and graduate students on assistantship appointments are expected to continue to fulfill their assistantship duties. Students should work on academic, research, scholarship, and teaching responsibilities remotely, and stay in touch with faculty advisors/supervisors for guidance on how to plan activities over the coming weeks to be most productive.
  • Exams: Remote exams (Thesis-exam, A-exam, B-exam) are allowed and supported. The Graduate School will be flexible if students need some extra time to meet their academic milestones (e.g., committee formation, A-exam, etc.) due to COVID-19 disruptions. The thesis/dissertation submission deadline has been extended to Friday, May 15 for Spring ’20.
  • Please continue to look toward a brighter future while making the best that your circumstances allow in the current situation. Be understanding that everyone, graduate students, faculty, and staff, are under enormous pressures and are having to be quickly adaptive to frequently changing scenarios.

    The Graduate School continues to be available to you as questions arise. Please send your questions to

    Thanks for all you do, and be well,


    Barbara A. Knuth
    Dean of the Graduate School