March 23, 2020

Dear Penn Arts & Sciences Graduate Students,

As Penn resumes operations today—in this challenging and unprecedented moment—I want to share a few thoughts with you and to emphasize Penn’s commitment to supporting you through these difficult times.

In the best of times, graduate education is demanding and taxing.  I know that this crisis has increased the stresses you are facing and I want to assure you that I—along with your advisors, faculty and staff—will do everything possible to help you navigate these uncharted waters.  None of us has faced a situation like this before, so we are encountering these challenges alongside you. We must work together to find new ways to create intellectual life and community, and we are committed to that task.

After our extended spring break, those of you completing coursework will return to graduate courses taught remotely by faculty who have spent the last two weeks working diligently to find ways to deliver high caliber instruction through new means.  Those of you serving as teaching assistants are also learning how to engage students remotely, and if you have not done so already, please use the resources that CTL has created: https://www.ctl.upenn.edu/resources-and-strategies-teaching-remotely. Most importantly, please know that we are all learning how to do this as we go, so be in touch with your faculty advisors, ask questions, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Some of you are studying for exams, and I urge you to contact your advisors for strategies to make this easier at a distance and to connect with others in your graduate group to find mutual support.  Those of you who are in the middle of intensive research face distinct challenges—humanists cannot access archives and libraries; social scientists cannot engage in fieldwork, and natural scientists are barred from their labs and have had their research interrupted.  We know that disruptions to research have unsettled your academic paths. Your advisors, graduate chairs, and faculty stand ready to help you.  As always, I am available to you, as is the entire staff of the Graduate Division. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at: grad-dean@sas.upenn.edu.

Please continue to meet with your advisors and committees remotely; this is more important than ever.  During the spring 2020 semester, dissertation defenses will also be scheduled and presented via remote conferencing, and we have instituted new policies for dissertation deposits.  For details, please see: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/graduate-division/dissertation-defense-deposit-instructions-spring-2020.

Above all, please take care of yourselves and support one another. Stay connected with each other even while “social distancing.” Get enough sleep and exercise, and enjoy some Netflix from time to time.  Remember that even if you are not on campus, you can still rely on Penn’s wellness resources.  Onsite phone and video conference services are currently available through CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Support Services).

Finally, I want to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of the entire Penn community; faculty, staff, and students have responded to these unprecedented circumstances with caring and concern.  I know that you, as graduate students, will face daunting challenges in the coming months in your multiple roles as students, teaching assistants, and researchers.  My office will be here to help in any way we can.

In these difficult times, we remain more committed than ever to helping you become the next generation of scholars and teachers, and we want to support you in any way possible.  Please stay well and be kind to yourselves and one another.

Best,

Beth S. Wenger
Associate Dean of Graduate Studies
Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of History
University of Pennsylvania