July 17, 2020


The SAS Graduate Division realizes that the fall 2020 semester presents a number of complex challenges and questions for graduate students, whether they will be taking classes remotely or serving as teaching assistants. We want to provide general guidance to our continuing and incoming graduate students, with three important caveats:

  • 1. Students must consult with Graduate Chairs directly because procedures and policies differ greatly from one Graduate Group to another.
     
  • 2. This guidance is being issued on July 17, 2020, and we know that conditions, policies, and regulations can change quickly.
     
  • 3. For international students, the best source of information is always Penn’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). Please visit the website.
     
  • If you have not yet done so, please read the University’s Fall 2020 Semester Plans.
     
  • Please contact your Graduate Group Chair directly with questions about taking courses, about assignments as teaching assistants, and for information about deferrals and/or leaves of absence. Each Graduate Group has made plans for graduate instruction and TA assignments. If you need assistance in contacting your Graduate Chair, please e-mail: graddean@sas.upenn.edu.
     
  • The majority of graduate courses will be conducted online, with some in-person exceptions and limited laboratory access with required approval. For more information on research resumption and to request approval, see: https://research.upenn.edu/resources/resumption/
     
  • In most graduate programs, students will not be required to be in residence in Fall 2020.(International students should see the additional information provided below.)
     
  • No graduate students will be required to participate or serve as a TA in a course or class session in person this fall semester if they are uncomfortable doing so or unable to do so due to health,  safety,  or family considerations.
     
  • The SAS Graduate Division has been enormously concerned about the impact of the pandemic on degree completion. In the wake of COVID-19, the School implemented a program of emergency graduate funding extensions for students in their final year of doctoral study in 2019–2020.  That program provided more than 100 additional semesters of full tuition, stipend, and health insurance for graduate students completing their degrees.
     
  • We remain acutely aware that continuing graduate students have faced serious obstacles and delays in their research and educational programs. Working together with Graduate Groups, we will continue to support graduate students who require additional time to complete their degrees.
     
  • The SAS Graduate Division, in consultation with faculty and graduate students, has created specific guidelines for graduate teaching and mentorship for the 2020–21 academic year. These include detailed inventories for teaching assistants. (Pennkey login required): https://canvas.upenn.edu  
     

    International Students
     

  • As a result of the advocacy by students and universities across the country, including Penn, the U.S. Government has agreed to revoke the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance issued on July 6th and July 7th, 2020. This maintains the status quo from March 2020, which allows students to "engage in distance-learning, either from within the U.S. or outside the country, in light of COVID-19."
     
  • FOR CONTINUING STUDENTS: This means that if you are currently in the United States, you **will not** be required to leave the country even if you are taking a fully online course of study. Continuing students outside of the country may continue to take online courses without jeopardizing their active status in SEVIS. You do not need an updated I-20.
     
  • FOR INCOMING STUDENTS: Please continue to consult the incoming student COVID-19 FAQ page: https://global.upenn.edu/isss/coronavirus-covid-19-faq-incoming-international-students
     
  • Ph.D. students who remain overseas will in most cases be able to take classes remotely. Please note that students currently residing in Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea are prohibited from taking U.S. graduate classes remotely. Please contact your Graduate Group Chair and/or ISSS for further information (https://global.upenn.edu/isss)
     
  • In most graduate groups, first-year students enrolled entirely in remote classes may receive both tuition remission and non-service stipends even if they are overseas.
     
  • Students who are outside of the United States may receive a service stipend only if they have valid U.S. employment authorization and a U.S. bank account. Students paid service stipends through U.S. payroll are assumed to be temporarily outside the U.S. only due to COVID-19 and will therefore be taxed as though they remained in Philadelphia. These individuals may be subject to tax obligations based on their location of work and should consult their local tax authorities or personal tax advisor with questions.
     
  • Please note that some Graduate Groups require service (meaning work as a teaching or research fellow) in the first year. Students in these groups will need to consult their Graduate Chair. In some but not all cases, Graduate Groups may be able to delay service requirements so that students can make up those requirements when they are permitted to enter the U.S. and return to Penn.

We know that the next few months will bring many questions and challenges. We will be prepared to assist you along the way.

Beth S. Wenger
Associate Dean for Graduate Studies
SAS Graduate Division
grad-dean@sas.upenn.edu

Please join Dean Steven J. Fluharty and Associate Dean Beth Wenger for an online celebration. In addition to remarks from each dean, the ceremony features graduation speaker Bhuvnesh Jain, Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Natural Sciences, and a presentation of graduates. All graduates and guests are invited to view the ceremony on this page.

You are also invited to the 264th Commencement Ceremony, Penn's University-wide virtual celebration. Please plan to join on Monday, May 18 at 11 a.m. EDT. More information is available at Penn’s Commencement website.

Dear SAS Graduate Students,

I hope that you are all safe and taking good care in these challenging times.

I am keenly aware that COVID-19 restrictions have adversely affected graduate student education.  Many of you face serious obstacles in conducting research and are rightly concerned about your progress toward degree.

I appreciate your patience as I, along with fellow SAS Deans and our dedicated staff, have worked to develop solutions to address the challenges precipitated by this crisis. I want to address several steps that we have taken and will be taking to alleviate some of your concerns.

The transition to remote learning should allow most graduate students currently in coursework to move forward, albeit not under conditions that any of us would prefer.  By now, you should be aware that you may select the Pass/Fail option for courses taken during the spring 2020 semester, and you have until April 29th to make that choice. The Graduate Division is also prepared to be flexible in extending benchmark deadlines for candidacy, degree, and other key milestones in response to the crisis.  At the end of this letter, I am also sharing recent announcements about emergency funding, health insurance updates and other resources that will be useful.

I understand that many of you, particularly advanced graduate students, remain quite concerned about the disruption to your research plans.  Many of you have spoken to me about the pressing need for additional funding.  To alleviate the most immediate needs of our students—those in their final year of funding in 2019-2020—SAS Graduate Division has initiated procedures that allow students to request an additional fully-funded semester of graduate school.

Funding extensions will be available only to those who are currently in the final year of the funding package promised upon admission. Those who have deferred a final year due to external grants provided in the middle of a graduate career will be offered the full package guaranteed to them. Those who have accepted a completion-year fellowship —whether from Penn or from an external source-—after their full funding package has been expended—will not be considered for these emergency funds. We understand that international students may have particular challenges, and we will address those on a case by case basis.

The School of Arts and Sciences encompasses a tremendously diverse graduate student body with very distinct modes of training for the Ph.D. We know that needs vary considerably not only by graduate group but also by the particular stage of students in their programs, and by the nature of their research (whether it involves travel to archives, ability to conduct fieldwork, access to labs etc.).  For that reason, requests for the one-semester extension of funding will be considered first by individual graduate groups. As part of the application for additional funding, we will ask you to explain briefly how your research has been impeded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Your graduate chair(along with your advisor/s) will send your requests to the Graduate Division where we will make final evaluations.  My office will be sending out further information about the process very shortly, so please watch for messages from your graduate chairs tailored to the specific needs and procedures of your graduate group.We will be making every effort to conduct this process expeditiously, so deadlines may be shorter than usual, but the request form will be brief and straightforward.

I fully appreciate the fact that many students—not only those in the final year of funding—have experienced significant challenges, delays, and frustrations, and are understandably worried about the future.  My office is providing graduate groups with the ability to offer limited funding to students at various stages in the program.  But we simply must address those in most imminent need, namely those whose funding comes to an end this academic year.  None of us knows how long this crisis will persist, and what further measures might be needed once we have a clearer idea of how events will unfold in the coming months.

In these difficult times, we remain committed to helping you become the next generation of scholars and teachers, and we want to support you to the extent possible in the midst of this unprecedented crisis.

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


In early April, Penn instituted Technology Grants to meet some of the immediate needs of graduate students and to ensure that you can continue making academic progress. Several new initiatives have been implemented to address broader issues affecting graduate and professional students and to provide you with support both immediately and in the longer term.

  1. COVID-19 Emergency Funding: The GAPSA-Provost COVID-19 Emergency Fund supports full- and part-time graduate and professional students who have incurred unexpected expenses directly related to the COVID-19 disruptions of this semester, including moving expenses, travel, insurance, covering multiple rents, and other urgent needs as appropriate. The application for these funds will be open April 24–May 15; more information will be available on the Graduate Student Center website.
  1. Enhanced Summer Funding and Professionalization Opportunities: The University is developing teaching, professional development, and other competitive opportunities to enable graduate and professional students not only to continue to advance your skills and build your resumes but also to earn additional summer funding. There are robust summer programs for incoming first-year undergraduates and Philadelphia high school students that will be delivered online this summer and will have roles for graduate student mentors, TAs and/or instructors. If you are interested in being considered for these programs, please fill out the form provided by the Vice Provost for Education.
     
  2. Special Health Insurance Enrollment Period for Uninsured Graduate and Professional Students: The Penn Student Insurance Plan is offering a special enrollment period for uninsured Penn students and their dependents. This special enrollment period opened on April 13 and will remain open until April 30, with coverage provided for 4/1/2020 – 7/31/2020 at a reduced rate of $1,195 for a student, spouse or child (and $2,390 for two or more children). To enroll or ask any additional questions, please contact Deborah Olson.
     
  3. Extended Health Insurance Coverage for Recent Graduates: All graduate and professional students who are graduating in May or August of this year will be eligible to remain on the Penn Student Insurance Plan through December 2020. Penn is currently working with Aetna (our health insurance provider) and state regulators to finalize the details, which will be shared by e-mail as soon as they are available in an email, on the Graduate Student Center website, and via the Vice Provost for Education’s newsletter.

Further details about these initiatives will be available in the coming days. In the meantime, please review the Graduate Student Center’s list of resources available to graduate and professional students during these challenging times. Penn remains strongly committed to your health and well-being, and appreciate that many of you may have additional concerns related to health and wellness, visa compliance, travel restrictions, and career opportunities, among others. Please make use of the many units at Penn – including Penn Wellness, Penn Global, and Career Services – that are here to help you.

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 and summer 2020 semesters, 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