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Fall 2021 term information

Looking beyond Step 3 of the province's reopening plan

Waterloo Region, along with the rest of Ontario, entered the third step of the province’s reopening plan, further reducing the public health restrictions that have defined so much of the last 18 months.  

As the government made clear, the relaxation of public health measures is made possible by the positive trends in vaccinations across the province and the country. Rates of transmission have also continued to drop. As of July 19, 2021: 

  • more than 79 per cent of people aged over 12 in Ontario have had one dose of a vaccine, 
  • more than 61 per cent have had two doses, and 
  • Ontario has seen fewer than 200 new cases per day for 11 consecutive days. 

These are positive data points that are giving us confidence that further steps to relax restrictions can happen in the coming weeks provided the data continues to trend in the right direction. The province has already indicated our plans for the fall term can happen without physical distancing and that we can plan to lift capacity limits in our buildings.

At Waterloo, we are working with our local public health team to make sure our plans for the fall continue to protect the physical and mental health of our students and employees, while ensuring that we can expand in-person experiences for everyone.

These positive trends do not mean an end to all restrictions. We must remain vigilant, particularly since our region has experienced a series of outbreaks driven by the Delta variant.  While local case levels are being controlled, they currently remain above the provincial average.  We can plan to continue to wear masks indoors and maintain elevated health and safety protocols to keep our campuses safe. We also need to remain flexible to deal with a fourth wave of the pandemic if it emerges.

While the Ministry of Colleges and Universities has signalled that we can expand in person experiences this fall, they also indicate that local circumstances should guide decision making. Our current academic approach will remain largely as planned. Our students and instructors have already made plans for the fall; changing those plans at this late stage would create new uncertainty and disruption for the community. We will preserve our overall plan to deliver a mix of online and in-person courses for the fall.  However, with physical distancing and gathering limit requirements to be lifted, we can look now at potential changes to in person experiences such as in labs, libraries, student clubs and services and more

Teaching Assistantship information

Faculties have planned to deliver much more in-person teaching and learning for fall 2021, always ensuring we are keeping public health guidelines and your health and safety at the forefront.  Throughout the pandemic, Teaching Assistants (TAs) have been exceptionally creative in finding new ways to help students achieve their learning outcomes in diverse environments.  With the expected increase in on-campus learning, we also anticipate more in-person activities for TAs, while retaining some lessons learned during the pandemic.  Below you can find the listing (as of early July 2021) indicating the faculty-specific activity related to TA allocations for graduate students; this information will continue to evolve and will be updated periodically on this page. However, for the most up to date information, contact your Department/program graduate co-ordinator or the hiring department/school directly. 

Information by faculty

Spring 2021 term information

The recent surge in COVID cases in Ontario makes it clear that the virus and our collective efforts to stop the spread need our continued attention posing ongoing difficulties in planning for in-person learning.

With this in mind, our plans for the spring term will be in keeping with our current approach. This means that instruction will continue primarily online and in-person in limited situations as the regulations allow.

Spring term will start one week later than planned 

We recognize that instructors and students need more time to transition between terms than the current academic calendar allows. To create more time between terms, the Senate has agreed that spring term dates will be revised as follows:

  • Spring term will now start a week later on Monday, May 10
  • Classes will end on Thursday, August 5
  • Exams will begin on Saturday, August 7 and end by Monday, August 16 (the original last day of exams). 

More details on the revised academic dates for the term are available on the graduate important dates webpage.

Please be assured that we are continuing to revise our plans for a safe and staged return to in-person activities as soon as the conditions allow.  
Your health and wellbeing  is  our  priority. Please remember to take care of yourselves and each other. Information about supports for students and employees can be found on the COVID-19 Information home page.

Information by faculty

Graduate student research

Research and supervisory expectations

Tips for serving as a Teaching Assistant (TA) during COVID-19

  • Discuss and agree on expectations for your contributions to the course delivery over the term.  If your program uses a TA agreement form, be sure to fill that out with the course instructor.
  • Begin to coordinate with the instructor to understand the planned approach for delivering the course, particularly what technology the instructor intends to use.
  • Understand from your instructor how students enrolled in the course will have their academic performances evaluated – through assignments, quizzes, exams, projects, etc. – and how those elements will be marked.
  • Recognize that students who are enrolled in your course may be participating from various parts of the world, in different time zones, and potentially with limited access to technology.  You should consider with your instructor how you can support students’ learning given these challenges.
  • During the term, check-in with the instructor and discuss the progression of the TA position with respect to the hours assigned for this position.
  • Visit the Keep Learning website for resources and support.

Tips for continuing your research during COVID-19

We recognize that government and public health have in some cases limited students’ ability to progress on their research.  That being said, the University is eager to support you as you continue your scholarship.

  • Continue to discuss your research with your supervisor.  If you’re in a situation where you are not able to advance critical elements – lab work, face to face interviews, etc. – you and your supervisor may be able to identify research-related activities – writing portions of your thesis or research paper, creating drafts of manuscripts, or analyzing existing data – that can continue.  
  • Have an open conversation with your supervisor to create a set of expectations for the term.  You may wish to review the research and supervisory expectations web page to understand the University’s expectations.
  • Create a schedule for how you will resume or accelerate your research activities when public health regulations allow.  Please note that the University will be actively monitoring this information and will be taking steps to restart research activities when they can be done safely.
  • Engage with your committee members to maintain continuity in their and your understanding of how you are progressing.
  • Stay in touch with your campus community, particularly your fellow students.  Your peers can be excellent sources of support – both academic and personal – in this remote environment.  Some recommended activities include meeting with your research group, participating virtually in seminars, or collaborating on writing sessions or cafes.
  • Take advantage of University support for research, including the Librarythe Writing and Communications Centre, as well as resources within your Faculty and Department.   

Revised time limits for graduate students

In light of the extenuating circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the University is revising the time restrictions for graduate students.  More specifically, the following changes are in place, effective immediately.

  • If you are a graduate student who is within three terms of the time limit for a research milestone – comprehensive exam or research proposal – you will be granted a one term extension for your research milestone without the need for a petition under Policy 70. 
  • Similarly, if you were given a fixed time limit to accomplish an academic outcome, e.g., securing a graduate supervisor or meeting minimum academic performance requirements, you will be granted an additional term to satisfy these requirements.
  • If you are a graduate student who in winter 2020 is in the final term of your program time limit, typically term six for research master’s students and term 12 for PhD students, you shall have your time limits extended by one term. The implications of this consideration include the relaxation of the need to petition for time extension in the subsequent term.  
  • If you were beyond your time limits prior to winter 2020, there is no change in expectations.

You are encouraged to contact your graduate supervisor, graduate officer/program directror or graduate co-ordinator to adjust your academic requirements appropriately.

April 16 update: The University is also eager to support students who are near to completing their graduate research program and to accelerate their paths to graduation.  To this end, you are encouraged to discuss your progress and ways to accelerate your degree completion with your supervisor. 

Thesis proposals, comprehensive exams, thesis defences

If you are anticipating meeting your academic milestones (including thesis proposals, comprehensive exams, final thesis defences), please note that these academic milestones will continue to be facilitated remotely for the foreseeable future - should other options become available, this will be communicated to the graduate studies community.

Review the new processes for remote thesis defences and contact your program co-ordinator or graduate supervisor(s) to make the necessary arrangements or to obtain more specific details for your program.  Don't forget to check out the Remote defence: tips for success page.

Here is a list of resources available to you and your supervisor(s) as you prepare for your academic milestones remotely.

Submission of your approved thesis remains online – details are available on the thesis submission webpage.

Graduate practica and internships

The Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs website contains up-to-date information on graduate practica and internships.

Accessing campus

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and guided by public health, earlier this year the University placed substantive restrictions on campus access.  As public health limitations were relaxed, the University took efforts to restart research activities with a concentration on laboratory access.  Protocols were put in place over several months to facilitate a safe return to on-campus research in laboratories.

Graduate students have communicated interest in access to non-laboratory campus facilities to promote their academic and specifically research progress.  The University is eager to accommodate these students’ requests in ways that catalyze their academic success with an emphasis on safety.

To this end, the University and Faculties have developed protocols by which students and their supervisors can request access to campus. Visit the Campus Access page for details on how to access non-laboratory spaces.

The University and Faculties have also worked collaboratively to develop a common set of considerations and criteria to be used in the vetting of these requests, while still acknowledging Faculties’ local conditions.

Recognizing that the situation remains dynamic, these criteria may evolve over time based on guidance from public health. 

Students for whom a return to non-laboratory campus facilities is approved are agreeing to follow all University, Faculty and public health safety protocols and best practices.

International student supports

Detailed information is available for many frequently asked questions. Please refer to the following FAQ categories for more information:

The University’s International Student Experience provides a variety of supports, available online, for international students including:

Staying well

There are resources available during this time of in flux.  Visit the resources section on the COVID-19 information website or the work from home and remote resources on the GSPA website that has been compiled specifically for graduate students.  If you come across resources you want us to make more widely available to other graduate students, we would be happy to do so; please contact Sarah Howard in GSPA.

Help is available

We understand that many of our students have family members in areas affected by COVID-19. If you feel overwhelmed or anxious and need to talk to somebody, please contact the University’s Campus Wellness services, either Health or Counselling Services.

Please visit or call Health Services (519-884-4096), drop by the Counselling Services office in Needles Hall North, 2nd Floor or phone 519-888-4567 ext. 32655. Visit the Campus Wellness page for hours of operation and additional information. Campus Wellness services are provided at no charge in a private and confidential setting to University of Waterloo students who are currently registered or on a co-op term.

The COVID-19 Information home page provides information on a number of additional resources.

AccessAbility Services

Although the doors of AccessAbility Services and the Exam Centre are temporarily closed, our staff our still available and committed to students. AAS will continue to support students with assistive technology, learning strategy support, and accommodation consulting to ensure you are supported in the online space. 

Find out more about AccessAbility Services modified services.

Accommodations due to COVID-19

A new online Petition for Exception to Academic Regulations - Graduate Students (Form 70A) has been created. Students may submit this form in accordance with Policy 70 (Student Petitions and Grievances) – Section 3 and Appendix A; Policy 70 provides information and explains the difference between petitions and grievances.

If you are demonstrating symptoms consistent with COVID-19, you can now self-declare (via a Quest form) notifying the university that you are unwell.