This update is provided for archival purposes only.

Public Health guidance and University of Waterloo operations may have changed. For the most up-to-date information, please visit our COVID-19 frequently asked questions.

Environment update: Recent guidelines update

Monday, March 16, 2020

This message was originally sent to instructors in the Faculty of Environment by Peter Deadman, interim associate dean, graduate studies.

Things are moving rapidly as the university continues to respond to the evolving COVID-19 situation. I wanted to highlight a few aspects of the recent guidelines for graduate studies.

Courses: Please note that the changes that have been made to course delivery also apply to graduate courses. There are no on-campus course activities scheduled for this week (online courses are continuing), with an alternative online format for delivery of courses starting on March 23 and continuing for the final two weeks of the term. To avoid confusion, all grad courses should follow this pattern of delivery, even if they could be offered remotely this week. If you become aware of any specific issues as they relate to the offering of grad courses remotely, I’ll remind you of this link:

Defenses and Comp Exams: Until we hear otherwise, these are going ahead. We are currently arranging defenses for late April. The policy on remote participation has been relaxed, so we will allow more than one member of the committee to participate remotely. Requests for multiple remote participants should be directed to me. At a minimum, the student and the Chair of the exam should be in the same location. If you require technical support for defenses with multiple remote participants, please let Lori or myself know. 

For committee members, and the student, who are physically present at a defense, we want to make sure that a proper physical distance between people can be maintained in the room. For now, no other attendees (friends, lab mates, and family) are allowed at the defense. Students could use their own laptop to allow friends to observe the defense remotely. However please note that no UW resources will be used to enable video conferencing for non-committee members.

If a student is ill, they should not be participating in the defense. The defense should be postponed.

Research milestones are still in place (comprehensive exams completed by the 7th term, etc.) We will try to stick to the milestones/timelines as much as possible, however we can also be flexible when necessary. Please let me know if you become aware of situations where extenuating circumstances require a shift in the timeline.

TAs: TAs are expected to continue course delivery. Given that the nature of the course delivery will change, TA activities may have to change from what was originally agreed upon. TAs should not be having face-to-face contact with students (TA office hours should be held online, etc.). The TAs total time commitment to the course should remain within the specified limits.

Research activities: On campus research activities can continue for students. To the greatest extent possible, we want graduate students to be engaging in social distancing. This should apply in labs and other research spaces to the greatest extent possible. It is important for supervisors to have a discussion with their students to determine what research activities can or cannot be done remotely (for example, interviews with human participants), what resources are required to support remote activities, and if certain work cannot be completed because of these restrictions – what are the consequences and how can they be mitigated?

The President’s memo from March 12, 2020 established limits on travel by members of the university community to essential travel to non-restricted destinations (right now that means we are limited to travel within Canada). The GSPA has further indicated that domestic travel for graduate students could be considered essential if

a) Failure to complete that travel would introduce substantial delays to the student’s academic progress

b) The research activities do not introduce a risk that in the judgment of the AD Grad exceeds the benefit to the student’s degree progression.

A recent memo from the President indicates that all university-sanctioned international travel is suspended –and the Canadian government is recommending all Canadians abroad return. If you have graduate students who are returning from international travel, they are required to self-isolate for 14 days (after their return) even when they do not have symptoms. 

Forms: We are encouraging everyone to complete all graduate studies related forms on-line. We can accept electronic signatures or email confirmation. Given that people may be working remotely, we would prefer not to have forms sitting in mailboxes.

Other items:

  • With respect to graduate internships and experiential learning opportunities, where possible, we encourage graduate supervisors to discuss the existing and future opportunities with their graduate students and vet each case individually.
  • The UW Three Minute Thesis event will be held without audience members. Competition entries will be recorded and shared at a later date. All other GSPA events scheduled for the winter term are cancelled. 
  • Graduate advisors are encouraged to conduct regular meetings with students through phone/video conference, etc.
  • Graduate student funding will not be influenced by changes to the Winter 2020 term activities.
  • The University’s International Visiting Graduate Student (IVGS) program has been suspended, effective immediately and until further notice.The OUAC webpage through which IVGS scholars apply for this program has now been closed. Students who are currently in Canada as part of the IVGS program are unaffected. Students who have been approved for the IVGS program, but are not yet in Canada should be contacted by their proposed supervisors and directed to cancel plans to travel to Canada.
  • For updates, please check the University of Waterloo COVID-19 page,
  • Finally, and this goes without saying, please stay in touch with your graduate students. This is a stressful time for everyone. It is important to keep lines of communication open. Let them know that you are available to work through any challenges that may arise as a result of the current situation. Some students may feel isolated by the measures that are being put in place. Counselling Services is currently open (519-888-4567 ext. 32655)and could help graduate students determine appropriate services. Further, Empower Me, Mental Health Resources-1-844-741-6389, can be accessed 24 hours a day from both within and outside Canada.The Faculty of Environment, and your departments, are working through their pandemic planning (that will include graduate student training adjustments). As this situation continues to evolve, there will likely be new questions that arise. I will keep you informed on graduate studies issues. In the meantime, please let Lori or myself know if you need to work through any scenarios with your graduate training and/or specific situations with students. If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.

Stay well.