July 7, 2020
Dean of the Graduate School Andrew G. Campbell
Tags Grad and Medical Students

To Brown Graduate Students: Graduate Student Updates for Brown’s 2020-21 Plan


Dear Graduate Students,

Earlier today you received an email from President Christina Paxson regarding Brown’s plan for the 2020-21 academic year. I write to share more information on how this plan will shape the experience of Brown graduate students in the coming year, including details on the academic calendar and appointments, remote options, and health and safety. In light of the ongoing pandemic, I know that the coming year will be different and I am confident that we will all continue to navigate these challenging circumstances successfully as a community.

The Graduate School has worked closely with many offices across campus to explore a range of options for safely providing teaching and learning for our students. As President Paxson noted in her message, all University decisions have been guided by advice from medical and public health professionals and informed by guidelines coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH). I encourage you to read Brown’s Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21.

As Brown’s plans are based on current public health guidance, these plans could shift as the University continues to closely monitor how the pandemic is evolving across the region and around the country.

Academic Calendar and Appointments

The three-semester academic calendar for 2020-21 will allow for the de-densification of undergraduate residence halls, classrooms, libraries and other public spaces on campus. Detailed course schedules will be available on [email protected] soon. Graduate courses will be concentrated in the fall and spring semesters.

The following key elements of the academic calendar will potentially impact your plans for travel and for some students’ future job start dates:
  • The fall semester has the same start date, and all course meetings end before Thanksgiving break.
  • Reading period and exams will all be online. 
  • The beginning and end of the spring semester are earlier than previously planned. 
  • Each semester will include two to three long weekends; however, longer breaks like fall and spring recess will be eliminated due to calendar constraints and to avoid health impacts of many students returning from out-of-state travel. 
  • Commencement and Reunion Weekend will be held from Friday, April 30, to Sunday, May 2, 2021, following the end of spring term. (This assumes that public health conditions allow large events to safely take place.) 
To help you prepare for the unique circumstances of this year, we will share details later this month about pre-registration and reading and exam periods. This information also will be available on the Registrar’s website.

Graduate students will not be required to TA more semesters than they normally would (e.g., 1 or 2 courses during the academic year). Graduate students with TA obligations for 2020-21 will be expected to fulfill those obligations during the fall and/or spring semesters. Additional teaching opportunities will be available for summer 2021.

Remote Options and Campus Experience

All matriculated students will be given the option to take courses remotely, whether they are in Providence or not. We will work with international students to develop academic plans for degree completion that are in compliance with federal guidelines. All graduate students appointed to teaching assistant and teaching fellow positions will also be given the option of instructing in person or remotely.

As President Paxson shared, in-person class sizes will be limited to 20 students to enable safe distancing of students and instructors within classrooms. Brown has developed plans for every classroom space that allow for six-foot or greater separation between individuals. In addition, exiting students and instructors will be asked to wipe down physical property (desks, chairs, lecterns, etc.) between class sessions.

Many graduate students have begun returning to labs and research spaces as part of Brown’s stages of resuming research, which will continue throughout the summer. Other common buildings and spaces on campus, including libraries, will reopen following the safety, capacity, and cleanliness protocols described in Brown’s Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21. All other University resources, including Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), CareerLAB, and the Sheridan Center will continue to be open and available for appointments.

Health and Safety

It’s important to note that safeguarding the health of the community will be the shared responsibility of everyone on the Brown campus during 2020-21. Brown has developed a robust plan for mitigating transmission of coronavirus, monitoring population prevalence, contact tracing, isolating individuals who test positive and quarantining those who may have been in contact with someone who tests positive. These are among the details in the Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21. Again, I encourage you to read it closely.

The University is currently piloting a mandatory routine testing protocol this summer for all essential on-site faculty, staff and graduate students. In the fall, all students will be tested upon arrival on campus for the fall semester. Students will also potentially be selected for ongoing random testing to monitor prevalence of COVID-19 in our campus population. Any symptomatic students, staff or faculty will also undergo testing.

If you are currently located out of state or out of the country, please note that the State of Rhode Island may require you to complete a 14-day quarantine. University travel policies will also apply to any potential University-sponsored travel in the fall and spring semesters. At the moment, only very limited essential travel is permitted, and only with approval by the Provost.

I sincerely appreciate the essential role that you’ll play in maintaining health and safety for our community, which is the University’s most important priority, and the flexibility that may be required should the pandemic prompt any adjustments to plans for the academic year.  

I know you may have many questions about the above topics in the coming days and weeks. Please do not hesitate to reach out to [email protected]. We will also continue to expand our COVID-19 FAQs for Graduate Students.

Andrew G. Campbell
Dean of the Graduate School
Professor of Medical Science
Molecular Microbiology & Immunology