Academic options available for research-based graduate students

Brock University now has a plan in place to support its graduate students who are facing an extraordinary situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brock’s Senate approved the plan last week that will provide research-based grad students with a variety of flexible options that will allow them to successfully complete their programs in a timely manner, while respecting that academic requirements remain in place.

“Early on when the COVID pandemic broke and the University decided to go all online, we realized it would also impact research-based students,” said Diane Dupont, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. “We were concerned about the implications for them. At the end of the day, our goal is for students to get a fulfilling research experience, for them to graduate in a timely fashion and with projects that they can be proud of.”

The first step in supporting those students came a number a weeks ago when all thesis defences moved online.

From there, the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) started examining what the best options would be that still fall in line with academic requirements and standards.

“There are different accommodations depending upon where a student is in terms of progressing through their degree and whether their program is course-based or research-based,” Dupont said. “There are various options that assist students who have recently started their degree or those who are near to finishing their program.”

Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) President Christopher Yendt said he’s pleased the options have been approved.

“They represent an important first step in offering greater flexibility and options for students completing their degrees,” he said. “The GSA maintains a strong relationship with FGS and is committed to further partnership as we advocate for members and ensure additional issues and concerns are continually addressed as we move forward through this period of uncertainty.” 

In addition to defences and regular academic meetings now being fully virtual for all domestic and international students, the options available to grad students include:

  • Student remains enrolled in their program (the preferred option for domestic and international students early in their program).
  • Student is provided an ‘early’ Final Stage Status (an option for domestic and international students later in their program who have completed 75 per cent of the first draft of their thesis and all course work.)
  • Student takes an inactive term. While not preferred, this may be essential for a student who cannot substantively advance in their program through the Spring 2020 term. It is important to note that this option is available for international students on a student permit.

In all cases, the first step in deciding the next course of action is for grad students to meet (virtually) with their graduate program director (GPD) or supervisor.

“We’re giving supervisors and GPDs the tools to make it easier for them to work individually with each student and map out what is best for them,” Dupont said. “They’re the ones who can make the best assessment in each student’s case.”

That advice was echoed by Yendt.

“It is important students consult with their supervisors, GPDs and the Faculty of Graduate Studies to ensure they are fully informed as to the impacts of the various accommodations available to them,” he said.

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