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Graduate Students

Re-entry Process

Dear all,

Things continue evolving rapidly regarding the prevention of the COVID-19. I have been attending meetings and getting emails about the appropriate measures we should all be taking. I want to provide you with a summary on where things stand in relation to classes, research and the overall welfare pertaining to our graduate students:

Classes: Continue to be remote during Summer (Instructors with a class size smaller than ten people can request an exception to continue face-to-face delivery). Faculty can find support to transition to online classes and provide exams remotely at Keep Teaching with the Office of the Provost. The University is planning for face-to-face instruction to resume this fall, unless evidence or directives suggest otherwise.

 

Research

As the state of Texas is re-opening for business, the University plans to restart its research activities. However, little will be the same as it was back in February. Transmissions of the Coronavirus will continue, and it is projected that numbers of positive cases will increase across the US as the various state governments start to re-open their economies.

If we want to minimize infections among our employees, we will have to abide by a set of stringent rules, using social distancing guidelines and PPE. Dr. Mark Barteau, Vice President of Research (VPR), has provided an update as we begin to re-enter research operations, starting June 1. This memo complements these guidelines.

Face mask supply for the first month will be provided by the VPR and distributed through the departments. Researchers may use their own face masks/covering. Department heads will make arrangements for the continued supply of PPEs in the future.

For employees

Before leaving for work each day, each employee will need to check your temperature. Employees will be directed to stay home if their temperature is 100.4 or higher. If an employee has any other symptoms of COVID-19, s/he should stay home and consult with their doctor.

Before entering a building, all employees will be directed to cover their nose/mouth with a mask/face covering.

Face coverings are to be used at all times in social distancing settings. If the use of face masks makes operation of instruments difficult (e.g. microscopes), or if a researcher works alone in a room, Principal Investigators (PIs) may submit a detailed procedural plan to the department head to request an exemption for wearing face masks under the specific circumstances.

Employees will be directed to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water. Gloves should generally be used for experimental research activities only. Dispose of gloves properly.

For all purposes, employees will be directed to adhere to social distancing guidelines of at least a 6-ft radius. In large laboratories with multiple bays, one person per bay is generally permitted to work at any time. Very long bays/benches may accommodate two researchers at a given time. Each PI is responsible for finding suitable personnel density that meets the operational limitation of social distancing in a given lab space.

If an employee is using common equipment (e.g. centrifuges, mixers, measuring devices, microscopes etc.) or if s/he occupies a space shared with others, they will be instructed to wipe it clean with disinfectant (75% ethanol, or 10% bleach) after each use.

As in the past, employees will not allow others access to badge-only entrances. Employees will not bring their children to work (even if it is just to pick up an item or end/start an o/n experiment etc.).

If an employee needs to provide instructions to a colleague and are required to be closer than 6-ft, both employees must wear a mask/face covering. Avoid physical contact at all times. Page 13 of 13

Employees may remove their face mask/covering for eating and drinking individually at tables in designated areas.

For PIs

Research programs will be structured in shifts, especially if there is a large group that populates a dense space. If employees cannot safely adhere to the social distancing guidelines, then PIs will need to provide non-overlapping time slots for staff occupying adjacent workspace.

If any employees belong to a high-risk group for COVID-19, PIs will need to provide specific times and appropriate workspace/conditions for these individuals. In particular, employees might require a reduced work schedule and need alternate worksites to minimize their risks.

Lab meetings/journal clubs, etc. may either be conducted using Zoom or a combination of Zoom and in-person meetings, if necessary and possible.

PIs may submit detailed procedures to the department head to request exemptions for wearing face masks under these specific circumstances, or for other necessary departures from these guidelines.

Reporting incidents

We all will be facing a challenging time over the next several months. It is important for all of us to continue to provide a safe working environment for yourself and your colleagues.

If you observe individuals who fail to adhere to these new guidelines and policies, you should report such to your supervisor, your department head, or the Vice Dean for Research.

Please note that violations of these rules may lead to suspension of your access privileges to the research buildings.

OGAPS Updates: Forms that needed to be delivered in person are going to be now processed differently due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit Forms Processing Changes for guidelines. When reading the guidelines, keep in mind that Dr. Carol Vargas is the authorized signer for all forms going to OGAPS from graduate students in COM. Delegated departmental staff are the program coordinators in our COM graduate section (currently, Mary Imran, Johna Wright, Stacey DeLeon, Cynthia Lewis ). Please email all the paperwork directly to your program coordinator. Students in the Ph.D. program in the BCS campus can email the paperwork directly to Dr. Vargas.

Student Health Services continues operations normally. If you feel sick it is highly advised you call first and request a prescreening. Students are highly encouraged to utilize the pre-screening process to speak with a nurse and be given appointment options. For more information visit the Student Health Services website.

If any of you are currently self-isolating, for any reason, send me an email to keep records and provide you with support. Self-isolation is mandatory after returning from a country listed on the CDC’s COVID-19 travel advisories page as Level 2 or Level 3, you should stay off-campus and remain home. Do not go to campus including work, residence halls and apartments, classes, athletic events or other social gatherings until 14 days after leaving the Level 2 or 3 country in question. Likewise, avoid public places and gatherings in the community.

If the COVID-19 outbreak is causing fear or anxiety, the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services is also fully operating and taking calls. They have also provided numerous resources for Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19. Student Assistance Services can address similar concerns (https://maroonlink.tamu.edu/organization/studentassistance)

The COM Graduate Studies Office continues working remotely. Feel free to contact the Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies (carolvargasb@tamu.edu) with any concerns. All documents going to OGAPS that require my authorized signature need to be scanned and sent to me by email. We will make sure to process appropriately with OGAPS.

  • The TAMU graduation ceremonies have been canceled. Diplomas will be mail delivered.
  • The GSO symposium scheduled for April 17 has been postponed until further notice
  • The roundtables and flash talks have been postponed until further notice
  • Committee meetings and defenses are highly encouraged to take place using zoom.

Carol Vargas, PhD
Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies

FAQs for Re-entry Process

Q: Many of the emails sent regarding research say that only "mission-critical" activities will be allowed to continue. What exactly does "mission critical" mean?

A: The current order from Brazos County includes a number of exemptions for “essential businesses” that allow scientific research activities to continue at Texas A&M as part of its research mission. Specifically for COM, PIs have been advised to wind down experiments, and guidelines have been established to keep social distancing rules and decrease unnecessary traffic in our research buildings:

  • Each PI is to create a time-schedule for his/her research staff and set up a procedure to monitor check-in/check-out times for his research group (you can use google calendar or other online tools to implement this)
  • PIs with research groups of 7 or more full-time research staff should not have more than 3 researchers in their laboratory at any given time. PIs do not count as research staff.
  • PIs with research groups of 6 or fewer full-time research staff should not have more than 2 researchers in their laboratory at any given time.
  • PIs are encouraged to work from their home office unless they conduct mission-critical laboratory research.
  • Everyone should conduct a reading, writing, and non-bench research work from home.
  • Lab meetings are to be conducted only using zoom or other internet-based applications that allow “meetings” to be conducted under social distancing guidelines.
  • Each individual should check his/her body temperature before coming to the building. If body temperature is above 37.5 degrees C/99.5 degree F, do not visit the research laboratory, but stay home and contact his/her healthcare provider.
  • Each individual must use only his/her ID card to get into the building.
  • Each individual needs to clock-out with his/her access card, so that a record is established for when and how long he/she has been in the building.
  • Each individual should adhere to social distancing recommendations (6 or more feet apart) at all times. PIs should schedule individuals with the bench or desk spaces next to one another at different times of the day.

Q: For graduate students that have had to delay/stop projects this will add years to their time in the program and delay program milestones. Is there a plan in place to address these delays?
How will the response to the pandemic affect summer graduate course registration? Many students use the summer to take research credits but if we are not allowed into the lab space what does the graduate program advise?

A: As the COVID-19 outbreak continues developing and affecting us severely, the TAMU Graduate Operations Committee is meeting continuously to increase the flexibility, adapt to all these new changes and provide solutions that lessen the impact on our graduate students. As of now, students have the choice to change from letter grade to satisfactory/unsatisfactory grade for any course registered for 2020 Spring semester so that the GPA does not get negatively affected due to the current circumstances. For Summer registration, the plan is still to continue registration for 6 CR, whether they are research credits or courses the students were planning to take. It is likely that all courses for the first-term of Summer will continue to be remotely and research goals during this time need to be discussed with your PI.

Q: Is there a plan to cancel the COM Summer Research Program for undergraduates?

A: Yes, the COM undergraduate research program has been already canceled.

Q: Where are the appropriate areas for med students to study? We have seen increases in med students studying in the research buildings and we are concerned about the possible spread of COVID leading to a potential shutdown.

A: MD students have been restricted from access to CB, HPEB and MREB and Reynolds buildings

Q: What are the resources for graduate students at the College of Medicine?

A: All graduate student concerns are addressed through the COM Office of Graduate Studies, which provides support and guidance toward other offices at COM and TAMU. See information above regarding the main sources for support regarding courses, research, and wellbeing

Graduate student research, at this time, can continue. Classes for graduate students will be moved online starting March 23.

Research Guidance during COVID-19


Dear all,

Things continue evolving rapidly regarding the prevention of the COVID-19. I have been attending meetings and getting emails about the appropriate measures we should all be taking. I want to provide you with a summary on where things stand in relation to classes, research and the overall welfare pertaining to our graduate students:

All classes should now be given remotely until the end of the semester (Groups with a class size smaller than ten people can request an exception to continue face-to-face delivery). No mid-term or final exams will be given in person. Faculty can find support to transition to online classes and provide exams remotely at https://provost.tamu.edu/keep-teaching. Effective for Spring 2020 only, graduate students will have until April 28th to choose the S/U grade mode on a course-by-course basis in Howdy. Learn more here. Updated on Mar 24/2020

Updated 4/2/20
Research: The current order from Brazos County includes a number of exemptions for “essential businesses” that allow scientific research activities to continue at Texas A&M as part of its research mission. Specifically for COM, PIs have been advised to wind down experiments, and guidelines have been established to keep social distancing rules and decrease unnecessary traffic in our research buildings.  At this time, COM has also decided our contingency plan allows graduate students to voluntarily participate in research activities that require their presence in the COM buildings. Graduate students should talk with their PIs if they have any concerns about their individual health and, as underlined above, are not required to be physically in the COM buildings, although permitted with enhanced hygiene practices and social distancing as indicated by TAMU and COM leadership.  Even if students are not coming to the lab, it is expected they continue moving forward their research projects remotely (e.g. writing papers, thesis, analyzing data, designing experiments, reviewing literature). If you need to report any concerns, visit our COM Aggie Conduct Awareness website 
 

OGAPS Updates: Forms that needed to be delivered in person are going to be now processed differently due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit the following link for guidelines (https://ogaps.tamu.edu/About/COVID-19-Information/Forms-Processing-Changes). When reading the guidelines, keep in mind that Dr. Carol Vargas is the authorized signer for all forms going to OGAPS from graduate students in COM. Delegated departmental staff are the program coordinators in our COM graduate section (currently, Mary Imran, Johna Wright, Stacey DeLeon, Cynthia Lewis ). Please email all the paperwork directly to your program coordinator. Students in the Ph.D. program in the BCS campus can email the paperwork directly to Dr. Vargas.

Student Health Services continues operations normally. If you feel sick it is highly advised you call first and request a prescreening. Students are highly encouraged to utilize the pre-screening process to speak with a nurse and be given appointment options. For more information visit their website (https://shs.tamu.edu/).

If any of you are currently self-isolating, for any reason, send me an email to keep records and provide you with support. Self-isolation is mandatory after returning from a country listed on the CDC’s COVID-19 travel advisories page as Level 2 or Level 3, you should stay off-campus and remain home. Do not go to campus including work, residence halls and apartments, classes, athletic events or other social gatherings until 14 days after leaving the Level 2 or 3 country in question. Likewise, avoid public places and gatherings in the community.

If the COVID-19 outbreak is causing fear or anxiety, the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services is also fully operating and taking calls. They have also provided numerous resources to cope during this time (https://caps.tamu.edu/mental-health-coping-during-covid-19/). Student Assistance services can address similar concerns (https://maroonlink.tamu.edu/organization/studentassistance)

The COM Graduate Studies Office continues working remotely. Feel free to contact the Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies (carolvargasb@tamu.edu) with any concerns. All documents going to OGAPS that require my authorized signature need to be scanned and sent to me by email. We will make sure to process appropriately with OGAPS.

  • The TAMU graduation ceremonies have been canceled. Diplomas will be mail delivered.
  • The GSO symposium scheduled for April 17 has been postponed until further notice
  • The roundtables and flash talks have been postponed until further notice
  • Committee meetings and defenses are highly encouraged to take place using zoom.

Carol Vargas, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies

COVID-19 Graduate Students FAQs

Q: Many of the emails sent regarding research say that only "mission-critical" activities will be allowed to continue. What exactly does "mission critical" mean?

A: The current order from Brazos County includes a number of exemptions for “essential businesses” that allow scientific research activities to continue at Texas A&M as part of its research mission. Specifically for COM, PIs have been advised to wind down experiments, and guidelines have been established to keep social distancing rules and decrease unnecessary traffic in our research buildings:

  • Each PI is to create a time-schedule for his/her research staff and set up a procedure to monitor check-in/check-out times for his research group (you can use google calendar or other online tools to implement this)
  • PIs with research groups of 7 or more full-time research staff should not have more than 3 researchers in their laboratory at any given time. PIs do not count as research staff.
  • PIs with research groups of 6 or fewer full-time research staff should not have more than 2 researchers in their laboratory at any given time.
  • PIs are encouraged to work from their home office unless they conduct mission-critical laboratory research.
  • Everyone should conduct a reading, writing, and non-bench research work from home.
  • Lab meetings are to be conducted only using zoom or other internet-based applications that allow “meetings” to be conducted under social distancing guidelines.
  • Each individual should check his/her body temperature before coming to the building. If body temperature is above 37.5 degrees C/99.5 degree F, do not visit the research laboratory, but stay home and contact his/her healthcare provider.
  • Each individual must use only his/her ID card to get into the building.
  • Each individual needs to clock-out with his/her access card, so that a record is established for when and how long he/she has been in the building.
  • Each individual should adhere to social distancing recommendations (6 or more feet apart) at all times. PIs should schedule individuals with the bench or desk spaces next to one another at different times of the day.

 

Q: For graduate students that have had to delay/stop projects this will add years to their time in the program and delay program milestones. Is there a plan in place to address these delays?How will the response to the pandemic affect summer graduate course registration? Many students use the summer to take research credits but if we are not allowed into the lab space what does the graduate program advise?

A: As the COVID-19 outbreak continues developing and affecting us severely, the TAMU Graduate Operations Committee is meeting continuously to increase the flexibility, adapt to all these new changes and provide solutions that lessen the impact on our graduate students.  As of now, students have the choice to change from letter grade to satisfactory/unsatisfactory grade for any course registered for 2020 Spring semester so that the GPA does not get negatively affected due to the current circumstances.  For Summer registration, the plan is still to continue registration for 6 CR, whether they are research credits or courses the students were planning to take.  It is likely that all courses for the first-term of Summer will continue to be remotely and research goals during this time need to be discussed with your PI.

 

Q: Is there a plan to cancel the COM Summer Research Program for undergraduates?

A: Yes, the COM undergraduate research program has been already canceled. 

 

Q: Where are the appropriate areas for med students to study? We have seen increases in med students studying in the research buildings and we are concerned about the possible spread of COVID leading to a potential shutdown.

A: MD students have been restricted from access to CB, HPEB and MREB buildings

 

Q: What are the resources for graduate students at the College of Medicine?

A:  All graduate student concerns are addressed through the COM Office of Graduate Studies, which provides support and guidance toward other offices at COM and TAMU.  See information above regarding the main sources for support regarding courses, research, and wellbeing

 

Q: How would switching a class to Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grade affect the progress in my degree program?

A: This would not affect your degree plan and requirements for other milestones (preliminary exam, defense, etc).  One note of caution is regarding GPA. The decision to take a course this semester as S/U cannot be undone after April 28 and, thus, could potentially negatively impact the GPA further into the student’s graduate career.  Another thought to have into consideration is the Student Rule 10.14.2:

“10.14.2 A grade of “satisfactory” (S) will be given only for grades of A and B in graduate courses and for grades of C and above in undergraduate and professional courses; a grade of “unsatisfactory” (U) will be given for grades of C and below in graduate courses and for D and F grades in undergraduate and professional courses”

Therefore, in the scenario you are getting a “C” grade, this will translate to “U” grade and you will have to repeat the course.  Instead, if you have a GPA high enough, you could stay with the grade “C” and fulfill degree requirements."