Guidance for graduate programs during the COVID-19 pandemic
Graduate students are facing unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The AEA asks economics departments to consider making temporary accommodations for students in their programs.
Students are dealing with a variety of new pressures: costly transitions to online courses, as learners and/or as teaching assistants and graduate instructors; lack of access to necessary space and technological resources; disruption to their research projects and access to IRB, labs, libraries, field sites, and conferences; a severely contracted job market and immediate financial challenges; and myriad demands in their personal lives, including social isolation, caregiving activities, visa issues, and health and safety concerns for themselves and family members.
We thus recommend that departments consider taking immediate steps to accommodate their students’ situations, such as modifying academic requirements, extending timelines for progression and completion, and providing emergency funding and other forms of support. While students and universities across the country may have different needs and schedules, here are some examples of policies adopted by some departments:
- Brown's Department of Economics has cancelled its core exams, has been more flexible about deadlines for third year papers, and is seeking to do whatever it can on an ad hoc basis to meet the needs of students.
- NYU economics has cancelled qualifying exams for first-year students, is looking to extend fellowship support for advanced students whose research has been adversely affected by the pandemic, and intends to waive the normal seven-year limit on time to completion.
- Michigan's department has cancelled first-year comprehensive exams and second-year field prelim exams and is developing improvised summer academic events to keep students engaged intellectually and socially. It is also working to ensure that all students have adequate summer funding to replace cancelled plans and collaborating with the graduate student group to keep in touch with all students during the lockdown.
- Other examples include setting up more rigorous mentoring systems for students who will not be able to benefit from the usual sorts of interactions with peers and professors for the foreseeable future and pushing back the date of comprehensive exams and giving students extra time to complete them.
Such accommodations are likely critical to students' immediate mental and physical health and their long-term development as scholars and members of our profession. Departments and individual faculty members alike should take action to support their students using the ideas offered here in combination with the evidence-based guidance in the AEA's Best Practices for Economists.
Chair of the AEA Task Force on Best Practices for Professional Conduct in Economics