A Message to PhD and Research Master’s Students

December 17, 2020

As this semester winds down, I hope you are proud of what you have learned and accomplished under such challenging circumstances. I am certainly proud of your perseverance and academic achievements. I know we are all looking ahead to next semester, and a brighter 2021. I write today with several updates about academic initiatives for the Spring 2021 semester.


Grading Options

The Provost has endorsed the recommendation of the Graduate Council of the Faculties and the Council of Graduate Deans that we return to regular grading options for PhD and Research Master’s students. However, acknowledging that substantial challenges may still present themselves for graduate students, there will be a mechanism for individual graduate students to petition to have unlimited pass/fail options should their personal circumstances present the need. The petition process will be available until March 19, the grade type change deadline, and will be handled by the Graduate Dean in your school. The types of petitions that will be considered for approval based on circumstances presented by the pandemic include:

  • Students with additional family responsibilities due to the pandemic
  • Students who are ill or caring for ill family members
  • Students with limited access to internet or necessary technology for remote participation
  • Students unable to participate in required synchronous sessions (due to time zone differences, etc.)
  • Students experiencing housing insecurity

We hope that by providing this alternative, students who need additional pass/fail options can access them.


Days of Engagement

The University recently announced 3 Engagement Days in the Spring Term with no classes for undergraduate students. The Council of Graduate Deans agreed to extend these days to PhD and Research Master’s students as well. These days will have neither course assessments nor asynchronous classes, and are spread out across the term to provide consistent breaks during the pandemic. These days will offer self-directed activities that advance our community, both to engage with Philadelphia for our Year of Civic Engagement and to explore opportunities, including events with campus organizations and faculty. The 3 Days of Engagement are: Friday, February 12; Tuesday, March 30; and Monday, April 12.


Virtual Course Shopping Period

As in Fall 2020, we will offer a virtual “shopping period” on Canvas until February 2. For graduate and professional courses that opt-in, you will be able to view a course’s Canvas site from the course description in Course Search in Penn InTouch.

In the new semester, we will follow up with more details about these activities and initiatives. In the meantime, I wish you a restful and healthy break and encourage you to unplug and relax.


Be well,

Beth A. Winkelstein, Ph.D.
Eduardo D. Glandt President's Distinguished Professor
Deputy Provost
University of Pennsylvania

Last Updated 12/01/2020 - 10:14