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Washington State University Graduate School

Guidance regarding work & research expectations for graduate students, and trainees in general

Date:         20 March 2020

To:             WSU graduate students and faculty

From:        Lisa M. Gloss, Dean of the Graduate School
Bryan K. Slinker, Interim Provost

SUBJECT:   Guidance regarding work & research expectations for graduate students, and trainees in general

Graduate students often have dual roles as students being trained by faculty in research and scholarship (trainees) and employees on an assistantship. In response to COVID-19, this duality can generate significant uncertainty and stress, because students must balance the need for social distancing and personal safety with productivity in the scholarship and research necessary for degree completion and the responsibilities of their assistantship duties.

At Washington State University, we take the position that the safety of our student trainees comes first, and the expectation that these trainees have the ability to continue making satisfactory degree completion is an essential, but secondary, priority. Therefore, all trainees (graduate students as well as undergraduate students and post-docs) should be encouraged to telework to the fullest extent possible in order to maximize social distancing.

The decision of whether a graduate student must report to campus in general, and to a research or teaching setting in particular, should begin with the student, not the research advisor or teaching supervisor. While we are under a directive to observe social distancing protocols, students should have the flexibility to choose telework options without fear of retribution. Therefore, graduate student trainees should not be mandated to serve as essential personnel or required to report to work, except under extraordinary circumstances when there are no other lab personnel with the necessary expertise to ensure the ongoing viability of critical research activities. Such extraordinary mandates require consultation with and agreement from the trainee, the research advisor and the chair/director of the academic unit; the college dean will serve as the final arbiter in the resolution of such discussions.

There may be situations in which a student trainee asks to conduct research on campus because it cannot be performed via telework. Currently, this on-campus work is permissible, though not encouraged; however, state and federal regulations may change at any time, forbidding such work. Be sure to regularly check your email and the site for updates. Trainee requests to work on campus, rather than telework, must be approved by the research advisor in conjunction with the chair/director of the academic unit. If a student receives approval to work on campus, the student must accept personal responsibility to maintain appropriate social distancing at all times in laboratory and office spaces. The trainee’s advisor has the ultimate responsibility to ensure adherence to all safety protocols established by CDC guidelines. This responsibility includes establishing protocols and scheduling to promote appropriate social distancing if multiple students elect to work in the same on-campus spaces.