COVID disrupts all students, including PhD candidates

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With non-essential research suspended and classes all moved online, University of Connecticut PhD students are struggling to get their work done and stay on track.

“Because of this upset, I’ve been delayed on my experiments for two months now and probably another month,” Chemical Engineering PhD candidate Anna Marie LaChance said.  


In a letter to President Katsouleas, graduate students request guaranteed funding for each student for a full additional year that students can elect to opt out of. They also are demanding funding for all graduate students for this summer in the amount of at least $3,000 and an extension of the “time to degree” by one year. Katsouleas has responded to the letter by saying that it is “beyond the capacity of the university.”  Image courtesy of the    Graduate Student Petition   .

In a letter to President Katsouleas, graduate students request guaranteed funding for each student for a full additional year that students can elect to opt out of. They also are demanding funding for all graduate students for this summer in the amount of at least $3,000 and an extension of the “time to degree” by one year. Katsouleas has responded to the letter by saying that it is “beyond the capacity of the university.” Image courtesy of the Graduate Student Petition.

LaChance focuses a lot on experimental work, she said, but is at a fortunate place in her specific process where she can get some work done remotely.

“… [O]bviously I can’t do experiments, so I’m doing a lot of writing in preparation for my next projects,” LaChance said.  “I’m in a fairly lucky position where I’m wrapping up two projects where now I can write about them.”

Others aren’t as lucky.  Liz Brown, a PhD candidate researching polymer sciences, said she’s had to push back her graduation date.  She was originally slated to graduate this May.

“I’m in a wrapping-up project and writing manuscripts or determining what experiments need to be done. I’m going through past projects that I’ve done and seeing where they fit in with other people’s research,” Brown said.  “I’d like to finish by August of 2020.” 

Both LaChance and Brown are signees on a letter sent to President Thomas Katsouleas from hundreds of graduate students, outlining demands they have to the university.

In the letter, the graduate students request guaranteed funding for each student for a full additional year that students can elect to opt out of. They also are demanding funding for all graduate students for this summer in the amount of “ at least $3,000” and an extension of the “time to degree” (graduate) by one year.

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If research doesn’t ramp up quickly, I may not be able to be paid for the last few months of my PhD.
— Anna Marie LaChance, Chemical Engineering PhD candidate

“We call on the University to take immediate steps to support graduate students and workers during the unprecedented crisis caused by COVID-19,” the letter said.  “As the COVID-19 global pandemic has forced the closure of UConn’s campus facilities, including offices, labs, and libraries, graduate students face immense strains that threaten our ability to support ourselves and serve the UConn community, even as we continue to conduct research, make progress on dissertations, and teach classes remotely.”

Katsouleas responded to the letter saying that it is “beyond the capacity of the university.”

The letter addresses long-term problems and solutions.  For now, though, LaChance said financial problems are at the forefront of grad student worries.

“Money’s tight. Now it’s like, funding is getting cut and all these grants are pulling out their money,” LaChance said.  “If my advisor had money to pay me until May 2021, if I’m seriously delayed past that, or if research doesn’t ramp up quickly, I may not be able to be paid for the last few months of my PhD.”  

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Luke Hajdasz is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at luke.hajdasz@uconn.edu.

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