Transitions during the COVID-19 Outbreak - Doctoral and Thesis students

Transitions during the COVID-19 Outbreak - Doctoral and Thesis students

Dear doctoral and thesis students,

Thank you for your patience and resilience as our university adapts and adjusts to rapidly evolving circumstances and changing guidance from government and public health officials. We are reviewing policies related to graduate study and modifying where appropriate to support the health and wellbeing of all students, staff, and faculty on campus.

Universities are composed of people who habitually study and think and learn, and so people in the Rice community are extraordinarily aware and conscientious. We simply need to be careful, wherever we are. It’s important to limit our exposure both inside and outside of the Rice community. If we treat “work-from-home” as “work-from-Starbucks” or continue socializing and eating in close proximity, we risk becoming infected and bringing it back to our colleagues at the university, to our families, and to our friends. Please be safe.

We’ve moved to a new phase in defending ourselves from the novel coronavirus. Yesterday, President Leebron announced some additional changes that we are making to continue to minimize person-to-person interactions. We are mandating a substantial ramp-down in population density and on-campus research presence as described in the memo from Yousif Shamoo, Vice President for Research, and me. Please read it.

For some graduate researchers, the constraints in the research memo will not change your studies, for example if you were already working remotely. For others, it may be a significant change of plans. However, it need not be a loss of time. Most of us have a lot of literature research to do, and it’s never too early to start writing your dissertation/thesis. Even if your research isn’t at a stage at which you can describe your findings, it’s productive to draft an introduction to what you intend to do. I didn’t do a systematic study of the literature in my research area until writing my thesis in the last few months of grad school. Too late in my graduate career to be useful, I found studies that proved that one of my projects I couldn’t get to work was never going to work. During that literature work, I also found some very promising directions that I’d already run out of time to pursue. If I’d done serious literature work earlier, I’d have written a better thesis in a shorter time.

Most of us are behind on tasks and projects that are important but not urgent and that can be done from home. Most of us have longed for a little space to think deeply, and now we have it. Think about what this might look like for you in your field and where you are in your research. This will be a stressful time for everyone, and so please be proactive and creative to use your time well and to keep up morale. Please share strategies that are working for you with us and with your colleagues in your graduate program or in similar situations. Some groups might self-organize journal clubs, writing groups, virtual lab meetings, or even virtual lunches. As you develop approaches to intellectually engage from a distance, please share these with your peers and us. GPS and GSA will work together to disseminate these strategies via social media.

During these restrictions, students who are on stipend and in good standing should be paid as usual. All payroll changes and terminations will be reviewed by my office to ensure that they are fair and appropriate.

Should you feel any pressure by your adviser to do anything you believe is inappropriately risky, please first try to resolve it by involving your Director of Graduate Studies or Department Chair. If these contacts don’t resolve your problems, please contact us directly at If you prefer to remain anonymous or lodge an official concern, you can do so at this Ethics Point link:

RGA and RVA will remain open as usual. Those residences are apartment buildings, where residents do not have the same degree of exposure intrinsic to the communal living and dining in the undergraduate colleges.

As part of the adjustment to remote instruction, Rice is requiring that no coursework can be due on March 23, 24, 25, and 26. Only work that was to be due the week of March 9 can be due on March 27. Other assignments and new assignments cannot be due before March 30.

GPS has updated thesis announcement, defense, and submissions procedures, and we are currently updating our website and other materials to reflect these changes. These include:

  1. The suspension of the requirement that all committee members must be physically present for the defense (through May 15).
  2. The requirement that all thesis defenses must be held via a zoom or other videoconferencing approach.
  3. Thesis defenses will continue to be announced as required before and advertised at If you have already announced an in-person defense, please send your zoom link to so we can add it to your announcement.
  4. The advancement to candidacy form and the thesis cover page will be signed electronically through an AdobeSign signature process that will be initiated by GPS following the announcement of your thesis. You will receive this by email. If you have recently defended, GPS will email you an AdobeSign online title page in about a week.
  5. You can finalize the submission of your thesis through a webform. You can expect a receipt once the form has been processed in its entirety.

We, like many other offices on campus will continue to develop new platforms to facilitate this new mode of interacting with graduate students.

Please keep in touch with your fellow scholars and friends. This is a time to take some physical distance, but not to disconnect from people. Please respond in a timely manner if someone does reach out to you; people will worry! Please alert your grad program or GPS if someone is not responding to communications. To that end, I do ask that each of you update your address information in so that we can effectively follow up as needed.

Rice Student Health Services, the Wellbeing and Counseling Center, and SAFE office services continue to be available to students. They are taking appointments, but the process has been modified to follow CDC recommendations. Please see information on the best way to contact them and other after hours resources here. We encourage you to reach out to the Wellbeing and Counseling Center if you’d like to talk to someone.

Additionally, to minimize your time on campus, effective immediately through April 30th graduate students holding a Night Owl parking pass will be allowed to park in the following additional lots: BRC Garage; North Lot; the North Annex Lot; and the Entrance 3 Garage. This is in addition to the Greenbriar Lot. Please don’t take this as encouragement to come to campus-- we’re simply trying to make things a little easier for everyone.

Our office will continue to send out regular communications that will keep you updated on evolving campus changes, as well as scholastic and funding opportunities. I’m sure you have more questions. The university has continued to update resources found at http:///, including a FAQ. We will also continue to develop our graduate-specific FAQs on our website. And of course, please feel free to reach out to anyone at GPS.

Let’s take care of ourselves and one another. It’s a privilege to work with you.

With my very best regards,


Seiichi Matsuda
Interim Provost
Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

P.S. I’ve learned a lot during the past few weeks. It turns out that there is an established, systematic method to wash hands. It is worth doing things right.