COVID-19 FAQ for Graduate Students and Postdocs

March 24, 2020 - by Sarah Igram

Below, you will find the latest COVID-19-related updates for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. This includes general campus information; specific information for graduate assistants, researchers, and international students; and information about COVID-19. Additional resources are listed at the bottom of the page. The Graduate College will update this page continually as more information becomes available.


COVID-19-related Accommodations for Graduate Students


  • Additional flexibility is being provided to graduate students taking preliminary or final oral examinations.  These may be held in person with the previously announced social-distancing safeguards, or with up to complete remote participation by the examining committee and student.  Please see our updated statement for further information.   

  • Graduate students will have increased flexibility with making schedule changes (such as adds, drops, section changes, credit changes, and pass/not pass).

  • The Center for Communication Excellence in the Graduate College is offering remote services, including individual consultations, peer review groups, peer speaking practice groups.

  • Graduate College Career Services is open for virtual, phone, and email support and consultations and is actively researching the ever-changing world of career searches and hiring in a pandemic. Please complete this survey to help us better support your remote needs, and email us to schedule an appointment or for email support.


General Campus Questions


What student services will be open/available during this period? 

  • On-campus COVID-19 testing is available to all students, faculty, and staff.

  • Please call ahead before visiting the Thielen Student Health Center if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Student Counseling Services is now providing sessions by phone, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Please call 515-294-5056. With limited exceptions, Student Counseling is not providing face-to-face appointments at this time.

  • For International Students and Scholars, please call ahead, 515-294-1120. Access to the ISSO office in the Memorial Union is restricted.  

  • Other Student Affairs services will be available to students participating in off-campus online instruction on a limited basis via phone or email. 

  • Academic student support services, including academic advising and career services, will be provided online or by phone. 


I don't have reliable internet access at home; how do I complete my online coursework?

Information Technology Services and Athletics have partnered to make drive-up WiFi available in designated lots outside Jack Trice Stadium. Simply use your Net-ID and password to connect to the Eduroam network. Remember to practice social distancing by either staying in your car or maintaining at least six feet from other users.


How will this impact me if I live on campus? 

  • Department of Residence has restricted the ability to live in the residence halls, with some exceptions.

  • Examples of approved exceptions include, but are not limited to, international students who cannot return home, or students for whom returning home represents a health or safety threat to you or those at home.                     

  • University apartments will remain open, and those residents will also receive a direct communication from the Department of Residence. 

  • More information for all students in university housing is available here.


My preliminary or final oral exam is scheduled to take place this semester. How should I proceed? 

The Graduate College strongly encourages students and examining committees to participate in exams via telephone or videoconference. If students and their examining committees choose to hold a preliminary or final oral exam in person, they must do so in a space that allow for six feet of social distancing, and with fewer than 10 people present.


Am I able to travel for conferences, data collection, or other university-related business? 

As of March 14, Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen has announced that university-related travel, both international and domestic, is prohibited until further notice, effective immediately. While students, faculty and staff may still travel within the state of Iowa, the university strongly recommends that decisions are made to reduce in-state travel when possible. If you held upcoming plans to travel, please consult with your major professors, Directors of Graduate Education, or department chairs on adjusting your plans. You can also contact the Graduate College with any questions or concerns. 


Assistantship Questions 


As a graduate assistant, what should I consider during the university online instruction period? 

Graduate students should expect to receive guidance from their departments, major professors, and/or program directors (DOGEs), as well as from the Graduate College. Supervisors of graduate assistants will provide individualized guidance. The duties of TAs may be adjusted by supervisors to support online instruction. 

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are partners in Iowa State's research activities. They should expect to receive guidance from their departments, major professors, and/or program directors (DOGEs), as well as from the Graduate College. However, it is unacceptable for them to be pressured into taking an active role that requires in-person participation in a laboratory or research site. In the event that a more complete research shut-down is ordered by the university, they may not be pressured into the role of key personnel in essential research activities, exposing them to a laboratory or research site in which they are not comfortable. Instead, supervisors should encourage and accommodate creative activities such as writing manuscripts, literature reviews, computation etc., that can be performed remotely.

Any graduate student or postdoc uncomfortable with performing an essential role as assigned by their major professor or PI should immediately contact their Director of Graduate Education (DOGE), center director, or the Graduate College (Associate Dean Carolyn Cutrona, Postdocs may contact the Graduate College (Postdoc Coordinator, Misty Treanor, or their department’s Postdoc Contact Person (LAS only).


I am a graduate teaching assistant. Who should I contact for assistance with teaching classes online? 

TAs should first contact their course supervisors for assistance. Their supervisors may choose to direct them to additional resources. 


Research-Related Questions


For information related to research and COVID-19, please refer to the Office of the Vice President for Research’s FAQ, which addresses:

  • Social distancing and reducing the risk of transmission while conducting research
  • Essential research activities
  • Human-subjects research
  • Continuity of care for research and teaching animals
  • Plant research
  • Biohazards research
  • PPE donation


Questions for International Students 


What does the move to online classes mean for my immigration status? 

This temporary change in course delivery methods will not affect your immigration status. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program and U.S. Department of State have said they support schools taking necessary measures to keep students safe, including online delivery of classes. 


I am an international student. What happens if I am unable to return home after the semester? 

We recognize this is an extremely difficult situation for students from impacted countries who may not be able to return home at the end of the semester, or visit family. Iowa State will work closely with these students to make sure housing and other necessities are available should this need arise. 


I am an incoming international student. What if I cannot make it to campus for the upcoming semester? 

We recognize that your ability to arrive on campus for the start of the semester may not be in your control. If this happens, the Office of Admissions and your academic college will work with you to determine how best to proceed so you can enroll and begin your studies at Iowa State. 


Is Iowa State still issuing I-20s for international students? 

Yes. However, because a large number of employees are currently working remotely, the process of issuing I-20s will take 5-10 business days longer than usual. 


Questions about COVID-19 


What precautions can I take to prevent COVID-19, influenza or other illnesses? 

Face coverings are required on Iowa State's campus. There are additional steps you can take to limit your risk for any illness. The Thielen Student Health Center encourages the campus community to practice infection control strategies including: 

  • Cover your nose and mouth with tissues when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash after use. 

  • Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective. 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to avoid spreading germs. 

  • Improve your immune system by getting enough rest (eight hours is ideal), exercising regularly, and eating healthy. 

  • Stay home if you are sick and avoid close contact with sick people. 

  • Instead of a handshake, give a wave to avoid spreading germs. 

To help stop the spread of disease, it is important for students, faculty and staff to stay home when they are sick. Cyclone Health also has helpful information and additional resources for taking care of your behavioral health during the outbreak. 


What if I am sick and miss class/work? 

Students who miss class due to illness are encouraged to contact their instructors as soon as possible, to notify them of their illness, and to determine how best to make up class time and assignments. If students are not able to contact their faculty due to their illness (hospitalized, etc.), they can contact the Dean of Students office to assist with the notification process. Student Assistance staff is available as students return to campus, if there are any additional impacts or concerns due to their time away. 

Faculty and staff are encouraged to notify their department chair or supervisor as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made to cover classes or work, as necessary. 


Do I need an excuse from Thielen Student Health Center if I miss class? 

No. Please see the class excuse statement from the Office of the Provost and Thielen Student Health Center. 


I am concerned that friends, family or classmates may be impacted by the disease. Is there a place I can go for help? 

The university encourages students and employees who may have anxiety or depression regarding how they are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak to seek mental health services through Student Counseling Services or the Thielen Student Health Center


How can I support my fellow Cyclones during the COVID-19 outbreak? 

It is important to obtain credible information from experts including the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and public health agencies, and ensure you are only sharing credible resources. Outbreaks can cause fear and anxiety and we encourage our campus community to be supportive and speak out against negative and stigmatizing behaviorCampus resources are also available for support. 


Additional Resources 

Employee FAQ from University Human Resources 

Student FAQ from University Human Resources 

FAQ from the Office of the Vice President for Research 

Updated statement from the Graduate College on preliminary and final oral examinations during COVID-19 response period

Tags: covid-19 updates