Author: Holsinger, Kent

GA Employment Outside the U.S. Spring 2021 Update

Dear Graduate Students,

COVID-19 has placed enormous stress on all graduate students, and the travel restrictions associated with it have placed an especially large burden on international graduate students. Most international graduate students have remained here since the pandemic began, and may be isolated from not only your University communities, but also your friends and families in your home countries. We know these past seven months have been very difficult, and we want you to know that we are here to support you in the months ahead. Many of you are wondering about whether you should travel over the winter holidays and whether you can hold a graduate assistantship and perform the duties associated with it while you are outside the U.S. I am writing to you with information that I hope you will find useful as you make your plans.

GAs provide vital teaching and research service to the University, and some of this work might be possible remotely. GAs who are here in the U.S. are able to work remotely, provided they have supervisor approval and that the responsibilities of the position can be completed from the remote location. GAs who are outside the United States, however are subject to the employment, labor, and tax obligations of the country from which they are working, even if they are working on behalf of an employer like UConn that is located in the U.S. In some cases, accepting a paycheck from UConn could expose an individual to personal liability and other significant consequences in the country where they reside.

We continue to try to balance the University’s commitment to supporting our graduate students with our concern that some well-intentioned efforts could place students at risk in their home country. Therefore, GAs are expected to be in the U.S. by the start date of their Spring semester appointment and remain in the U.S. for the duration of that appointment. Remote employment taking place outside the United States must be approved in advance by The Graduate School, and will only be approved under extremely limited circumstances described in the following guidelines. These guidelines were developed in conjunction with the Office of the Provost, the Office of the General Counsel, and the Office of Global Affairs.

  • Graduate students who leave for winter break and who expect to hold graduate assistantships in Spring 2021 are expected to make every effort to arrive in the U.S. to begin the responsibilities of their Spring semester appointment (and no later than the semester start date of January 19, 2021). International students are advised to consult with ISSS about the likelihood of being able to return to the U.S. in time for Spring 2021 before making travel plans.
  • GAs will only be considered to work from abroad for Spring 2021 in the event that new travel restrictions or travel related circumstances that were not in place at the time of departure prevent them from returning to the U.S. Students may review current U.S. entry restrictions, and current global travel restrictions. The Graduate School will also consider changes to local travel conditions (i.e. flight cancellations, local lockdowns) when considering your emergent circumstances.
    • In the case of a GA who chooses to leave the country and is unable to return because of travel restrictions that prevent return, the department may request approval for work abroad, but approval will be subject to export control and grant restrictions. Approval will take at least several days and could take several weeks. You should understand that you may be placed on unpaid leave while the request is reviewed.
  • Prior approval to work remotely while abroad for Fall 2020 does not guarantee approval to work remotely while abroad in Spring 2021. A new request for each student must be submitted by the department and each request will be reviewed on a case by case basis.

Please be sure to consult your ISSS advisor with any questions you have about your visa status and for updates on travel restrictions to and from the U.S.

If you have any questions, please send them to, and we will respond as quickly as possible.

COVID-19 testing for graduate students

To the Graduate Student Community at Storrs and the Regional Campuses:

The Graduate School has been working closely with Student Health and Wellness (SHaW), Human Resources, the Office of the Provost, the Graduate Student Senate, and the Graduate Student Representative to the Board of Trustees to develop the following plan for testing members of the graduate school whose work will require them to be on campus. What follows is a summary of those procedures. Please note: Graduate students at UConn Health should follow the procedures in place at UConn Health.

  • All graduate students who are expected to be regularly on campus (Storrs or any regional campus) in order to participate in in-person course work or to fulfill their duties as GAs (including those RAs who have already been working labs as part of the summer research ramp-up) will be provided access to COVID testing without cost.
  • Graduate students who have no regular duties or coursework that require them to be on campus will not be tested. They are permitted to come to campus occasionally for very brief  periods during the semester. In general, however, they are urged to stay off campus and arrange for virtual meetings with faculty advisors or other colleagues.
  • Testing will be done by Vault Health. Eligible graduate students will receive an email link to their UConn email along with detailed instructions for how to order a kit by mail for collecting their own samples, which should then be mailed directly back to Vault labs for testing.
  • Students who have already had a test within the 14 days prior to the start of classes (August 31st) may instead submit a test result to SHaW directly here.
  • Over the next several days the Graduate School will be working with Human Resources, Departments, and the Registrar in order to identify all graduate students who fall within these categories. Therefore, please note the following:
    • Given our need to have accurate information about students being on campus due to enrollment in in-person or hybrid courses, it is very important that all graduate students complete their course registrations for the Fall 2020 semester by August 17th.
  • Test results will be sent to the students and will also be shared with Student Health and Wellness (SHaW). No further action is necessary if test results are negative, and students may come to campus. For Storrs students who receive a positive test result, contact SHaW at (860)486-4700 or your primary care provider to obtain medical attention and instructions on how to self-isolate.  For regional campus students who test positive, contact your primary care provider to obtain medical attention and instructions.
    • Students who are taking in-person courses should contact their professors to make arrangements to continue their studies online.
    • GAs who test positive for COVID-19 are expected to initiate a report directly to HR and are also expected to self-quarantine as instructed by HR. (Vault/SHaW will NOT be sending those results to HR due to HIPPA privacy laws. GAs are expected to report their positive tests results to HR by sending a note to

Carl Lejuez, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Kent Holsinger, Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of The Graduate School

Support the Black community, a message from the Dean


Two weeks ago George Floyd, a 46-year-old man, suffocated when an officer of the Minneapolis Police department pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Following soon after the shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery who was jogging and of Breonna Taylor in her own home, I can barely imagine the grief, anger, and frustration that Black people feel because of the brutal treatment they too often receive at the hands of those sworn to protect them.

The anger and frustration Black people and people of color feel must surely be compounded by the anguish of knowing that the damage COVID-19 causes has disproportionately visited them, their families, and their communities. Nothing I can say will assuage that anger. Nothing I can do will correct those wrongs. But rest assured, I will do everything I can to ensure that UConn welcomes and supports every student regardless of race, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender, cultural background or religion.  

Martin Luther King wrote this from his cell in a Birmingham jail:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

We must do more than hope. We must act, and we must right the injustices that we can correct. My life and experience are different from yours, and those differences blind me to some of the injustices you see. Please help me see what you see. I invite you to share your experiences by sending me an email to and by attending one of the Dean Dialogues we will announce later this week. I cannot promise to correct the injustices you describe, because many may lie beyond the scope of my authority. But I can promise to change what is within my power to change and to listen intently, sharing what I learn from you with those who can make the changes I can't. 

Echoing the statement of President Tom Katsouleas and Provost Carl Lejuez and the words of new Vice-President and Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Frank Tuitt, institutions like UConn should be involved in the work of imagining policies, conversations, and spaces that promote equity. This work does not only fall to marginalized people and communities; it is hard work we must all undertake. 

The Graduate School has compiled a list of resources that we hope you will find useful. In addition to these resources, the staff of The Graduate School is here to listen to you and to support you. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Finally, please take care of yourself and those around you during these extraordinarily difficult times. Your strength and your compassion will in some not too distant tomorrow make the stars of love and brotherhood shine over our university.

Kent Holsinger 
Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Biology
Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of The Graduate School  

Response to Open Letter of Concerns

Last week President Katsouleas, Interim Provost Elliot, and Dean Holsinger received an email from a group of graduate students with a link to an open letter created by UConn graduate students calling for additional responses to the COVID-19 crises. More than 400 members of the UConn community (graduate students, undergraduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff) signed the letter.

It has been a challenging time for the University and all its members, and graduate students have played a critical role in supporting the key mission elements, including successfully transitioning to online classes, supporting faculty, and students and carrying out critical research. President Katsouleas, Interim Provost Elliott, and Dean Holsinger directly responded to Mr. Ramirez about concerns in the open letter. You can read this response below.

Thank you for sharing the thoughtful letter describing concerns that graduate students at UConn face. As you know better than we, graduate students often feel isolated or marginalized even at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. It has been a challenging period for the University and all its members, and we want first to acknowledge the critical role that graduate students have played in supporting the key mission elements, including successfully transitioning to online classes, supporting faculty and students and carrying out critical research.

We hope you will be pleased to learn that the University has already taken action on several of the items mentioned in your letter: The University will continue to teach its courses this summer and fall. Even if remote instruction is necessary, teaching assistants will be needed at least as much as they have been needed this spring, and it is reasonable to anticipate that most or all of them will receive appointments this fall. The Graduate School has long allowed remote participation in general exams, final exams, and defenses, and it also worked with the Registrar's Office to allow electronic signatures on all required forms, including approval pages of theses and dissertations. Similarly, it has long been possible for international students to complete their degrees from their home country while paying only the continuous registration fee, provided that they have completed all other degree requirements. The Students First fund has long been a priority for fundraising through the University of Connecticut Foundation, and the Foundation has redoubled its efforts to ensure that the Students First fund is able to meet the needs of as many students as possible. Connecticut state government is centrally coordinating the use of space, including residence halls at UConn, to meet a variety of needs or potential needs associated with the pandemic. This includes housing first responders, healthcare workers, patients, those recovering from coronavirus and/or homeless populations. In fact, on April 16 the Board of Trustees approved an agreement between UConn and the City of Stamford that will allow recovering coronavirus patients to use UConn’s largest residence hall in Stamford to house individuals recovering from coronavirus. In addition, space has been identified and held on the Storrs campus for the state’s potential future use, as well as the quarantine and isolation needs for our own students, about 800 of whom remain on campus. In addition to ensuring that all on-campus workers have access to personal protective equipment (PPE), the University has also donated thousands of items of PPE from its labs and research offices to healthcare workers. Governor Lamont also recently issued an executive order regarding the use of masks in workplaces which the university will of course follow.

The University is also responding to other concerns you mention. For example, procedures already exist for graduate student to request extensions of the time needed to complete their degree. We will prioritize this processing for returning students closest to completing their degrees and terms of appointment. The Graduate School will approve any extension request based on hardships associated with COVID-19, provided that the student's major advisor supports their request. In addition, graduate assistants who have their degree conferred in May already have health insurance coverage through the end of August, and graduate students covered by the student health plan have coverage through August 14. In addition, we have been independently considering your request to extend the pass/fail option. We have been thinking of this in the context of ways to ensure a smooth and safe re-entry to campus for all students and staff. We believe a key part of that strategy involves removing any incentives to come to campus sick. Knowing that grade pressure can be a reason students push themselves to come to school when they perhaps shouldn’t, we will be asking the Graduate Faculty Council to approve an extension of the pass/fail option to Fall 2020.

You mention other concerns that we understand and that we are committed to addressing in a case by case basis working with departments, major advisors and outside agencies. Our overarching 15priority is to ensure that the pandemic does not prevent students from completing degrees towards which they are making satisfactory progress. The circumstances graduate students face differ dramatically from department to department, and even from student to student within a department. The University is, however, working closely with federal agencies, with leaders in Congress and the state, with advisors and departments to address as much of the shortfall in funding for students as possible. There will be some for whom these measures still leave students with substantial hardship as a result of the pandemic. For those students, we will look to provide relief through financial aid.

Finally, the term associated with an I-20/DS2019 is determined by the federal government. Nevertheless, the University is working closely with federal officials to minimize hardships that are especially severe for our international students.

We thank you for writing us to share your concerns and those of your fellow graduate students. Graduate students are the lifeblood of a great university, and UConn is fortunate to have you and your colleagues among us.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Katsouleas
John Elliott
Kent Holsinger

Response to Concerns

Last week President Katsouleas, Interim Provost Elliot, and Dean Holsinger received an email from a group of graduate students with a link to an open letter created by UConn graduate students calling for additional responses to the COVID-19 crises. More than 400 members of the UConn community (graduate students, undergraduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff) signed the letter.

It has been a challenging time for the University and all its members, and graduate students have played a critical role in supporting the key mission elements, including successfully transitioning to online classes, supporting faculty, and students and carrying out critical research. President Katsouleas, Interim Provost Elliott, and Dean Holsinger directly responded to students who raised concerns in the open letter. You can read the response at

Announcement Regarding Options for Course Conversions by Graduate Students

In an effort to address concerns that have been raised regarding the challenges faced by graduate students during the pandemic, the Graduate Faculty Council recently approved a motion to temporarily allow any graduate student to convert a course taken in Spring 2020 from “graded” to either “pass/fail” or “withdraw-audit”, with approval of the student’s major advisor and/or program director.  This option is available to all graduate students in a degree or certificate program under the jurisdiction of The Graduate School. The deadline for conversion of courses is May 22, 2020.  Students can, but need not, wait until after receiving their grade to decide whether to seek a conversion. However, once a course is converted, it cannot be converted back to a letter-graded course.

For graduate students, a passing grade in a course converted to P/F is defined as an overall grade of C- or higher.  A course for which the student has a P grade can, with approval of the major advisor (or, if appropriate, the program director), be included on the student’s graduate Plan of Study or Advisement Report.  Courses that have been converted to Audit will appear on the student’s transcript as “WAU”.  A course that has been converted to Audit cannot be used on a graduate Plan of Study or Advisement Report.

Any student wishing to convert a class to P/F or Audit  should email their major advisor and/or program director requesting the conversion, indicating in the email the course number (including subject area), their Peoplesoft ID, and the requested conversion.  If the major advisor and/or program director approves, they should forward the student’s request, indicating approval of the request, to the Registrar’s Office ( and copy the student on the approval email.  The request should be sent by the student to the major advisor and/or program director no later than Monday, May 18, 2020. The approval email must then be sent from the major advisor’s and/or program director’s UConn email address to the Registrar’s Office by Friday, May 22, 2020.  Extensions of the deadline (due to extenuating circumstances) will be allowed only with the approval of The Graduate School.

Updates to Admissions Processes for Incoming Students

To the UConn Community,

In an effort to keep you informed about events occurring in the Graduate Admissions Office, we’re sending you some information about updates to our processes.

To assist students who aren’t able to go to a testing center, The Graduate School has begun to accept the Duolingo English Test as evidence of English proficiency. Any applicant with access to a computer and a webcam can take the test.

In addition, ETS has recently updated their service to allow for online testing options for TOEFL and GRE. You can visit their website for more information ETS Testing Updates due to COVID-19.

Virtual events for prospective and admitted students can be held through The Graduate School’s online application and CRM system. Please contact for more information. Virtual events can include virtual infosessions or virtual orientations.

We are continuing to process admission for students, and matriculations have resumed. Because we continue to work remotely, both of these processes are experiencing some delays. We appreciate your understanding and patience at this time. If you have any questions or concerns, contact

The Graduate School has developed a webpage with answers to Frequently Asked Questions for prospective, admitted, and current students as well as faculty and staff. If you have any additional questions, email, and we will work to answer you directly and shape our page to assist others.

We hope that you are all staying healthy and safe.

Kent Holsinger and Anne Lanzit

Updates Regarding COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear Colleagues,

The ongoing COVID-19 epidemic is accompanied by extraordinary measures attempting to contain it. First and foremost, The Graduate School is concerned for the safety, health, and well-being of students, faculty, and staff of the University of Connecticut and the communities in which they live. Please heed the advice of public health experts to protect yourself and those around you. 

Governor Lamont signed an executive order on March 20 directing all non-essential functions in Connecticut to suspend operations beginning Monday, March 23 at 8:00pm. As a result, the President, Provost, and Vice President for Research have determined that all on-campus research at all campuses must stop and all labs close at the same time. The suspension of activity will last through at least April 22. The University will allow only critical research support functions to continue. Critical functions are those that are necessary to allow research to resume after this suspension (e.g., care of research animals or plants, maintenance of cell lines, maintenance of research equipment). Please refer to the Critical Research Infrastructure Inventory for more information. In addition, all University-sponsored travel out-of-state has been suspended, except in very limited circumstances. Please refer to the COVID-19 Travel Advisory and Guidelines for more information.  

Graduate students and their advisory committees should immediately develop plans for thesis and dissertation research that take into account these restrictions. We know that Governor Lamont’s restrictions to non-essential functions are now in place through at least April 22, but it is prudent to plan for the possibility that they will last substantially longer. Graduate students and their advisory committees should plan for the possibility that research involving on-campus facilities or out-of-state travel will continue to be limited through the entire summer, possibly even longer. The appropriate modifications to research plans will differ dramatically from discipline to discipline. They are likely to differ from student to student within disciplines. The Graduate School has developed a set of guidelines and questions for graduate students and faculty to consider as they adapt to these challenges. Please consult them carefully, and contact The Graduate School at if you have any questions. Given the unchartered territory, we also welcome your ideas that might be useful to other graduate students and faculty. We will update the guidelines periodically as new information and advice becomes available. 

Please take care of yourself and everyone around you. 

Kent Holsinger