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COVID-19 Program changes

Accommodations for the Covid-19-related shift to remote instruction

While Harvard is in remote-operations mode, the following changes to policies and expectations for PhD, ME and SM students are in effect; please check back here for updates.

If you have questions, please contact:

Course Grades

Ordinarily all courses used for GSAS degrees must be taken for a letter grade, but with the current disruption to normal instruction GSAS's policy committee has approved for students to take FAS (including SEAS) courses for a "Sat/Unsat" grade in spring 2020. GSAS's instructions noted that students should "obtain email approval from the course faculty member and forward that email to the department... The deadline to submit a petition is April 13". There is no need to forward the course faculty member's email to anyone in SEAS. Please just forward it directly to the Registrar's Office at Be sure to add a one-line sentence summarizing the change being petitioned, and include your HUID and degree program (e.g., "M.E. in CSE", "PhD in Applied Physics", etc.)

Aligned with the GSAS measure, SEAS will allow students to use "Sat" grades in spring 2020 classes towards the PhD, ME, and SM degrees in lieu of letter grades; just petition the Registrar as described in the previous paragraph. No special CHD approval will be needed.

Also, SEAS will also allow students to use "Pass" or "PE" grades in spring 2020 classes taken by cross-registration (e.g., classes at MIT or in other Harvard schools). No FAS/GSAS/SEAS petition is needed.

All other degree requirements remain in place, including which courses you need for any given degree.

AB/SM students: Since the College's version of "Sat/Unsat" is "Pass/Fail", you may find yourselves in an odd situation if you later need to rearrange which courses you use for the AB vs. the SM (or, for concurrent-masters students, for both). Here's how you should proceed:

  • For any spring 2020 courses that you want not to take for a letter grade and that you plan to use only for the SM, petition to take them Sat/Unsat via the process described above in this message. You will need to "bracket" them first. The form and procedure is available on this page.
  • For any spring 2020 courses that you want not to take for a letter grade and that you plan to use for the AB, follow guidance from the College on how to accomplish that.
  • If later you find you need to use a non-cross-registration "Pass" grade from spring 2020 towards the SM after all, you'll just need permission from your Director of Graduate Studies (for May 2020 graduates) or from the Committee on Higher Degrees (for later graduates). This would also apply to future concurrent masters students who are counting a given class for both the AB and the SM. For Computer Science AB/SM candidates, the CS DGS has already given blanket permission to use such Pass grades for the SM in CS.

Note that the definition of "Sat"in GSAS is "B- or better work" per

Graduate Program Forms and I-9 Employment Forms

All SEAS graduate forms may be submitted via email to Please cc the appropriate advisor or DGS if needed asking them to confirm their agreement.

UPDATED: Harvard is working on how to remotely take in US government I-9 employment authorization forms and verify supporting documents (e.g., passport, I-20, driver's licence, etc.) Please watch for email instructions from Ann Greaney-Williams on this.

  • Our normal practice had been to ask students to bring in their I-9 and supporting documents at the same time as their annual Advising Agreement forms. We no longer have that expectation; please submit your advisor agreements over email to even if you also need to submit an I-9 .

Qualifying Exams, Defenses, and Committee Meetings

  • UPDATED: All policy restrictions on remote participation by committee members in SEAS PhD qualifying exams and defenses are suspended through at least July 31, 2020. Remote participation by the student, committee members (and for defenses, any guests) is required -- pending future guidance, so that you can plan please assume this will be the case through May 31, 2020 at the least.
  • The normal deadline for current G2 PhD students to take the qualifying exam is now extended to October 31, 2020.
  • G3+ committee meetings can take place via videoconference. Expectations regarding timing are relaxed; check with you committee members on how they would like to proceed.
  • Zoom videoconferencing is recommended for all such oral exams and meetings; see .

The Office of Academic Programs will assume that any quals and defenses already scheduled will proceed unless we hear otherwise from you; mail if you are scheduling or changing the date of a defense or qual exam, or with general inquiries. And watch your email for updates!


Tips on using Zoom for defenses, committee meetings etc

General tips: 

  • With a typical recent laptop or iPhone, one can either share presentation slides or point the camera at a whiteboard or chalkboard.
  • A committee member who is not the student or advisor should host or be made a co-host of the Zoom meeting. That way, in any portion of the exam or meeting in which the student, advisor, or (for defenses) guests need to leave, the meeting can continue. The (co-)hosting committee member may simply specify when others should return to the meeting after any private discussion.
  • For defenses with guests attending, the host may want to disable the “ding” when people enter and have it automatically mute mics on entry.
  • Alternatively Zoom's "breakout session" functionality can be used if the committee member host is comfortable using with Zoom's advanced features.

These tips come from Tony Zhou, our first student to hold an all-Zoom defense:

  1. Practice Zoom to know how to do breakout room, annotation, mute and unmute participants
  2. Schedule a defense with setting that people enter without Chime sound
  3. Enter the zoom meeting 5 mins before the official meeting
  4. Double check the setting in the meeting to disable “Play Enter/Exit Chime”
  5. When meeting time officially starts, make your committee co-hosts. (This is important besides having co-hosts to regulate the meeting because I had a wireless disconnection and had to reconnect back into the defense. If I was the sole host/co-host, it may end the meeting of 30-50 people.)
  6. Enable “Mute Participants on Entry”
  7. Disable “Allow Participants to unmute” (In general, it’s good to only allow committee who are presumably co-hosts to interrupt and ask questions during defense but general audience should ask questions at very end at Q&A session.)
  8. Make sure to unmute committee and have adviser to introduce the speaker.
  9. After Q&A, the speaker (host) makes breakout room to assign committee to enter and privately discuss speaker’s PhD fate.