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Memo to Pratt Faculty: COVID-19 Teaching and Research Updates

March 13, 2020

Dear Pratt faculty, 

As the Duke community works quickly to respond to the coronavirus situation, we are writing with additional information relevant to research and teaching within Pratt.  This is a rapidly evolving situation, but the following information is current as of March 13, 2020.

Duke-wide updates are available at


Duke University has published substantial guidance related to research operations at  Below are additional details to assist Pratt faculty in implementing this guidance:

Graduate Students and Research Staff in Pratt Labs

Duke research labs are currently open. Our post-doctoral fellows, research staff, PhD and master’s students are permitted on campus to perform laboratory-based research, and will have access to facilities based on their DukeCard. 

However, our first priority is the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff:

  • Faculty mentors should be flexible with lab members, especially those who may be at higher risk or have special concerns. We encourage using online communications tools so that student and staff researchers can work remotely for all or part of their time.
  • If students or staff need to be in the lab, lab teams should discuss ways to promote good lab hygiene and enable social distancing through options such as taking shifts. Duke has published specific guidance under “Laboratory Operations Changes.”
  • While current policy permits meetings with fewer than 50 Duke faculty, staff or students, consider using Zoom for lab meetings if this is more comfortable for your team under the current circumstances.
  • Graduate students doing non-laboratory-based research should work remotely. Students are not permitted to return to Pratt buildings to meet with colleagues, work independently outside a faculty-directed lab, or socialize

Undergraduate Research and Independent Study

Undergraduates may not return to campus research labs, even if they are currently in town or in the Duke dorms. Undergraduate students who are conducting independent studies or research projects for a class in a professor’s lab must be provided distance options to complete their work, such as data analysis or a research paper.  

Summer Research Programs

Decisions regarding summer research programs, including Pratt Fellows, will be made at a later date (likely early-mid April).

Lab Members Returning After Travel

Given the rapid spread of coronavirus, follow Duke’s guidelines for returning students or staff who may have traveled during Spring Break. Note that the CDC has expanded Level 3 travel warnings to additional countries as of this morning. Visit for the latest updates.  

Preparing Labs and Contingency Planning for Possible Closure

While we hope that campus closure does not happen, it is prudent to plan ahead for that possibility:

  • Take stock of critical supplies or procedures
  • If you have not done so, please provide your department chair or business manager with the names of students or staff who need access in the event of an emergency or campus closure
  • In the event of a campus closure, prioritize current experiments
  • For those doing biological work, consider freezing cells or other reagents
  • Note that essential services such as electricity, water, gases, cryogenics, and feeding and caring of animals in the vivarium will continue to be provided
  • Packages sent to department offices will be available for pickup and storage in the lab

Overall, clear communication about lab procedures and contingency plans will help your group in navigating the current situation.


Compressed Semester Schedule

Pratt graduate and undergraduate courses will begin in an online format March 23. Graduate courses will end on April 15 and undergraduate courses on April 22, as scheduled.

At present, all other Duke courses will begin March 23 EXCEPT in Divinity, Fuqua, Law and Nursing. Classes resume online on March 16 for students taking courses in those schools.

Individual Class Schedules

In order to implement remote instruction, each faculty member will determine the format of the course they are teaching. Some faculty may choose synchronous delivery of lectures/classes (i.e. to all students at once in real-time), some asynchronous (i.e., students work independently on their own time), and some a combination of both. Synchronous classes must be delivered during the regularly scheduled class time.  Duke is asking faculty teaching synchronously to make a recording available for students in other time zones. Students will not be penalized if they are in a different time zone and require an asynchronous experience. 

Online Teaching Support

  • Duke Learning Innovation has launched a website to provide resources for online teaching, as announced in a 3/12 Provost’s Memo
  • For laboratory and design classes, each department is taking the lead in developing accommodation strategies.  Please consult your DUS and department chair for guidance
  • Duke Engineering online education director La Tondra Murray and Pratt IT director Jim Daigle have provided additional recommendations for Pratt faculty: See Remote Teaching Resources
  • Live training sessions for faculty members interested in learning about Zoom are offered regularly. Register here (scroll to the “Zoom Meetings for Education” link).  You can also watch a recording of a previous training session
  • At this time, Pratt School buildings are accessible to you with a DukeCard. Faculty who wish to use Panopto-enabled classrooms to record and distribute lectures should contact Pratt IT at for assistance

Graduate School policy updates affecting PhD and MS education are available at 

Undergraduate Student guidance and FAQs are available at  

We know this is an unprecedented situation for all of us, and appreciate everything you are doing to help make these rapid transitions as smooth as possible for our students, staff and each other. Please do not hesitate to contact us or your department chair if you have additional questions or suggestions.

With our sincere thanks,

Ravi Bellamkonda
Vinik Dean of Engineering 

George Truskey
Sr. Associate Dean for Research 

Jennifer West
Associate Dean for PhD Education

Jeff Glass
Sr. Associate Dean for Education & Learning Innovation