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Memo to PhD, MS & MEng Students: Guidance for Graduate Student Research

March 13, 2020

Dear Pratt graduate students,

We are writing with updated information for our graduate students who participate in lab-based research. Please note that this guidance is based on our current assessment as of March 13, 2020, and is subject to change given the rapidly evolving situation.

As previously announced, all classes at Pratt are postponed until March 23 when they will resume online. If you are only taking classes, you do not need to return to campus and may disregard this message. Please visit the Pratt COVID-19 Information webpage at for additional information and resources. Duke-wide updates are available at

Duke University has provided guidelines related to research during the COVID-19 pandemic at PhD and MS students can find additional relevant information on the Graduate School website

At present, Duke and Pratt research labs remain open. PhD and master’s students, as well as postdoctoral researchers and other lab staff, are permitted on campus to perform laboratory-based research. 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.

While we are working to maintain our research activities, our first priority is your health and well-being. Toward that end, we will follow these guidelines:

  • Faculty mentors are expected to be flexible with lab members, especially those who may be at higher risk or have special concerns
  • We encourage use of online communication tools so that students are able to work remotely for all or part of their time
  • If students 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 provided specific guidance for “Laboratory Operations Changes.”
  • While current policy permits meetings with fewer than 50 Duke faculty, staff or students, labs should consider using Zoom for lab meetings if this is more comfortable for the team under the current circumstances
  • Students and other lab members who have been traveling should follow Duke’s guidelines for returning to any campus lab. Labs can add additional requirements, even if the student was not in a level 2 or 3 country, and help arrange for students to work remotely during this period
  • For students who would typically present a poster for their research, we are planning to conduct the poster sessions remotely. Faculty can review work, then provide feedback. Alternatively, groups might consider Zoom-based poster presentations, if scheduling allows

We encourage open communication to ensure agreement about procedures for returning doctoral or master’s student researchers in each lab. We have asked all faculty to work with students to accommodate their particular situations, while helping each student continue their research path under the current circumstances. If there are disagreements, students are encouraged to speak to the department DGS or DMS, whose role is to advocate for students.

If you have questions, please contact your DGS or DMS or any of us. We appreciate your flexibility and patience as we all work together to ensure a healthy and productive remainder of the semester.


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