APS’s Response to COVID-19: Activities to Assist Graduate Students

Since early March, APS has focused the activities of the Office of Government Affairs (OGA), in coordination with other APS departments, on assisting the physics community through and beyond the pandemic. A primary focus of these efforts is addressing the needs of graduate students, primarily the financial pressures that have resulted from the closure of universities and laboratories across the country. Below are the actions APS has taken to support graduate students in a variety of situations, and the resulting updates on policies and resources:

Maintaining Financial Support from Federal Grants

The initial priority of APS was to ensure that graduate students who are supported by federal grants continue to get their salaries and benefits. OGA partnered with the Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA) to send out an alert to FGSA members asking them to urge Congress to maintain the salaries and benefits of graduate students supported by federal grants. FGSA members sent hundreds of letters.

OGA heard directly from the Department of Energy (DOE) that the grassroots campaign spurred the agency to a swift decision of support. Within two days of starting the campaign, APS received confirmation that NSF, DOE, and DOD were all extending the grant support for graduate students.

If you are aware of any PIs who are not extending grant support to students, please bring that matter to the attention of APS OGA: oga@aps.org

US Visa Processing for International Graduate Students

International students make up ~45% of all physics students studying in the United States, so a full return to pre-pandemic research capabilities will require the prompt return, or initial entry, of international graduate students to US labs and universities. There are several groups of international students impacted:

  • Those who returned to their home countries during the pandemic and will need their visa processed in order to return;
  • Those who remained in the US but must extend their stay in order to complete their PhD because of lost research time, and consequently, will require an F-1 visa renewal; and
  • Those who are starting their PhD and will need their visa processed.

APS maintains ongoing communication with the US State Department regarding the visa challenges that international students face. As a result, APS has confirmed that consular officers are instructed to prioritize student applications, once non-immigrant visa processing resumes.

If you are applying for a visa, the APS Office of International Affairs (INTAF) provides resources to assist you (link here). If you are facing a unique challenge that is not addressed on the resource page, please contact the APS INTAF at: international@aps.org. You can also watch the webinar, International Students and the APS Response to the Pandemic, for more updates.

Graduate Students Who Need Financial Relief

APS OGA advocated for the inclusion of student relief funds in the federal funding responses to the pandemic. A recent survey of graduate student members of APS indicated that even those who will not lose regular stipend support may face financial hardship due to outside factors, e.g. loss of a roommate’s or family member’s income.

The CARES Act that was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by the President provides approximately $6 billion in funding specifically targeted as a relief fund for students. That support is available at every institution, but it is up to each institution to determine how those funds will be dispersed.

If you are facing financial stress, you should immediately contact your graduate student representative in your student government, financial aid office, or Dean of Students or Chancellor about how to access the relief funds provided to the institution by the CARES Act.

Options for Short-Term Employment

APS OGA and APS Industrial Engagement reached out to companies to discuss opportunities for short-term employment that have been created in response to combating coronavirus. While these temporary jobs are not research- or physics-specific, they do provide near-term opportunities and resources.

Some options include:

In the meantime, you can also sign up for a free Summer Webinar Series that provides you with an opportunity to learn skills that can help you achieve your career goals.