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Since early March, APS has focused heavily on assisting the physics community get through and beyond the pandemic. In addition to addressing general needs of the community (COVID-19 Policy Initiatives), there has been particular attention to the unique needs of physics graduate students and postdocs.
“Our immediate concern was to ensure that our graduate students, post docs, and visiting researchers continue to be financially supported from their grants during the crisis due to the closure of universities and laboratories across the country,” said APS President Phil Bucksbaum. “In addition,” said Francis Slakey, APS Chief Government Affairs Officer, “international students faced new visa challenges related to the pandemic.”
Below are the various actions taken by APS to address some of the needs and concerns of graduate students, along with the outcomes and opportunities they provide:
The initial priority of APS was to ensure that graduate students supported by federal grants would continue to get their salaries and benefits. The APS Office of Government Affairs (OGA) partnered with the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA) to send out a grassroots alert to FGSA members. These members then urged Congress to maintain the salaries and benefits of graduate students, post-docs, and visiting researchers who are supported by federal grants. FGSA members sent hundreds of letters. APS OGA heard directly from agency staff that the grassroots campaign spurred them to a swift decision of support. Within days of starting the campaign, APS received confirmation that NSF, DOE, and DOD were all extending the grant support for post-docs, graduate students and visiting researchers.
International students make up ~45% of all physics students studying in the United States, so a full return to pre-pandemic research capabilities requires the prompt return, or initial entry, of international graduate students to US labs and universities. There are several groups of international students impacted:
APS maintains ongoing communication with the US State Department regarding the visa challenges that international students face. As a result, APS has confirmed with staff at State that consular officers are to prioritize student applications among all non-immigrant visas, once visa processing resumes.
If you are applying for a visa, the APS Office of International Affairs (APS INTAF) provides resources to assist you (Visa Information). If you are facing a unique challenge that is not addressed on the resource page, please contact the APS INTAF at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
APS OGA advocated for the inclusion of student relief funds in the federal funding responses to the pandemic. 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 most institutions, but it is up to each institution to determine how those funds will be dispersed.
If you are facing financial stress and have a student government at your institution, you should immediately contact your graduate student representative about how to access the relief funds provided to the institution by the CARES Act. If you do not have an accessible student government representative, you should directly contact your Dean of Students or Chancellor.
APS OGA and APS Office of Industrial Affairs 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 while waiting for jobs to emerge. For example, Battelle is currently hiring technicians for three-week terms that can be re-upped. The positions provide travel to the location, room, board, and competitive salary (Battelle job listings). And, each state is posting COVID-related short-term jobs on their own sites (see for example, Coronavirus.ohio.gov/jobsearch, MItalent.org, or onwardCA.org) As additional opportunities arise, APS will post them on its job board (Physics Jobs page).
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik