GSAS Remains Online for Spring Semester, Continues Emergency Support Initiative


The Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will continue all instruction and cohort-building activities for the spring 2021 semester remotely, GSAS Dean Emma Dench wrote in an email to students last week.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, GSAS launched an Emergency Support Initiative in May to provide emergency funding and fellowship appointments for students adversely affected by the pandemic. In July, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced that learning would be remote for the fall term.

Dench wrote that GSAS is currently reviewing responses to a spring planning survey sent out to students earlier this month. She added that upon completion of the review, GSAS will host a town hall for graduate students to voice their concerns about the spring term.

Seung Hee Oh, a fifth-year graduate student in History of Art and Architecture, said given the continuation of online learning, she hopes GSAS will allow students more library access in the spring.


“I don’t really hope to have full library access, but at least limited,” Oh said. “There should be a way to limit the number of people who enter the building, but right now it looks like they’re not making any procedures.”

GSAS spokesperson Ann Hall wrote in an emailed statement that students have been able to establish relationships within their cohorts despite the limitations of a virtual campus.

“Many programs identified successful ways to encourage cohort-building — for example by holding regular coffee hours and organizing informal academic discussion groups,” Hall wrote.

GSAS will enter phase four of its Emergency Support Initiative in the spring, continuing to provide grants to offset tuition or health plan fees for certain advanced doctoral students. Additionally, GSAS will now fund visiting fellow appointments — full-time independent research positions — for PhD students graduating in November and March, allowing students to continue to “remain members of the Harvard community.”

GSAS rolled out its Emergency Support Initiative in phases to address “the greatest need” at a particular time, Hall wrote. The initiative is partially financed by donations from the school’s alumni and supporters, according to the GSAS website.

“The grants for fall and spring are directed at students who are outside the financial support package and would have paid tuition and fees out of pocket,” Hall wrote.

Samuel J. Moy, a sixth-year graduate student in Health Policy, said he did not apply for emergency funding because he assumed other students with greater financial need could benefit more from the program’s limited funds.

“The nature of my research is such that compared to someone who has to go into the lab to get research done or conduct field work, there’s comparatively little disruption to my graduate studies,” Moy said. “It’s certainly not as relevant for me as it could be for other people.”

Dench affirmed GSAS would continue to support students academically and financially in the spring, even with the semester’s online format.

“I want to assure you that despite the uncertainty presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, GSAS continues to work with University leadership and others to increase opportunities for students to conduct their research and to identify funding that can expand student support,” Dench wrote.

—Staff writer Natalie L. Kahn can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @natalielkahn.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at