Yale leaders talk about COVID-19: Part four in a series

Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley discusses challenges and opportunities in the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley

Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley (Photo credit: Ian Christmann)

Yale News has been publishing a series of interviews with Yale leaders about aspects of the university’s response to the pandemic. We continue today with Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley.

What have you and your staff been doing to support graduate students through this historic moment?

First, I want to say that what we’re all going through is unprecedented. I am aware every day that the choices we make now can have an impact on human lives and the pursuit of knowledge, among many other things.

As you know, our situation changes daily, sometimes hourly. No matter what comes, my colleagues and I are dedicated to helping our students progress toward their degrees and receive a rigorous Yale education, even if they are not here on campus right now and their research is interrupted. Many of us, including our colleagues in the professional schools, are working 24/7 to resolve challenges as they arise.

Stipends for Ph.D. students will continue to be paid in full and on schedule. We’ve adjusted the deadline for dissertation submission, which, according to students, has been very helpful. We’ve been working closely with the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) to gather student questions and disseminate answers quickly through GSA channels and our own FAQ. We’ve also been working in partnership with Directors of Graduate Study to find ways to support the students and maintain academic continuity to the extent possible. I wish we could do more to anticipate the impact of the current situation on field work and research abroad, but with travel bans and border closures, it is impossible to predict how things will develop in the coming weeks and months.

What challenges have there been along the way?

Our immediate focus is helping students make the transition to remote teaching and learning, which is a challenging adjustment, especially with so little warning. There are certain classroom and laboratory activities that are not easy to replicate online. Nevertheless, our faculty and graduate teaching fellows will be ready to continue coursework when the spring semester resumes online on Monday, March 23, thanks to their ingenuity and the tireless efforts of our colleagues at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.

The defining activity of Ph.D. student life is research — indeed, the research mission of the university is very much powered by the curiosity and passion of our graduate students. Sadly, for many, regular activity simply has to pause with of the closure of laboratories, libraries, and archives. Travel restrictions have stymied field work and access to resources abroad. Having had to curtail research in my own lab and reduce our activities to maintaining our many live cultures of Drosophila strains has been very difficult, so I understand firsthand how hard hit our research enterprise has been. For some students, research is compromised somewhat less because they can conduct their activities remotely. It is sometimes possible to work with digital archives, write up manuscripts, or analyze data.

Once we begin to grasp the timeline of the COVID-19 crisis, we will turn our full attention to ensuring all our graduate students have what they need to complete their work and earn the degrees they seek at Yale.

Any good news? Unexpected positives?

I don’t want to minimize the effects of the pandemic on graduate education. They will be deep and far-reaching. But I’m happy to report that students and faculty have written with hopeful messages. The silver lining of moving to online instruction is that pedagogical innovations are emerging from the creativity of teaching fellows and faculty. TFs in the sciences, for example, are devising ways to present and record experiments for students to see online and write lab reports. While it’s not the same as conducting an experiment in person, they will be able to combine digital and experiential ways of engaging with a concept or process that we might not have considered under ordinary circumstances. Perhaps some of the methods they develop during this time will become part of our regular portfolio of teaching resources.

We see Yale students stepping up to help others in wonderful ways. In February, when COVID-19 first broke out in Wuhan, China, Yale graduate students got together and raised money to purchase protective equipment for local medical practitioners. The situation in Wuhan has since improved, but the students still had more than 50 cases of gowns that they have now donated to Yale New Haven Hospital.

It’s such a privilege to witness the care and generosity of our community. We will come through this crisis with newfound strength and innovative ideas for how a great university produces knowledge and educates students.


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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-980-2222