Graduate - Exceptional considerations for final exams and grades at the Faculty of Social Sciences

Posted on Monday, March 30, 2020

Dear FSS Graduate Student,

I know that the final weeks of Winter 2020 do not in any way resemble what any of us expected when the term began in January. Everyone is struggling to keep going: to do the groceries, to work from home when we’re used to going into the office, to continue to take classes that are now being offered via a distance format, to complete the various tasks that are expected as teaching or research assistants (and which may have grown more complicated as a result of the shift to distance teaching), and to stay in touch with our family and friends who are also stressed by the uncertainties of COVID-19. And, of course, some of you also have small children who are at home rather than being at school or in daycare.

For those of you who are currently doing coursework, I know that you are anxious to know whether there will be any adjustments to the plan for assessment, given that the chaos created by COVID-19 has made this last stretch of term so complicated. Both your professors and the Faculty are aware that many students will require flexibility and support if they are to successfully complete their course requirements. However, since the structure of graduate classes and assessment, as well as the circumstances of individual students, varies so much across different departments, the Faculty has not proposed a ‘one size fits all’ model to your professors. Each professor has been asked to determine whether it is possible to adjust the approach to assessment in their class; in some cases, it may be very difficult for any adjustments to be made.

Many of you have also asked whether it would not be possible to get S-NS grades in your classes. After careful reflection, it has been decided that S-NS grades will only be granted in very exceptional circumstances, and only with the explicit permission of your professor. There are two reasons for this. First, an NS grade is a fail, and a graduate student with two failing grades is faced with mandatory withdrawal. It is not going to actually ‘help’ you if you were to be given an NS grade rather than a C or a D. Consequently, if - after discussion with your professor - it becomes clear that you are not going to be able to successfully complete the course, you would be much better of dropping the class rather than ending up with a grade of NS: the drop deadline (without reimbursement) has been extended to April 4, 2020.

The second reason for not going the S-NS route is that S grades will disadvantage students who are competing for external scholarships (such as OGS, or SSHRC), as well as those who are hoping to get jobs with any number of employers (including many government departments), or who decide at some time in the future that they wish to pursue additional graduate studies. In other words, although S-NS may sound attractive right now, in the midst of this crisis, we have reached the conclusion that this could easily harm you in the future. This does not preclude faculty members making exceptions for individual students faced with particularly difficult circumstances, but we do not believe that most students are better off with S-NS rather than an alphanumeric grade.

I know also that many of you are concerned about your finances. The silver lining to the unexpected increase in the number of courses being taught online is that there will be quite a number of additional TA contracts to support faculty members who are developing online content, and so we are hoping that many of you will be able to earn additional income over the coming months. In the meantime, uOttawa has created an Emergency Fund: if you are experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19, please contact

This is a very rough end to the term, for everyone. We are all having to demonstrate resilience, determination, and patience. We are having to work harder, and often feel that we have less to show for our effort. We continue to deal with tremendous uncertainty about what the next few weeks and months will entail, and this can all feel very overwhelming. But none of us are alone in this crisis: we are going through this together. Make sure that you keep in touch with the other students in your program, with your professors, and with your friends and family: we all need to feel connected to others.

Thinking of each of you,


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