#PivottheClock campaign asks University to extend funding for PhD students

The group of graduate students have the support of the SGPS

SGPS President Justine Aman said the “SGPS wholeheartedly supports the #PivotTheClock campaign.”

Queen’s students are advocating for a year-long extension to the funding of all PhDs, which they say is necessary due to COVID-19’s impact on research. They’re calling it the #PivotTheClock campaign. 

In an interview with The Journal, Christopher Bennet, a PhD candidate in gender studies, pointed out that all PhD students have had their work disrupted in one way or another. Workloads have increased across the board as TAs are relied upon more heavily throughout online learning. Many students have also been unable to complete their research due to campus closures.

Bennett added that, prior to COVID-19, the average PhD student at Queen’s took five years to complete their degree, making the expectation that current students complete their degrees within four years unreasonable.

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In an email to The Journal, Dean of Graduate Studies Fahim Quadir said “the School of Graduate Studies in collaboration with Faculties, is currently constructing a 2021-22 protocol to offer additional support for graduate students facing challenges as a result of the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Once the protocol has been approved, we will share more details with our graduate community. In the interim we encourage students that are experiencing challenges to speak to their program supervisor or graduate coordinator and discuss options.”

For those PhD students unable to complete their program on time, the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) currently recommends one of three pathways: dropping out and reapplying to Queen’s later; taking medical leave; or pivoting research. 

Prerna Subramanian, a PhD candidate in cultural studies, has been vocal about the need for an extension in funding. She expressed her frustration in a viral tweet criticizing an email sent out by the Department of Cultural Studies. According to her, none of the options given are feasible.  

“This was a pretty uncaring email from a department which has looked after us with their limited capacities in many ways,” she said in an interview with The Journal.

Following Subramanian’s tweet, the #PivotTheClock campaign gained momentum. 

Ultimately, #PivottheClock gained momentum following this tweet and subsequent meetings between the SGS and PhD students.

Harshvardhan Thyagarajan, a PhD candidate in cultural studies, added that solutions placing the burden on students, such as increased training for supervisors are just band-aids.

“No matter how resilient our supervisors are, if we don’t have the right amount of time to do the work—it’s going to cause us immense stress. It’s going to reduce the quality of the work.”

In an email to The Journal, SGPS President Justine Aman said “SGPS wholeheartedly supports the #PivotTheClock campaign that asks for blanket extensions for all graduate students who have been impacted by this global event [COVID-19].” 

“This provision should be available to all, without question or compromise. The impacts of a pandemic do not end with vaccinations, and ensuring current students are financially supported is essential to the future success of Queen’s University.”

Subramanian stressed that now is not the time to assess funding extensions on a solely case-by-case basis, and that doing so creates unnecessary competition between students. 

She also hopes the University will not paint finances as just one hurdle faced by PhD candidates, but as core to how Queen’s can support its students.

“You cannot gaslight us into thinking that we are overthinking this problem.”

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