COVID-19: Chemistry Updates

 


Update as of June 10th at 10:00am EST


To Our Chemistry Community,

As we live through this unprecedented period, I want to acknowledge and thank each of you for your perseverance and support of the Department of Chemistry at U of T. The COVID-19 crisis has impacted our operations in multiple ways, with significant effects on our undergraduate and graduate students, PDFs, faculty members, staff, research groups and networks, student organizations, collaborators, and alumni.

Teaching has been significantly affected, with changes to the delivery and evaluation of undergraduate and graduate courses in the spring semester. The summer semester will be similarly affected, with some courses being cancelled. As a primarily laboratory-based discipline we have been especially impacted. Most chemistry research labs across the tri-campus – including our core facilities – are closed, with exceptions for some approved critical research and COVID-19 related activities. Despite this research activity continues and where possible groups are using computation and online meetings to maintain research momentum. In-person events such as colloquia, seminars, meetings, and receptions, as well as the spring convocation have, unfortunately, also been cancelled or postponed.

Of course, our experiences have and will continue to mirror and be affected by changes across the University, the higher education and science sectors, and in the broader society.

Navigating the current “new normal” is a challenge as we adapt to online meetings, physical distancing, and economic difficulties. With the many uncertainties of the COVID-19 response, some of our members are experiencing anxieties in regard to both professional and personal matters, with many separated from their extended families, or finding themselves working in non-ideal home spaces. This is particularly the case for a Department, such as ours, with such diverse membership. As such, it is important that we each take measures to prioritize mental health and wellness now more than ever.

A flurry of planning and operational changes were required over the last month or so, and we are now turning our attention to the challenges ahead, including working with our students whose degree and research programs have been impacted, planning for the summer and fall courses and labs, and the eventual reopening of our research laboratories and facilities. In the meantime, we are offering various departmental and research group-specific online activities. Our student organizations are additionally responding in a variety of ways: ChemClub, for example, has initiated Friday “eDonuts”, a weekly literature club on COVID-19, and a Tuesday meditation session. We are also providing opportunities for undergraduate and graduate course revitalization through the well-established Chemistry Teaching Fellowship Program.

The Department has played a significant role in sharing critical supplies. For example, at the St. George campus, Chemistry donated over 50,000 of the approximately 250,000 pairs of disposable gloves distributed across U of T to the hospitals of the Toronto Academic Health Science Network. Additionally, members of Chemistry are proposing, consulting, or involved with nascent research and practical initiatives related to COVID-19 at UofT and beyond.

Chemistry is resilient and we continue to plan for the future, including the introduction of initiatives such as a new professional development component for our graduate program in Fall 2020, curriculum renewal at the first-year undergraduate level, continuing investment in our students, the hiring of new faculty members, renovations to our research laboratories and critical instrumentation, and planning for a proposed extension to the Lash-Miller Chemistry building.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in ways that will surely resonate for many years to come. I am heartened by the stories I hear from the broader chemistry community as well as from across Canada (see for example, the Governor General of Canada’s “Caring Nation” request). Our thoughts particularly go out to those directly affected by COVID-19 as well as front-line health care workers, emergency personnel, and other essential workers.

Ultimately, we must appreciate that this is a global situation that is impacting everyone to very differing degrees. As chemists, we are very fortunate to be in a position to make a difference. It is incumbent that we recognize and utilize the advantages and opportunities afforded to us to address such significant societal and global challenges. It is more evident than ever that science must play a key role, must inform decision making, and must provide practical solutions. As chemistry is so deeply rooted in problem solving and practical application, I am confident in the abilities of our community, and that by working together we will be able to respond to the challenges ahead.

Finally, rest assured that as our Department addresses this evolving situation, we will continue to share information as it becomes available.

My best wishes to you all. Keep safe.

Prof. Rob Batey
Chair, Department of Chemistry
University of Toronto

Please see below for the latest updates.
 

We wanted to follow-up with you regarding the current situation with COVID-19 and its multiple impacts on items relevant to your graduate studies. This communication builds upon a very productive discussion that we have had with Graduate Student Advisory Committee members. We appreciate that this is a very long communication, but we are trying to summarize information in one email. I also note that there may be UTM and UTSC specific initiatives that are relevant to students at these campuses (please contact the relevant campus specific leadership teams for details).

Firstly, answers to many questions can be found at the SGS website.
 

Additional COVID-19 resources at U of T include:
 

 

Chemistry specific and general issues include:
 
  1. All labs at STG are currently closed, with the exception of pre-approved lab maintenance activities (mainly glove/dryboxes) and a couple of time-sensitive experiments. Additionally, all of the department facilities are currently closed (i.e., NMR, MS, ANALEST, etc.).
     
  2. Research supervisors have completed requests to continue critical research/operations forms for some students/PDFs/RAs in order to complete these activities. Individuals will know whether they are on this list (only those informed that they are on the list have access to the labs). In addition, there is a small core group of Lash Miller staff/faculty that have been granted building wide access.
     
  3. For those that are granted building access, they must practice good hygiene and social distancing. In addition, it is highly recommended they follow the working alone policy & SOP and register their arrival with campus police.
     
  4. Chemical stores is operating on a reduced schedule to accommodate refills of N2, the arrival of compressed cylinders and of dry ice on Tuesdays and Fridays 11-2 pm.
     
  5. You should consult with your supervisor on research activities that you can complete at home. This might include writing-up experimental data, writing manuscripts and/or thesis chapters, working on reviews, grant or scholarship applications, participating in research focussed webinars. In addition, supervisors have been encouraged to initiate remote individual and/or group meetings with their graduate students. Various platforms might be used for this purpose, including Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Slack, etc. Please note that for many of us these platforms are new, so it is perhaps inevitable that there will be technical challenges, but we anticipate that these will diminish over time.
     
  6. Additionally, there are online professional development activities and courses that are available through a variety of sources.

    We invite you to consider taking advantage of the Chemistry Teaching Fellowship Program (CTFP) and we ask that you submit proposals. The CTFP provides financial incentives and opportunities to develop specific teaching initiatives, under the supervision of a faculty member. The objective is to provide a quality learning experience in developing pedagogical tools that would benefit both the graduate student in their future careers and directly enhance the quality of instruction currently in the department. We have an unmet need to help develop existing courses (new lab modules, new tutorial exercises, quiz banks) and working with instructors we are prepared to expand this program this summer, including to some graduate courses. Over the next week we will be compiling a list of undergrad/grad courses and soliciting faculty members to provide courses where they’d like to see improvement and are available to supervise a CTFP student. We ask that you reach out to the course instructors and submit your proposal to the graduate office by April 15thMore info soon from the Grad Office.

    We are in the process of organizing a virtual speed networking event for the evening of April 6th. We’ll keep you apprised once we hear back from speakers. We’ll do our best to offer monthly events in addition to offerings by ChemClub. We encourage you to take advantage of the chemistry graduate mentorship programs. Our office will continue hosting online events. Our office has a bank of contacts. Let us help you reach out to them and set something up virtually over the spring/summer months.

  7. If you are close to graduation, it is important to work with your supervisor and the chemistry graduate office to make suitable plans. In particular, the graduate office continues to schedule examinations. Contact Anna Liza (chem.grad@utoronto.ca) for updates on guidelines and to discuss an appropriate timeline. Also, SGS updates on final oral exams are posted on their website:https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/covid19/.
     
  8. There is a University call for COVID-19 research proposals and supplies production. We are aware of several proposals that are being developed within Chemistry, and we will additionally support other initiatives that are approved from other units, divisions, and hospitals.
     
  9. The University is working with its COVID-19 researchers and partner Toronto hospitals to coordinate supplies distribution. These hospitals have very specific requests and are working directly with the UofT the Critical Supplies Group, who are in turn working with the Department. At this time we have shared our inventory information with the Critical Supplies Group, and are working under their direction. There is only an interest in new supplies, and not used supplies or lab-coats, for example (disposable gowns however are being requested).
     
  10. Anyone with flu-like or cold-like symptoms or who has had close contact with a person ill with COVID-19, should stay at home and self-isolate. Further guidelines are given below:All students should monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms listed in the University’s COVID-19 FAQsIf experiencing symptoms, please follow the directives detailed on the Toronto Public Health website including self-isolating, taking the available Self-Assessment and following the recommendations for seeking additional care from their primary care provider, Telehealth or nearest hospital based of their symptomsIf you are contacted by a Public Health authority with regards to COVID-19, please contact the University’s Occupational Health Nurse at: ehs.occhealth@utoronto.ca If you are sick or self-isolating, you should advise your supervisor or graduate coordinator as applicable of your status. In addition you will need to record these absences through the Absence Declaration tool on ACORN (visit website to learn more). The tool can be found in the ACORN Profile and Settings menu. You should record each day of your absence as soon as it begins, up until the day before you return to classes or other academic activities. The University will use this information to provide academic accommodation and to monitor overall absences. Absences for other illnesses should continue to be documented through the Verification Of Illness (VOI) form and normal divisional process.Graduate students who are working as TAs are asked to complete the "Non-Appointed Employee Absence Self-Declaration form" in the event they are sick or self-isolating. If advised by Public Health that you are to self-isolate, you must confirm with Public Health that you are clear to resume normal activities prior to returning to work or study.
     
  11. Travel at this time is obviously not occurring, and many conferences, including the CCCE conference in Winnipeg, have been cancelled. Contact the Graduate Office if you have a cancelled conference/expenses. Additional cancelations include some GRCs, as well as Science Rendezvous and Dept. sponsored colloquia, and the “Ask a Laureate” event.
     
  12. The May/June summer undergraduate courses will only be offered online (i.e., no in-person labs or exams). No decision has been made regarding the July/August courses. The Department has not yet finalized its approach to how it will offer summer courses given the move to an online environment. Given this we are reviewing potential TA needs, including working on generating new online content and lab experiments (e.g., see CTFPs above).
     
  13. While the details of the sources of funding are still being worked out, we can confirm our intention to continue monthly funding in the form of RA stipend + TA hours for funded cohort students through August 2020, as described in the annual funding letters you received in September 2019. Additionally, May 2020 UTF and other award payments will proceed as usual.
     
  14. The Faculty of Arts and Science will soon be announcing an emergency bursary fund for graduate students that will be jointly supported and administered with the Chemistry Department.
     
  15. Additionally, we note from the SGS website that if you are experiencing immediate financial hardship, then you can apply for an emergency loan or emergency grant. Please contact us should you have immediate financial concerns. As deadlines are changed we are advocating with the Faculty of Arts and Science and SGS to extend funding availability for graduate students, as well as providing additional funding to our graduate students.
     
  16. If you find yourself having a tough time managing your anxieties and would like to talk to someone, Jen Murphy, Scott Prosser, and myself are available to chat through phone, Skype, etc. Also contact Chad Jankowski (c.jankowski@utoronto.ca), the Faculty’s Mental Health Officer. Additionally, see the list of mental health resources.
     
  17. Finally, we encourage you to stay up-to-date with the recommendations being made by the University, government, and public health agencies. A list of links to online resources is provided below, including information about how to protect yourself and others with good hygiene practices and social distancing.

For the most up to date information on the impact of COVID-19 on research at the University of Toronto, researchers are encouraged to check the COVID-19 Research FAQ, which is updated daily.

If you would like to participate in COVID-19 research that stands to positively impact individuals, communities and public health systems, consider submitting a proposal to the Toronto COVID-19 Action Initiative (NOI, March 30; April 1 application deadline).

If you are willing to act as a peer-reviewer for the Toronto COVID-19 Action Initiative (between April 2-10), please reach out to m.hussey@utoronto.ca, and indicate the focus areas you would be most comfortable with.

To connect with the wider university research community participating in COVID-19 research, consider joining the newly created U of T and affiliated institution COVID-19 Research SharePoint platform

To access valuable Resources for Researchers During the COVID-19 Pandemic, visit the newly created Spotlight page, created by the Centre for Research and Innovation Services.

 To keep abreast of external funding opportunity deadlines (many of which have or will shift due to the COVID-19 crisis), please check the University of Toronto Funding Opportunities database regularly and/or sign up for Research Alerts.

For a full listing of internal funding programs, please check the Arts & Science Research Services website. Time sensitive opportunities, include:

If you are working on a grant application and would like support from the Arts & Science Research Services Office, please do not hesitate to contact them.