In April 2021, PGSS and AGSEM conducted a survey amongst McGill graduate students to measure their comfort levels and preferences regarding returning to campus for the Fall 2021 semester. 704 graduate students participated in the survey, 392 of which are employed at McGill.
Below, you can find the summary of the survey results. Please note that this data was collected in the early spring, very shortly before the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Quebec province significantly improved.
PGSS and AGSEM are looking forward to hearing from you again in August, when we will conduct an updated version of the survey in order to understand graduate students’ comfort levels, needs, and preferences for the upcoming semester.
In the interim, please feel free to use the feedback form on AGSEM website for any comments.
A) In-person work on campus
41.5 percent of graduate students who took the survey felt safe returning to campus and removing masks only once the undergraduate population is fully vaccinated.
B) The impact of TA and other campus employment wages on members’ financial situation
The majority (55.7 percent) of graduate students rely on TA wages or on other campus employment wages to make up a gap in their budget.
C) Willingness to accept a partial TA/RA contract or a grading job in order to work remotely in the Fall semester 2021
70.1 percent of those who responded were willing to accept a partial TA/RA contract if it meant that they could work fully remotely for Fall 2021.
D) Plans to apply for an on-campus job for the Fall semester
In April, 55.1 percent of those who responded were planning to apply for an on-campus employment in the Fall semester.
E) General level of preference for working in-person vs working remotely
The majority of respondents (74 percent) preferred to continue working fully or partially remotely in the Fall semester if given the choice.
F) Construction at Mac Campus
64.6 percent of graduate students who work in a paid position at Mac Campus believed that the ongoing construction would affect the ability to do their job in the Fall semester.
AGSEM's Letter to McGill Upper Administration
On June 2nd, 2021 a virtual town hall was organized by Prof. Christopher Buddle and Prof. Fabrice Labeau on the various scenarios that could take place in Fall 2021. In particular, two scenarios were discussed: a) A realistic scenario where most of in person activities would be allowed and b) An optimistic scenario where all in person activities would be allowed. Neither of these scenarios took into account the preferences of graduate students.
In response to the concerns expressed by graduate students in the survey presented above, in June 2021 AGSEM sent a letter to McGill upper administration requesting that the university take into consideration the needs and preferences of graduate students, including graduate workers, when planning in-person activities for the Fall semester.
In the letter, AGSEM has presented the survey results and put forward specific requests with regard to the issues discussed in letters A), B), D), and E):
Since it is not a guarantee that the entire undergraduate population will be fully vaccinated by September given the international portfolio of students at McGill, AGSEM demanded making masks mandatory in indoor classrooms and offices, if in-person classes are held, for the safety of all graduate student employees. Additionally, AGSEM demanded that teaching assistants be allowed to hold office hours or any other tasks related to the teaching assistantship online, rather than in person, if they feel safer doing so.
Given the importance of teaching assistantship wages and other on-campus employment wages for graduate students, AGSEM demanded that no centralized reduction of teaching assistantships take place in Fall 2021. We demanded that any department reducing teaching or research assistantships significantly from previous semesters must provide a justification for such a decision.
47.2 percent of the respondents wanted to continue working fully remotely, and the additional 26.8 percent would prefer that at least classes above 150 students are taught remotely in Fall 2021. The reasons provided by the survey participants included uncertainty around travel restrictions in Canada for international graduate student employees, interacting with undergraduate population which might not be fully vaccinated, and an inclination to a precautionary approach given the emergence of new variants of COVID-19 across the world. Since McGill is already prepared to deliver classes remotely, AGSEM urged the administration to recognize the in-person comfort levels of graduate student employees and to consider remote—or partially remote—delivery of classes in Fall 2021.