CAMB's Coronavirus Response and Operation Changes

Due to the university’s current guidelines regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), CAMB has developed, and will update continually, detailed information and resources for the following CAMB-wide topics, located centrally on this webpage:

CoursesRotations | Preliminary Exams | Thesis Level Research | Thesis Committee Meetings | Thesis Defenses

For additional resources, please refer to:

For Penn and PSOM announcements, please refer to:

If you have any questions or concerns, please email Dan Kessler, Craig Bassing, the CAMB Coordinators, and/or the Program Chairs. Their contact information can be found on the CAMB Administration page.

  Looking to contribute? Crowdfight COVID-19: An initiative from the scientific community to put all available resources at the service of the fight against COVID-19.

Information last modified April 2 2020 @ 9:06 AM EST


Course directors will maintain communication with enrolled students to provide guidance and information regarding course transition to on-line format. Refer to the CAMB Spring 2020 Courses list for the on-line format for each course.

All PhD students may choose to designate any currently enrolled course as Pass/Fail for the Spring 2020 term. Students who want to opt-in for a pass/fail grade for one or more spring term courses, please indicate through this form ( by April 13th. If you have already contacted your graduate group to indicate your wish to take a course P/F, you will still need to complete this form. If you receive a P (passing) grade, it will not impact your GPA and the course unit will count towards your degree program. If you receive a F (failing) grade, it will impact your GPA and the course unit will not count towards your degree program. Students are encouraged to think seriously about this option prior to making a final decision.  Consult with your academic advisor if you are unsure.  Pass/fail grades may have an impact on applying for grant/fellowship opportunities or other degree programs in the future.  It is important to note that if you opt-in to pass/fail grading, you will not have the option to change the grade to a letter grade after the term. If you have any questions, please email Kathy O’Connor-Cooley.

If Faculty have any issues or need any assistance with their courses, they are encouraged to reach out to Kathy O’Connor-Cooley. Faculty should also refer to our Resources for Faculty Course Directors page.


The upcoming rotation (March 30th to June 12th) has been postponed. Instead students should identify a 6-8 week independent study with a potential rotation advisor, to start sometime between March 23rd and April 6th, with the option to begin sooner if both parties are ready. If you have already committed to a rotation, you should attempt to conduct this independent study with that faculty member. Please email your program coordinator and chair to indicate the faculty mentor for the independent study.

It is up to the student and the advisor to determine the parameters of the independent study. While an independent study would typically be a guided critical reading of the literature, alternative efforts, such as analyses of existing data sets, pursuit of bioinformatics projects, or other project building activities performed remotely, would fulfill the broadly defined goals of the independent study. Mentors could have a postdoc or senior graduate student participate in directing the independent study, with consistent input from the mentor as well.  At the end of the independent study, mentors will be asked to evaluate the student, identify strengths and weaknesses, and assign a grade. 

As we approach the end of the 6-8 week timeline, we will reassess the potential to initiate a rotation following university guidelines.

Preliminary Exams

At this time, the preliminary exam schedule is unchanged for PhD students (May 11-29, 2020) and for combined degree students (June 1-5, 2020). The procedures for prelim preparation, practicing, and examination will be as follows:

  • Prelim Preparation
    • Advising will continue via virtual measures including email, BlueJeans, or other remote conferencing platforms mutually agreed upon between advisors and students.
    • Specific Aims are now due to your Program Chair and CAMB Coordinator by April 8 for approval. Your outline is due April 15.
  • Oral Exam Practices
    • Practice talks, typically organized by post-prelim students in each program, must take place via BlueJeans, which is supported by the School of Medicine. Please see these detailed instructions for scheduling and moderating a virtual prelim practice meeting. Once scheduled by the student organizer, provide the meeting ID and URL to your Coordinator, who will share with students in your program. The meeting ID and URL are found on the meeting dashboard. If you would like any assistance scheduling the practice talks on BlueJeans, please let your Coordinator know. In-person practice talk meetings are not allowed.
  • Exams
    • Exams will be held remotely via BlueJeans. Students may distribute a one page PDF with figures in advance to their committee.  For the presentation students are allowed 5 PowerPoint slides for text and graphics.  Students will be able to present for at least 10 minutes without interruption from the committee. To address questions from the committee the student may use the whiteboard feature on BlueJeans, use an app such as, or draw pictures during the exam for display on the camera. Additional information regarding schedule and moderation procedures will be provided as updates to this site, and via email from your coordinators.

Thesis Level Research

All students should immediately prepare to discontinue all non-essential on-campus research activities on or before March 17. Research efforts to combat COVID-19 will continue, and this represents an example of the very limited essential research that will be allowed to continue. Beginning March 18, access to labs will be limited to essential personnel. Essential personnel are those required to perform critical procedures or processes that maintain the long-term viability of the laboratory, reagents, animals, and equipment. Please discuss with your PI what this means for you.

The Vice Provost for Research has a dedicated webpage for research continuity and guidelines for the safety of those essential personnel. No student should be designated as essential without their consent. If you are designated as essential and feel uncomfortable with that role, please email CAMB Chair Dan Kessler and the Vice Provost for Education office. Your safety is our first priority.

Thesis Committee Meetings

Until further notice, all thesis committee meetings will be held virtually through BlueJeans or a similar format. BlueJeans is recommended and supported by the University and PSOM. Please see our detailed instructions for setting up and starting a BlueJeans meeting. Plan for the usual 2 hour time block. We recommend doing a trial run beforehand to become familiar with the Whiteboard and Annotation App functions, which may be helpful while giving your PowerPoint presentations. Please reach out to your coordinator if you would like help with any aspect of setting up the virtual meeting.

Thesis Committee Chairs should schedule the student-only and mentor-only discussions prior to the scheduled thesis committee meeting.

Thesis Defenses

Until further notice, all thesis defenses will be held virtually on BlueJeans. Students with an upcoming thesis defense please contact the CAMB office. The student's thesis defense presentation will still be public, and will be recorded for the student to share later. The detailed process can be found on our Virtual Thesis Defense page. Please also refer to the BlueJeans Best Practices to help prepare.

Students aiming to deposit and graduate this May, please see the Dissertation Defense and Deposit Instructions for Spring Semester 2020 from the Graduate Division office.