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4/17/2020 - Update for Postdoctoral Scholars

To: Caltech Postdoctoral Scholars
From: Kaushik Bhattacharya, Vice Provost

I hope that you are doing well in this difficult time. None of us have experienced an uncertain and surreal period like this, and all of us are improvising approaches to cope with it. For any researcher, it is frustrating not to be able to access our laboratories and have our usual scientific interactions. I also appreciate that this pause is extremely stressful for all of you who are at a point in your profession where future career advancement depends on timely progress of your work. In addition, many of you are also managing and responding to concerns around appointments ending, housing, childcare, and immigration status. In recognition of this and as part of Caltech's ongoing effort to support you during this unsettling time, I wanted to share some additional information that you may find useful. I also want to thank the Caltech Postdoc Association for initiating this conversation.

Information about Caltech's response to COVID-19 is available at coronavirus.caltech.edu. Caltech's academic and administrative offices continue to operate remotely and are available as resources, along with your faculty mentor and the faculty representative for postdoctoral affairs in your division. You can find this information at Postdoctoral Scholars Office website. As always, you can contact Alicia Creger at the Postdoctoral Scholars Office and me if you have particular concerns or questions.

  1. Postdoctoral appointments and funding
    There are no changes to current appointments, and the divisions continue to process postdoctoral appointments and reappointments (there may be limitations due to visa issues as explained below). Federal research grants as well as Caltech research programs continue as usual. Broadly, the U.S. government has advised us to continue with existing projects following our Institutional policies. You can find more information about specific agency guidelines at http://researchadministration.caltech.edu/COVID_19.

    Some postdoctoral scholars have expressed concern that their appointments as well as the grant supporting their appointment is ending soon, and inquired if Caltech can extend their appointment. There are no current plans to do so. We encourage you to work with your faculty mentor to address it.

  2. Sick leave policy
    An individual who is ill, or is caring for a qualified family member who is ill, should use their unused sick leave.  Postdoctoral Scholar Research Associates and Postdoctoral Scholar Teaching Fellows receive 15 days of sick leave per year. The availability of paid sick leave for Postdoctoral Scholar Fellowship Trainees depends on their funding arrangement. Please contact Scholar Services at PDS@caltech.edu for questions about your sick leave, and the Disability and Leave Unit at leaveunit@caltech.edu for questions regarding a leave.

  3. Assistance with childcare
    We understand that the closure of childcare facilities and schools have created a significant burden for parents. Unfortunately, Caltech currently has no additional resources for childcare. Individuals with childcare conflicts during the Safer at Home period should inform their mentors.

  4. Assistance with housing
    Postdocs should check with the housing office in case of emergencies. Unfortunately, Caltech's campus housing inventory is running low because of the COVID-19 situation and the need to maintain living arrangements in accordance with health officials' recommended social distancing measures.

    Postdocs currently living in Caltech-owned properties are all either living with family members or in configurations that include a private bathroom and bedroom. The public health information for self-isolation of someone ill with COVID-19, as well as the self-quarantine requirements for anyone in close contact with someone with COVID-19 include the recommendation for a private bedroom and bathroom facilities. The Institute's plans to isolate graduate and undergraduate students who are in congregate living environments without private bathroom facilities do not apply to postdoctoral fellows.

    If you become ill, please contact the Disability and Leave Office, who will also inform Caltech's medical director, Dr. John Tsai who can consult about the implementation of isolation or quarantine guidelines. Questions may also be submitted to Dr. Tsai at covid19@caltech.edu and will be answered within 24 hours.

  5. International scholars concerns
    Travel bans have been imposed by Presidential Proclamations; the bans prohibit foreign nationals who have been in certain countries within 14 days prior to seeking entry to the United States from entering the country. The bans do not apply to U.S. citizens, permanent residents or their family members. Other countries have imposed similar travel restrictions. This, in turn, has limited the availability of international commercial air travel.

    The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Prior to making any travel plans, please consult with International Scholar Services (ISS) about reporting obligations and the potential for an extended absence. If you intend to work for Caltech while you are overseas, your faculty supervisor, HR, and the Office of General Counsel will need to review and approve your plan.

    Within the United States, USCIS has temporarily suspended premium processing, which will slow down adjudication times for H-1B, O-1, and TN petitions. This will primarily impact individuals who are changing nonimmigrant statuses inside the United States, not postdocs who need extensions of status. Please consult with ISS regarding the potential interruption in your work authorization and the potential need for a leave of absence.

    On a positive note, DOS extended the J-1 program end dates for scholars whose J program was due to reach the 5-year maximum end date in March, April, and May. Petitions filed to extend H-1B, O-1, and TN status with USCIS automatically extend work authorization for 240 days while the extensions are pending. Similarly, work authorization is extended for 180 days while certain EAD applications are pending, for example STEM OPT and other extensions.

    All postdocs currently working from home must update ISS with your current work from home address so that ISS can report changes to the J Exchange Visitor Program and provide notice to USCIS, as necessary. All regular changes in home addresses should continue to be updated in access.caltech.edu.