PhD students have said that they were frozen out of reopening plans by the College and feel left in the dark about what teaching and tutorials are going to look like for the coming year.
One of the founders of Trinity’s PhD Workers Rights Group, Thomas Dineen, told The University Times that some schools in Trinity did not involve PhD students in their “return to work” committees, set up to plan the reopening of College.
The committees, he said, ignored the concerns of PhDs when formulating their safety plans, which were then sent to Estates and Facilities. Dineen said that this lack of engagement led to “real safety concerns in some schools”.
“At the end of the day, it is their workplace”, Dineen said of PhD students. “They should be informed and we’re coming up to September. These things should have been communicated by now – especially if they want to roll out online teaching in September. People need to be trained. These conversations need to be had with PhDs now but they’re not being had.”
Conor Reddy, another founder of the PhD Workers Rights Group said that the lack of engagement with PhD students on the return to work committees “makes no sense to us at all”.
“School management and PIs wouldn’t be in those rooms, wouldn’t be in the labs directly so it really doesn’t make sense to us that they would be the ones setting the protocols around returning to work without any consultation with us”, he added.
In an email statement to The University Times, Graduate Students’ Union President Gisèle Scanlon said that she had lobbied in June on behalf of postgraduates who were hoping to be part of School committees.
“The Dean of Research Office at that stage in June had looked through all the School plans that had come in and it was the case that the committees doing the plans in most places comprised of technical, admin and academic staff and did not have postgrads or postdoc representatives.”
When Scanlon lobbied for postgraduate representation on the committees, she said, “it was explained that there was no need to extend this group because the work involved was logistical and technical – measuring rooms, capacities, safety process etc, documenting safety processes”.
“The Dean of Research however was adamant that postgrads should not feel left out”, she added. “The system where postdocs and PhD candidates were checking in with their supervisors and PIs was meant to keep postgraduates informed but this pandemic is definitely proving difficult for researchers and everyone trying to adhere to shifting government guidelines and legislation.”
“In recognition of the importance of research and particularly that that has to be done on campus in labs etc, College made that a priority for early resumption. If there remain any specific issues if PhDs bring them to me I will review them with the Dean of Research”, Scanlon added.
In an email statement to The University Times, Catherine O’Mahony, a Trinity media relations officer, said: “College takes very seriously the need to take on board the views and priorities of students as we reopen our campus. The views of PhD students are represented in key decision-making arenas through the Graduate Students’ Union, which participates in the Phased Resumption of Activities Group, chaired by the Provost; the COVID-19 working group, chaired by the College Secretary; the Library Services group and the International Students Arrival Package Working Group, chaired by the Vice-Provost for Global Relations”.
“Indeed, our research students are the first cohort of students to return to the campus as part of the School’s phased re-opening plans.”
“Schools are currently working on three different timetabling scenarios based on revised Government guidelines for HEIs issued on 5th August. As such, it is still not possible to provide detailed hours of attendance on campus as the Schools are currently working through these timetabling and room allocation scenarios.”
“College has sent a series of College-wide emails to students about key developments with key messages also being posted to the central social media channels and will continue to issue such emails to ensure that the College community is kept abreast of all ongoing developments.”
However, Tenaya Jorgensen, a PhD student in the Centre for Environmental Humanities, said that PhD students have “hit a wall of silence regarding our safety”.
Jorgensen said that her department had yet to reach out to her about what hours she will be teaching or what the set-up of that teaching will be.
“It’s a matter of life and death, genuinely”, she said, “so I don’t know why they’re being so blatantly obtuse about it”.
Elysée Yhuel, another history PhD student, said that she will be expected to teach in person and fears the repercussions this could have for her partner, who is classified in the coronavirus high-risk category.
“Something we have to remember is that we have no control over the risk off campus”, Yhuel said. “Students and faculty are at risk travelling to and from campus. Students are at risk when they’re looking for housing around the city, and I just think it’s a bit irresponsible.”
“We have loved ones and people close to us who are at risk, and we just have to remember that”, she added.
Catherine Bromhead, who is currently finishing her PhD thesis, said that she is worried about how mask-wearing will be enforced in tutorials.
“Let’s say someone turns up without a mask, I don’t know how myself or any other PhD student or staff member would be able to enforce someone wearing masks”, she said.
“Are we going to be given extras to hand out? How do we bar someone from entering? Are we allowed to do that?”
Like the other PhD students, Bromhead also feels that she has been left in the dark on teaching in the coming semester.
“It’s August. Teaching is meant to begin in October. We haven’t received any communication about this.”
“It’s frustrating to me that they’re not being overcautious about this”, Bromhead added. “I feel like they should overestimate how cautious they should be. If people get very seriously ill, if one student comes in sick, even if there aren’t many people on campus, even if it’s a small class, that’s still people getting sick.”
“There isn’t an acceptable number of cases – we shouldn’t be having any. It really doesn’t seem to me that they’re taking it seriously enough.”
Ariana Malthaner, a PhD student in the Department of Irish and Celtic Studies, said that College has yet to communicate to her how long often she will be allowed to use her study space or when she will be able to access it again.
Malthaner, again, stressed the lack of communication between College and PhD students as a major bone of contention.
“I think I found out that term was pushed back on the Trinity Instagram account before I got an email about it. It’s been like we’re an afterthought”, Malthaner said.
“I don’t think it’s intentionally malicious. I just think that it’s indicative of the College’s generally lack of concern and lack of thought towards PhD students that happens all the time”, she added.
O’Mahony added, in Trinity’s statement, that the “College is working extremely hard to ensure the safety of all students and staff when teaching resumes in this changed environment, within the constraints of an evolving global pandemic and with regard at all times to government guidelines.”
“This week has seen the reopening of all College libraries to registered staff and students, with the wearing of face coverings in those areas now mandatory.”
O’Mahony also said that more information on Trinity’s plans can be found on College’s website on the frequently asked questions section or video section. Otherwise, she said, students can communicate with their individual schools.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenging scenario for all staff and students at Trinity and we appreciate how difficult this time has been for our community.”