Graduate Student and Postdoc Guidance

A video message from the Provost to graduate students and postdocs about returning to the laboratories can be viewed here.

As we open more of our laboratories, we wish to address some of the questions we’ve heard from students and postdoctoral fellows. We know that you are eager to resume your research, and we are equally eager to see Duke’s research enterprise resume operations with modifications as outlined below. We also understand that opening additional laboratories is not entirely without risk. We, therefore, write to let you know that safeguarding your health and safety is the top priority.  Accordingly, we are instituting an array of measures which are informed by our infection control team and safety experts. These have been designed to reduce our risks as we re-enter laboratories, and ultimately, other workspaces across the university, as described below:

  • A daily online symptom screening system to be completed before coming to work
  • A robust symptom-based testing program for our workforce
  • Installation of handwashing stations throughout our buildings
  • Provision of face masks for those who don’t have their own
  • Controlled access to buildings in order to reduce the density of people and facilitate social distancing
  • Clear instructions tailored for each school, posted online and constantly updated to describe any changes, should they occur
  • Mapping out of common spaces to show 6 ft distances
  • Clear signs in common areas indicating safety guidelines
  • Frequent walkthrough of labs by departmental leaders assigned to buildings

Carefully observing these measures will help to protect you. If you nonetheless show any symptoms of COVID-19, believe you have been exposed to the virus or have additional health concerns or questions about COVID-19, please contact student health (students) at 919-681-9355 or employee health (postdocs) at 919-684-3136 at any time. If you have tested positive for COVID-19, have been referred for testing by EOHW or student health, or are awaiting test results, you must notify your supervisor immediately and you may not come to work for any reason until approved by EOHW or student health

We have prepared the attached list of frequently asked questions regarding the reopening process and safety measures that must be observed. If you believe that your co-workers or colleagues are not observing the safety measures put into place, please contact the anonymous hotline at 1-800-826-8109 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) or

This is a challenging time for everyone, especially as we return to activities that once seemed routine and may now feel unsafe.   Should you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your advisor, your DGS, or to any of the services listed below. 

Please know that our principal focus is your health and safety as we seek to resume the important research to which you have devoted your education and your careers. 

Additional resources:

Last updated on May 16, 2020

Related FAQs

I received notification that my lab is approved to reopen. Now what?

You should receive detailed instructions from your lab PI/advisor on exactly when you may be in the lab. A schedule has been put into place for each lab; this will allow you and your lab to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. You should not begin any on-campus lab activities until the ramp-up plan has been communicated to you by the lab PI, including required procedures for all personnel returning to the labs.

How does the symptom-screening and testing program work?

Your school will provide you with details. You will be required to complete an online screening form each day. If you develop symptoms, you will be contacted for further evaluation, and if appropriate, referred for testing.

Can I bring my lunch and eat in the break room?

Yes, as long as you observe all guidelines provided to you and those listed in Duke’s guide to reopening. If you are eating in your work environment (break room, office, etc.), maintain at least 6 feet distance between you and others, and for no more than 10 minutes. Do not share food. Individuals should not sit facing one another. Only remove your mask or face covering in order to eat, then put it back on. If it is possible, please consider eating outdoors with appropriate social distancing. 

I am uncomfortable coming back to work in the lab at the present time. What should I do?

We have made many changes to the workplace to reduce our risks as much as possible. The guidelines in place are intended, if properly followed, to reduce risks as much as possible for our faculty, staff, and students. However, if you still feel uncomfortable, please speak with your advisor or chair about ways in which you might continue to contribute to the research effort from a distance.