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U Wisconsin launches effort to reduce negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic on research

By David Schwartz
Published: September 8th, 2020

While research has gradually restarted on many campuses since the COVID-19 pandemic forced a nearly complete shutdown of in-person activity in the spring, many faculty and students are still feeling the effects on their research.

The University of Wisconsin is doing something about it. Its Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education has launched the Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative, using licensing income gifted by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation – the school’s storied tech transfer arm.

“Even short-term disruptions in our research can have long-term impacts,” explains Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education, noting that researchers who were or remain unable to carry out facets of grant-funded projects while working from home remain concerned about their future funding.

“In scientific research, career success also often depends on steadily accumulating performance indicators such as publications, citations, keynote addresses and awards,” he says. “These are activities that have been disrupted by COVID-19.”

Research grant requirements in some cases stop for no one and nothing – not even a pandemic. Those grants require funding be spent, even in the face of prohibitions on research travel, face-to-face data collection, and facilities-based research activities. In addition, resuming paused research can carry additional costs, Ackerman says, including to “bring experimental equipment back to operational status, reestablish laboratory animal populations, and to replace masks and other personal protective equipment that was donated to hospitals and first responders during the pandemic.”

He adds: “There also are specific challenges for shared university research infrastructure, including core facilities, as well as animal care facilities and clinical trial infrastructure. These facilities are typically supported mostly through user fees.”

The UW initiative will support projects facing compulsory expenses that leave the research labs short of funds necessary to complete activities disrupted by COVID-19. While the program will not support equipment costs, it will consider applications for the replacement of critical and time-sensitive research supplies and resources.

Under the program, all faculty and permanent principal investigators may submit proposals for one-time funding support, up to $50,000 with priority given to probationary faculty and permanent principal investigators.

In addition to research funding, the Graduate School will sponsor a dissertation completion initiative to support PhD and MFA students facing pandemic graduation delays.

“For graduate students, failing to complete a project on time may delay the completion of a degree or make it difficult to demonstrate research success when applying for jobs,” says Ackerman. “Cancelled conferences are also a particular concern for postdocs, students, and other early-career researchers, who often rely on conferences to meet more senior scientists, present their work, and find jobs.”

The Dissertation Completion Emergency Fellowships will provide one-semester fellowships for students who cannot be supported through normal program appointments or endowment funds and whose graduations have been unavoidably delayed until August 2021 by pandemic-related restrictions. 

“The full extent of the impact that COVID-19 will have on our research enterprise remains to be seen,” says Ackerman. “But with these new initiatives, we hope to lessen the sting of COVID-19 impacts on our research community.”

Source: UW News

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