Travel restrictions. Suspension of face-to-face human-subjects research. Conference cancellations. While research has gradually restarted on campus 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.
To help mitigate some of those impacts, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education has launched the Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative, thanks to reinvestment of faculty and staff-generated commercial licensing income through a gift from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
“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.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the conditions set forth by some research grants require funding be spent, even when faced with research activity restrictions, such as prohibitions on research travel, face-to-face data collection, and facilities-based research activities.
Additionally, resuming paused research can also come at increased cost, 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 Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative will support projects faced with compulsory expenditures such that the project now faces a shortage of funds necessary to complete activities disrupted by COVID-19. While the program will not support equipment costs, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education will consider applications for the replacement of critical and time-sensitive research supplies and resources.
Faculty and permanent principal investigators of any rank who are in such a situation may submit proposals for one-time funding support and probationary faculty and permanent principal investigators will be given priority. Awards may be up to $50,000.
In addition to the Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiation, the Graduate School will sponsor a dissertation completion initiative to support PhD and MFA students facing pandemic graduation delays.
“In addition to faculty members, university research involves postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, and sometimes undergraduate students. 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 in Spring 2021 but whose graduations have been unavoidably delayed until August 2021 by pandemic-related restrictions. Faculty advisors should submit applications for funding on their behalf. A link to the application and more details will be available on September 2.
“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.”