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Summer 2020 Research Contingency Plans

 

Prepared by Amanda Grannas, Associate Vice Provost for Research with input and guidance from Research and Graduate Deans of the Colleges, College Deans, Faculty Congress

Goal:

To facilitate research activities to the greatest degree possible during Summer 2020, while adhering to any federal, state, local, or institutional restrictions in place. The primary goal is to maintain to the extent possible the academic and research progress of our graduate and professional student and postdoctoral scholar population and allow reasonable flexibility that would enable continued research progress of our faculty and undergraduate students. 

Considerations:  

  • Access to campus will be driven by federal, state, local or institutional restrictions.
  • On-campus research activity will need a baseline level of infrastructure support including e.g. Environmental Health and Safety, Library, custodial, UNIT, Public Safety, shipping/receiving.
  • Graduate students are the most vulnerable to a continuation of on-campus research restrictions. Many students cannot complete their degree/thesis/dissertation requirements without access to e.g. laboratories, physical library resources. Additionally, career progression of postdoctoral scholars with limited appointment terms are at risk as well.
  • While faculty will also be impacted, the tenure clock stoppage option helps ameliorate this. Also, no-cost-extension options for externally funded projects accommodate project timeline extensions. There will be some faculty who cannot avail themselves of a no-cost-extension and these situations will need to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
  • Research-related hiring will align with HR guidance. Currently this allows for case-by-case exceptions to the current hiring freeze approved by Office of the Provost.

Planning for resumption of research activities is based upon three predicted scenarios. We will begin with scenario 1 for research and will adjust to scenario 2 if doing so is possible.  

 

Scenario 1

Campus access remains restricted, with uncertainty around when restrictions would lift.  Restrictions could be due to state/federal orders, due to the judgement of the administration that further protection of the Villanova community is in its best interests, or due to campus infrastructure that has not returned to the needed baseline capacity.  

In this case:

  • Current restrictions to non-critical on-campus research would remain in place. Only critical work as described here is allowable, and strict social distancing and good hygiene practices must continue to be followed.

  • If progress on research projects can be made while working remotely and observing state or local travel/stay-at-home mandates, then faculty, postdocs and students will have the ability to continue their research work. In this case, personnel costs can be paid from internal or external sources of funds. If students are being paid on an hourly basis, time-tracking must still occur, and necessary forms processed and submitted to payroll on time.

  • For faculty summer funding programs (University Summer Grant Program, Veritas, Unitas), the Office of the Provost intends to honor all awards made to faculty through these funding programs. Should research be curtailed, it is our intention to allow deferral of the award to a later date (up to and including Summer 2021). Work that can be completed remotely will be funded per existing guidelines.

  • The University will continue to support all legitimate business expenses, which includes travel cancellation costs. All efforts should be taken to minimize these costs (be mindful of cancellation deadlines, etc.).

  • Should current restrictions remain, we anticipate graduate students in some disciplines may have difficulty completing degree requirements since working remotely may not be a viable option. In these cases, individual program flexibility will be necessary to accommodate students. We would expect the following to be guiding principles of any programmatic changes in response to COVID-19:
    1. Faculty will work with students to develop alternative research plans to accommodate remote academic progress, such as:
      • For laboratory studies, a greater reliance on existing data or simulations.
      • In human subject research the use of remote data collection tools such as Qualtrics and Survey Monkey or secondary data sources such as the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).
      • For archival research, a greater reliance on available digital repositories.
    2. Requirements for public thesis and dissertation defenses will be relaxed and replaced by online or webinar presentations, with consideration of available network connectivity.
    3. Preliminary and comprehensive examinations will be hosted online, and accommodations will be made to account for:
      • Possible differences in student test-taking environments (e.g., some students may have access to a quiet test -taking environment and others may not)
      • Possible differences in network connectivity (e.g., some students may not have access to a reliable internet connection).
    4. The requirement for physical signatures on capstone projects and other certifying documents will be relaxed and digital signatures will be allowed.
    5. Students interrupted by the COVID-19 crisis will be automatically granted an additional year to their time to degree completion allowance, with longer extensions possible if recommended by their department, depending on the students’ personal circumstances.
    6. Where appropriate, practicum and other experiential learning experiences may be replaced by practitioner led proseminars, reflection papers and other such exercises conducive to remote implementation.
    7. Every effort will be made to increase opportunities for one-on-one mentoring sessions with faculty to develop tailored adjustments to plans of study and professional development opportunities moving forward.
  • For graduate students who will face significant financial hardship due to loss of stipends, lack of external summer employment opportunities, rising health care costs, etc. a Graduate Student Hardship Fund will be established.
    • Interested donors can make direct contributions here
  • In cases where graduate assistants can contribute to externally funded projects (even if working remotely) or can complete existing assistantship duties while working remotely, stipend payments will continue without interruption. Faculty advisors should make every effort to develop alternative research plans to accommodate remote academic and project progress and allow them to remain on their original funding sources.

  • Additional efforts are being dedicated to planning support for graduate students through a committee organized by Provost Maggitti, and chaired by Amanda Grannas, AVPR.


Scenario 2

Campus access begins to become available, but with a need to maintain social distancing and stagger/minimize staffing.  Possibility of a lack of full campus infrastructure (e.g. Environmental Health & Safety, facilities, shipping/receiving, custodial, etc).  In this case, there could be a phased-in return of limited students and faculty to campus.  

In this case: 

  • The same accommodations from Scenario 1 also apply to Scenario 2 for those unable to work on campus.

  • As in Scenario 1, personnel associated with projects that can be done remotely should remain off-campus.

  • Departments and programs, through the respective colleges and their offices of research and graduate studies, should devise a plan to prioritize and schedule who could return to campus and for what times. Consideration should be made for the level of staffing required to support the on-campus research work. 

  • Departments and programs should consider prioritizing graduate student and postdoctoral scholar projects that will contribute to degree/career progress and consider seniority of the student/postdoc, with those closer to degree/postdoc term completion receiving higher priority.

  • Departments and programs should consider prioritizing pre-tenure faculty for earlier return to campus facilities. Those working on funded projects with no available extensions for project deadlines should also receive priority for return to campus facilities.

  • Departments and programs should devise a schedule of attendance that would allow personnel to maximize social distancing, while adhering to safety procedures and ensuring adequate support staff are available.

  • Personnel returning to campus should undergo good hygiene training to reinforce best practices to minimize surface contamination, etc. This training could be developed in collaboration with College of Nursing, Environmental Health and Safety, and Public Safety and offered online.


Scenario 3

Campus restrictions lifted, possibly with short notice.  Campus infrastructure back to 100%. We anticipate currently that this is unlikely and should prepare for Scenario 2 as “best case scenario.”

  • The same accommodations from Scenario 1 also apply to Scenario 3 for those unable to work on campus.

  • Advice of public health experts may still encourage good hygiene practices and social distancing. In this case, the practices outlined in Scenario 2 (planning for staggered attendance, good hygiene training, etc) would be expected.
     

Undergraduate Research Summer 2020 Contingency Plan: Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (VURF)


Goal
:

To facilitate undergraduate research activities to the greatest degree possible during Summer 2020. The VURF Program contingency plan may serve as a model for other student research programs across the university.

Considerations: Program Dates

  • The VURF Program spans 10 weeks; it is modeled after the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Programs (NSF REU).
  • The VURF Program dates correspond with the dates of summer room and board offered by Residence Life and the academic calendar for summer courses (Summer Session III). Therefore, the grant period is scheduled to run from the week of May 26 through the week of July 27, 2020.
  • Even if University summer housing becomes available at a later date than May 26, the VURF dates cannot shift. The VURF Program must finish prior to the Fall 2020 semester. If the program were to run into August, this would put an undue burden on Facilities and faculty mentors. Facilities needs time to ready for the Fall semester, and faculty mentors often take time off in August.

Considerations: Professional Development

  • The Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Training Workshop in its original form consists of a mass gathering exceeding 125 people in early June. This year, the CRF Team will deliver the RCR Workshop remotely, using Zoom, during the first week of the program.
  • All professional development workshops for student researchers will be delivered as planned, but CRF will use Zoom rather than in-person meetings.

VURF Program proceeds, but all research activity must take place remotely.

Assumptions

  • Campus access remains restricted, with uncertainty around when restrictions would lift.  Restrictions could be due to state/federal orders, or due to lack of campus infrastructure that is back up to 100% capacity. 
  • On-campus room and board is unavailable; students do not come to campus.
  • Appropriate campus infrastructure (EH&S, shipping/receiving, etc.) is not in place.
  • VURF dates follow the original plans; no need for adjustments.
  • Mentors of student grantees will decide if the work can be completed remotely. All student grantees will be able to list having won the grant, but only projects that are completely remote will receive funding to execute the project. Unfortunately, many grantees will be forced to decline the grant due to physical limitations (i.e., no access to the laboratory, fieldwork, or Research Garden). This should not be seen as a subjective choice on the part of the mentor.
  • If a VURF project can be revised so that all work is completed remotely, then mentors and grantees should submit a research plan addendum for all grantees by May 1. Grantees and mentors will submit these plans via an Office365 form created by CRF. The VURF Program seeks to accommodate as many projects as possible.

Plan Details

  • VURF faculty selection committees submit their funding recommendations by April 1.
  • Selection of fellows will not be dependent on ability to complete the project remotely. Students will be able to list the award, but those who cannot do their work remotely will not receive funding and will not conduct on-campus research projects.
  • Grantees/mentors whose projects can be conducted remotely are encouraged to consider this option, notifying CRF and the mentor department by May 1.
  • Grantees who do not decline will conduct research remotely, corresponding with their mentors regularly.
  • If a grantee and mentor do not or cannot provide a suitable remote work plan, then the mentor will inform CRF that the grant must be declined. As declines occur, alternate candidates will receive VURF offers on a rolling basis until the list of alternates is exhausted. 
  • RCR training and all professional development workshops are delivered via Zoom.
  • Program dates: week of May 26 through week of July 27.