Research Planning and Resiliency of the Research Enterprise

  • October 31, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis called for a rapid response from colleges and universities, particularly research operations. Using past experience from hurricane preparedness, Louisiana State University (LSU) and the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) were able to identify essential personnel and determine critical research that could continue during the shutdown. In a recent webinar, Dr. Stephen Beck (Associate Vice President, Office of Research & Economic Development, LSU) and Dr. Stuart Borrett (Associate Provost for Research, UNCW) shared best practices for shutting down and then ramping up research operations on campus.


Shutting Down

What should remain open?
Dr. Beck’s office needed to identify critical research and infrastructure labs: “We very quickly ramped up an InfoReady™ competition that we used essentially to gather the information in a way where we could send it through a review process so that we could make decisions and determinations about what could and should remain in operation.” This resulted in a simplified list:
  • Actively involved in COVID-19 research or related activity
  • Instruments that needed liquid nitrogen cooling
  • Biological specimens that needed refrigeration/cooling or live animals
  • Other time/resource issues that required physical presence

Who should decide?

  • Dr. Borrett and his team relied on those most familiar with principal investigators’ projects: “The research office worked with a number of stakeholders to develop a definition of critical research activities...but then we actually had a decentralized process for the ramp down. The decision making around critical research activities was made at the supervisor level, which in most cases meant the dean.”
  • PIs submitted application and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for approval
  • Internal review process focused on core facility availability
  • Priorities externally funded, seasonal, and graduate research

Ramping Up

How can researchers be supported as opening begins?

  • For UNCW, flexibility is key: “Part of what we need to do is help all of our researchers either ramp up or ramp down as the virus dictates.”
  • Prepare for second (or third) wave and be able to go remote quickly
  • Develop comprehensive research continuity plan, inclusive of hurricanes and pandemics
  • Provide guidelines and resources for obtaining PPE, distancing in laboratories, and supporting remote working

What is the best way to promote research continuity planning for the future?

  • For LSU, continue a campus culture of planning: “In the same way of creating a culture of research integrity, we want to create a culture of planning and research continuity by developing some templates that faculty can use, providing workshops and training, and then developing a platform to manage all of those continuity plans.”
  • Focus on contingency planning for graduate students, who are often most affected by project delays.
  • Highlight administrative benefit of identifying list of essential personnel that can be shared with other stakeholders like campus security.
  • Emphasize planning is just as valuable for short-term shutdowns (weather) as long-term (pandemic)

    We want to thank Dr. Beck and Dr. Borrett for sharing their expertise during the webinar. Though these are unprecedented times, they have been able to use past experiences with research continuity planning to approach current decision-making quickly and effectively.
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