Town Halls on Planning for a Phased Resumption of On-campus Research

In April 2020, the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation convened a series of town halls to enable every faculty member to engage in discussions regarding advanced planning for phased resumption of on-campus research, scholarly and creative activities.

Access a copy of the slides from these town halls

Participants raised many issues to be addressed in planning for a phased increase of on-campus research, scholarship and creative activities. The Office of the VP, Research & Innovation is working on those issues related to the VPRI portfolio and raising others with the appropriate units across the university.

The issues are summarized below under four major themes.

Providing a Safe Workplace Environment

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Many participants raised questions regarding PPE: some because they need PPE as they work with biohazards, or animals; others because they are interested in using PPE as an additional safety precaution.  There were several questions about how PPE will be procured and prioritized.

Site Testing 
Several participants wanted to know whether testing (of COVID-19) will be possible for those who return to on-campus research, scholarly and creative activities. Others wanted to understand how such an approach might intersect with privacy rights and who would be responsible for contact tracing should someone in their building test positive. 

Building Operations
Participants raised the need to structure planning of any resumption of on-campus activities around buildings.

Return to Campus Priorities and Guidelines  
Participants raised questions about who might be prioritized for return to on-campus research and who is responsible for guidelines regarding any phased return to on-campus research. The importance of equity, diversity and inclusion considerations in any prioritization process was highlighted. Many faculty want to be able to work in their office, others noted it might be possible to do shift work with their research team.  There were also concerns about how research access intersects with teaching and students on campus for classes. 

Taking care of our Faculty, Staff and Trainees

Trainee Support  
Concern for graduate student and post-doctoral trainees was widely noted by participants who reinforced that many trainees are in a precarious financial situation.  Participants wanted to know about funding extensions to support trainees, whether there would be support for a transition year if the trainees can’t leave to get to their next position, how the pandemic situation would impact degree completion timelines, how UBC will be prioritizing decisions, whether summer funding will exist, if there will be alternate TA positions if no in-person lab classes are offered.

Faculty Support 
Participants noted that newly recruited and/or early career faculty might not yet have funding in place.  As several grant competitions have been delayed or cancelled,  these researchers are at a disadvantage.  Many researchers in this position may not have the resources to support trainees at this time.  Concerns were also raised about how the curtailment will impact faculty assessment for merit, tenure and promotion.

Employment Continuity 
Participants raised concerns about funding uncertainty and the impact of funding interruptions and breaks in research activity on retaining and hiring trainees and staff.

Mental Health and Wellbeing 
Many participants inquired about how to support their team’s and colleagues’ mental health and wellbeing during this time.

Better support for remote working
Participants noted that their set up at home isn’t ideal. 

Availability of services on and off campus

VPRI Unit Availability  
Some participants weren’t sure which VPRI units were currently open.

Core Facilities/Shared Platforms
Participants that operate shared/core facilities are unsure how to navigate the financial strain of paying salaries and service contracts when there are no current customers to serve. 

Access to Daycare/Schools  
Participants signaled that without daycare, school access and other support many faculty, staff and trainees with children are experiencing difficulty balancing work with commitments at home. Participants noted they and others might not be able to return to campus work sites without the opening of other facilities, and had excellent questions about how the University will accommodate. 

Coordination with the Library 
Attendees reiterated that the library is a primary research facility and resource for many of our faculty.  Not all materials are available online and researchers and their teams are keen to regain access. VPRI and Faculties will work with the Library to coordinate Library access with other on-campus research activities.

Other Research Impacts

Updates on Tri-agency Decisions
Several participants had questions about the latest information from the Tri-Agencies regarding grant deadlines, changes in research fund use, trainee fellowships etc.

Impact of International Travel Restrictions on Research and Trainees
Attendees highlighted that travel restrictions have impacted researchers in numerous ways such as an inability for staff/students to enter or leave the country and an inability to access fieldwork/research sites internationally. For international students concerned about their immigration status visit International Student Advising’s page on the impact of COVID-19. UBC will work with students on a case-by-case basis to determine how best to support them if their studies are impacted.  Researchers who conduct field work may apply for an exemption from research curtailment.  A task force has also been struck to address the particular needs of field work researchers.