COVID-19 Working Group Summaries

The curtailment of on-campus research, scholarly and creative activities at UBC in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts for many faculty members, graduate students, research trainees, postdoctoral fellows and research staff.

In April 2020, the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation convened four working groups, consisting of Associate Deans, Research from both campuses. Each working group looked at one of the following topics:

  1. Research funding for trainees and staff
  2. Research records and career trajectories
  3. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows
  4. Shared research facilities

The goal of these working groups was to better understand the full complexity of each of these issues and to recommend items for consideration at UBC, and where appropriate, at the national level. An overview of each of the working groups and a summary of their findings is below.


RESEARCH FUNDING FOR TRAINEES AND STAFF

In FY2019, UBC researchers attracted approximately $670M to support research activities. Just under half of these funds were deployed as stipends and salaries to support research trainees and research staff.

This funding, typically spread across approximately 11,000 projects each year, always carries uncertainty due to granting sources and programs changing over time. The ability of an individual investigator to fund research activities also varies depending on success rates of various competitions. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted research progress for many and has disrupted many funding sources.

This working group examined the scope of this problem and developed recommendations for addressing issues related to research funding for research trainees and staff.

The working group adopted the following guiding principles in considering the problem and for providing recommendations:

  • During research curtailment, payment continuity to those remunerated via research funds should be a priority.
  • International and domestic trainees (students and post-docs) are often in precarious financial situations.
  • Remuneration strategies need to be prioritized for those at highest risk.
  • UBC will advocate to sponsors for continued/additional funds to enable payment continuity.

The working group’s analysis was informed by financial expenditure data and projections assumed that some of the sponsors that would normally provide ongoing funding or renewed funding are unlikely to do so in the current environment.

Recommendations

The working group recognizes that a likely reduction in the available funding from many sponsors, such as industry and foundations, will impact research trainees and staff who are paid through these research funds in the next four months and perhaps beyond.

In response, the working group recommends the following items for consideration:

  • UBC requests that PIs with ongoing funding provide payment continuity for research personnel during the period of on-campus research curtailment.
  • UBC consider the creation of a fund to support emergency requests by faculty to retain trainees and staff through this period. Access to this fund will be based on such criteria as:
    • the faculty member has no other funds available to compensate the trainees and/or staff, and
    • the funding is for salaries and stipends previously committed to trainees and/or staff that was unexpectedly unavailable due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., industry sponsor has pulled out).
  • UBC work with governments and other agencies to help them shape programs to address the identified gaps. Highly skilled individuals will be key to continuing Canada’s strength in research and innovation and retaining these individuals within the research environment would allow training to continue.
Working group members
  • Phil Barker (Co-Chair)
  • Kristin Cacchioni
  • Gino DiLabio
  • Julian Dierkes
  • Patsy Duff
  • John-Paul Heale
  • Hourik Khanlian
  • Alan Kingstone
  • Gerald Levac
  • Walter Merida
  • Anne Murphy
  • Gail Murphy (Co-Chair)
  • Tim Salcudean
  • Mark Trowell
  • Sharon Wu

RESEARCH RECORDS AND CAREER TRAJECTORIES

Research curtailment will produce different impacts on faculty research trajectories across the university. The working group recognized a number of elements impacting individual trajectories. All of these issues need to be considered through the lens of equity, diversity and inclusion considerations, as well as career stage, as many pre-tenure faculty members will face particular challenges. The working group also recognized that we should not underestimate the difficulties experienced by many faculty members whose research could in principle be conducted remotely, nor should we assume that the impact of the COVID-19 emergency will be restricted to only when public health directives limit access to campus(es) or mobility.

The working group adopted the following assumptions and considerations:

  • The disruption, deferral or cancellation of the majority of on-campus research during research curtailment
  • Constraints on travel, cancelled conferences, restrictions on field work, human participant research and access to facilities, such as libraries and archives
  • Lost time and funding due to cancelled funding competitions, and potentially lost partners and matching contributions to existing or planned sponsored projects
  • A disruption to the normal balance between teaching and research caused by significant time and effort required of faculty to adjust to online teaching
  • Different life circumstances and care giving responsibilities make remote research activities more difficult for some rather than others
  • Attending to the mental health needs of students, others, and themselves.
Recommendations

The working group was asked to consider how research curtailment might affect research career trajectories particularly over different time periods. In response, the working group made the following recommendations for consideration:

  • UBC develop more and better data on career impacts, including the financial cost of curtailment on individual research programs.
  • Departments recognize in the merit process in 2020/21, and 2021/22 the variable effects of the COVID-19 situation generally, and the research curtailment specifically, on research trajectories and our usual, discipline-specific measures of productivity and accomplishment.
  • Include an additional box on UBC CVs in which faculty could detail the impacts of the COVID-19 emergency and research curtailment specifically on their research careers.
  • UBC suggest to the tri-agencies that CV submissions to grant and award competitions include a section in which researchers may list the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on their research trajectory. Reviewers and adjudication committees may need guidance on how to weigh these impacts in the review and adjudication process in ways that are specific to the discipline and research area.
  • UILO continue to work with PIs and sponsors to manage the impacts of curtailment as much as possible.
  • Faculty and Graduate Deans on both campuses consider the development of a graduate retention and recruitment strategy. Where appropriate, a new stream of funded undergraduate positions to meet immediate staffing needs in labs could be considered.

The group also identified that longer-term impacts may arise through schedule changes to conferences and disciplinary meetings, travel restrictions causing increased barriers to international collaborations, and the switch to COVID-19 research that may hinder the recommencement of ongoing projects. It was also recognized that the situation has also raised new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations.

Working group members 
  • Matthew Evenden (Chair)
  • Susan Allen
  • Mary Butterfield
  • Lukas, Bichler
  • Cristie Ford
  • Heather Frost
  • David Kitts
  • Larry Lynd
  • John Ries
  • Sabrina Wong
  • Hannelore Roos (support)

IMPACT ON GRADUATE STUDENT AND POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCHERS

Graduate student and postdoctoral researchers are integral to most of the research and scholarly activity at UBC’s campuses. These activities take place in a broad range of contexts including dry/wet labs, time/season sensitive field research, the creative and performing arts, library and archival research, and work involving animals and human participants. The research curtailment induced by the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the progress of much of these activities.

This working group addressed accommodations to be made in response to this disruption to the progress of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

In developing recommendations, the working group recognized the following key considerations and issues:

  • acknowledging the different contexts and timelines under which research activities occur
  • balancing considerations against disciplinary standards of academic excellence
  • recognizing the power imbalances inherent between faculty supervisors and graduate student and postdoctoral researchers
Recommendations

The working group prioritized the following recommendations for consideration:

  • Supervisory committees are recommended to meet with graduate student researchers to make appropriate accommodations for thesis/dissertation requirements.*
  • UBC consider how to enable stipend payments, where appropriate, to current and incoming graduate students and postdoctoral researchers that are engaged remotely on research but are not within BC or Canada.
  • UBC consider accommodations for graduate student and post-doctoral researchers whose work is substantially disrupted by caregiving duties resulting from the pandemic.*
  • UBC explore opportunities for graduate student and postdoctoral researchers to:
    • support faculty in creating and implementing on-line teaching resources.
    • contribute to programming that assists the transition to working and/or doing research remotely.
  • UBC consider how to support extended degree completion times for graduate students whose progress was slowed by the pandemic.*
  • UBC consider an additional term of support for all internally-funded multi-year graduate student fellowships.*

*Will require oversight from the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the College of Graduate Studies.

Working group members:
  • Joan Bottorff
  • Jacqui Brinkman
  • Thomas Chang
  • Julian Dierkes
  • Brett Eaton
  • Greg Garrard
  • Daneila Hetrea (support)
  • Michael Hunt
  • Jennifer Jakobi
  • Hourik Khanlian
  • Mieke Koehoorn
  • Deanna Roberts
  • Megan Stewart
  • Theresa Rogers
  • Paul van Donkelaar (Chair)

SHARED Research FACILITIES

A large number of shared research facilities exist across UBC’s two campuses and affiliated hospital-based research institutes to provide researchers and external clients with access to state-of-the-art infrastructure and services.

Research curtailment has required the closure of most shared facilities. As fee-for service revenues are frequently the primary source of funding support for these facilities, the significant loss in revenue has the potential to cause the loss of HQP managing these facilities as research curtailment is prolonged. 

The Working Group categorized different types of shared research facilities as follows:

  1. Category 1: shared research platforms led by UBC’s VPRI
  2. Category 2: facilities open to researchers across departments/Faculties (typically with user fees)
  3. Category 3:  facilities which are internally restricted i.e. solely available to researchers in a specific Faculty/department
  4. Category 4:  facilities which are located at, and governed by, a health authority/affiliated hospital

Data were collected for all facilities, where available. The analysis focused on identifying ongoing monthly salary commitments for HQP managing shared facilities and maintenance and start-up costs for infrastructure and instrumentation in shared facilities.

Recommendations

The working group identified the following key recommendations for consideration:

  • UBC consider strategies to access government sources of emergency funding to address salary gaps for HQP providing professional services in shared facilities.
  • UBC considers an emergency funding allocation to support staff salaries for all category 2 facilities (on both campuses) until the facilities re-open.
  • For an emergency funding allocation, VPRI develops an application process to review requests for salary support funding.
  • UBC considers establishing an emergency fund to support shared facility equipment maintenance costs during curtailment and start-up costs as research is re-initiated.  
Working group members
  • Helen Burt (Chair)
  • Fabio Rossi
  • Marie-Claude Fortin
  • Lara Boyd
  • Leonard Foster
  • Kyle Larson
  • Mark MacLachlan
  • Meisan Brown-Lum