This message has been distributed to all UT employees with Principal Investigator (PI) status, as well as all UT graduate students and postdocs.
Dear PI Colleagues, Graduate Students, and Postdocs,
As a new academic year begins, I want to thank you sincerely for your patience, cooperation, and hard work these past months. Each of you has had to adapt to unforeseen constraints since the pandemic began, whether that means transitioning your work to remote platforms or adapting your research spaces and projects to comply with health and safety policies. Others are unable to return to campus until we can safely be back at full capacity. And still many of you have core research projects that continue to be severely delayed or unable to commence. Research is a challenging endeavor in the best of times. Under the current circumstances, however, it’s even more difficult, and each of you should be recognized for the huge efforts you’ve made to keep our core research activities going.
Furthermore, your cooperation and adherence to the Research Restart plan has allowed us to operate safely throughout the summer months, and I thank you for that as well. Our goal now is to maintain those safe research operations as we enter the fall semester.
While ensuring everyone’s health and safety will continue to be our top priority, I know that finding ways to expand campus research (when feasible) is also critical. That’s why I’m working with campus leadership to plan for the limited resumption of undergraduate research activities on campus. I want to provide you with information about those tentative plans as well as some additional research-relevant updates.
Undergraduate Research Resumes in September
The Fall 2020 Planning Executive Committee is meeting daily and monitoring the prevalence of COVID-19 among our UT community members closely. If conditions permit, the current plan is to allow a limited number of undergraduate students to perform on-campus research beginning September 23. Undergraduate research is an important part of what makes UT a top-tier university, and these opportunities can be career-defining. At the same time, however, it’s imperative that we adhere to the necessary social distancing that limits the density of on-campus research personnel.
This planning process is still ongoing and includes your associate deans for research and the Academic Working Group. Once a plan is finalized, we will provide detailed information in a forthcoming memo. A few things to keep in mind now:
- All decisions will be made through your CSU, and each CSU will have discretion when choosing to permit undergraduates into campus research spaces. September 23 is the tentative first possible date when students may be approved to enter labs, but a CSU may choose to extend this date depending on its own needs and priorities.
- Both the student and the PI must agree to the in-person research arrangement.
- Each CSU will determine which student populations will be given priority for on-campus research. Examples may include undergraduates who are close to graduation or work-study students who depend on their research experience for financial support.
- Because it won’t be possible to accommodate all undergraduate students who’d like to resume on-campus research, we continue to encourage PIs to think creatively about ways to design meaningful, remote research opportunities. Teams across campus are actively considering different ways to approach this, and some ideas and strategies are included here from the Academic Working Group and Undergraduate Research Task Force. Additionally, please consult with your ADR or associate dean for undergraduate education to find out what options may already be available in your college.
- Also, PIs: as you’re considering how to balance priority for access to your on-campus research environment among undergraduates and your other researchers, you might also consult with your graduate students and postdocs to see how including undergrad support could help them meet their own research needs given the current circumstances.
Staying at RL3
Although we are tentatively resuming limited on-campus undergraduate research next month, we are staying at Research Level 3 in all other respects for the time being.
However, I do want you to know that the Research Working Group and the Health Working Group are developing a plan that will allow some forms of human participant research to resume in the coming weeks. As someone whose research relies on human participants, I know personally how important this is. Many teams’ projects have been put on indefinite hold because of current restrictions. Restarting human participant studies requires some additional planning because we need to ensure the safety of researchers, staff, and participants. More information will be announced next month.
Volunteers Needed for Proactive Community Testing
One of the critical pieces to monitoring the prevalence of COVID-19 on campus is testing, and this includes proactive community testing. UT has the capacity to test 5,000 asymptomatic faculty, staff, and students each week. These are saliva tests, results are available within 24 hours, and there is no out-of-pocket fee. Please volunteer to be tested and encourage your teams — students and staff — to participate as well.
Today there are two proactive community testing pop-ups on campus; no appointment necessary:
Longhorn Wellness Center: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Jester West Fireplace Lounge: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
UT Libraries Gradual Reopening
UT Libraries began making select services and spaces available on August 20. Please check the Service Continuity Guide regularly to see the current status of specific library operations.
BCCAL Now Operational
The new Behavior Concerns and COVID-19 Advice Line (BCCAL) is now operational and ready to receive anonymous reports of COVID-19 health and safety noncompliance. In addition to reporting student or employee noncompliance, BCCAL support staff can also answer questions about reporting positive COVID-19 cases and assist with self-isolation or quarantine, contact tracing, and other campus concerns.
COVID-19 Reporting Process for Employees
The Occupational Health Program sent an email last week that includes several common FAQs about notifying UT if you believe you have COVID-19 or are awaiting test results. Please be sure to read this email carefully, as it provides contact information and important policy information, including leave benefits if you need to quarantine. Share this with your teams and colleagues.
Download the Protect Texas Together App
The full version of the Protect Texas Together app was released last week. If you haven’t done so already, please download the app, which was designed by UT students, researchers, and staff. The app includes useful features that assist with contact tracing and proactive community testing, as well as a daily symptom tracker and campus pass generator. The team developed this with privacy top of mind, which is why users retain control over their information. But please remember that while using the app is strongly encouraged, it’s completely voluntary.
Thank you again for all that you’ve done to keep our university moving forward, safely, during the pandemic. The coming weeks will likely be even more challenging, so please be patient with yourselves and each other, and please continue to make your health and wellbeing your top priority.
Alison R. Preston, Ph.D.
Interim Vice President for Research