COSAM News Articles 2020 March Message from Ed Thomas, Jr. - Update on Research

Message from Ed Thomas, Jr. - Update on Research

Published: 03/17/2020

By: Ed Thomas, Jr.

To all COSAM faculty, staff, and students,

We would like to update everyone on Auburn University’s research plans and how it will impact COSAM.  As with everything at this time, the response to the coronavirus situation continues to be changing rapidly and the university response may change at a moment’s notice.

As many of you may have seen, the Office of the Vice President for Research, Auburn University has instituted a plan of action related to research (see the VPR’s full message posted here:

  • Stay in communication with all research and laboratory staff.  We suggest creating an emergency call or contact list that includes all members of your research team, designating a specific point of contact for all research-related activities.
  • Identify essential research operations and who will be responsible for performing essential activities (including back-up plans as appropriate). 
  • Identify research functions that can be performed remotely.  Remote work time could be used for preparing manuscripts, proposals, literature reviews, etc. 
  • Consider what resources are needed for ongoing experiments and whether to adjust orders and/or related needs to maintain continuity of research operations.
  • For regulatory approvals that may expire soon, contact the appropriate office to request an extension, if needed.
  • Consider shutting down non-essential equipment that will not be damaged by shutdown or that requires reagents where supplies may not be readily available.  Plan for maintenance of equipment and disinfection of laboratory surfaces and equipment to protect research personnel (for laboratories that must remain open).

Ultimately, the main message at this time is that Auburn Research remains operational.  Research activities can continue but we strongly recommend the following constraints:

- Faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and research staff, are encouraged to work remotely as much as possible, but may continue to pursue on-campus research activities - as long as social distancing practices and all laboratory safety procedures are in place.  As noted above, we are also to identify “essential research operations” and responsible individuals.  Department chairs should take the lead in compiling this information.

Examples of “essential research operations” include:

- Care of live research animals;

- Maintenance of cell lines, where storage at -80 degrees C is not a viable option;

- Maintenance of unique, expensive (e.g., >$500,000) research instrumentation, etc.

- Processing or analyzing time-sensitive samples (e.g., with a holding time before testing must begin)

- Undergraduate research students are allowed to continue working in laboratories.  However they should only be engaged in “mission critical” work such as guaranteeing the safety of equipment or the health of lab animals; in addition, every attempt should be made to use staff or graduate students in place of undergraduates.  Also, at the request of the Provost, a list of undergraduate student workers must be compiled by each unit and sent to the Provost for approval. Faculty that seek to continue working with undergraduate students should provide this list (first name, last name, department, faculty PI) to their Chairs by close of business on Wednesday.  Chairs are asked to forward those lists to the ADR and the Dean.

Because COSAM wants to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of all of our personnel, we encourage research group meetings to make use of online formats (Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.). 

COSAM also recognizes that this is a particularly stressful time for those involved in research activities.  This is particularly true for our research support staff, graduate students with thesis/dissertation reaching the final stage, post-docs, untenured faculty, faculty on their first research grants, and faculty with large groups. We are committed to working with the PIs, the university administration, and our funding agencies to manage any disruptive impact on our research activities.  Because of the rapidly changing situation, we strongly urge all COSAM faculty to carefully consider if experiments can be delayed or postponed.  

Finally, we should start considering the possibility that if the virus is not held under control there could be a complete lockdown at the state or national level (e.g., Italy, France).  If that turns out to be the case, it might mean having no access to laboratory spaces for an extended period and having to do a shutdown of labs on very short notice (possibly 24 hours or less).  Therefore, we are also asking you to begin thinking about how to safely put your individual research laboratories, user facilities (e.g., NMR facilities, microscope facilities), and other COSAM research support facilities (e.g., machine shops, 3D printing labs, etc.) into a hibernation mode in case of a complete shutdown.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the ADR or the Dean.


Nick Giordano

Ed Thomas

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