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Research Continuity Update from Bogdan Vernescu, Vice Provost of Research

DEPARTMENT(S): 
April 17, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

First, I would like to thank you all for your contributions to the success of our research enterprise; many of our research metrics are up, and we are having a record year for our research funding—currently at $47.5M, with a few more awards under negotiation. 

Second, I would like to give a shout-out to the entire staff in the research support offices—Office of Sponsored Programs, Sponsored Programs Accounting, Office for Technology Transfer, Research Solutions Institute, and Research Computing—who are continuing to provide remotely their usual level of service. I would also like to thank our small group of essential personnel for maintaining research critical assets, such as lab animals and cell/tissue cultures, and maintaining essential equipment and materials; their contribution is greatly appreciated.

This period of severely limited access to campus has been challenging for us all and I would like to provide another update on research-related activities, which should provide an answer to many of your questions.

Guidance for Research Webpage. The COVID-19 website, accessible from the banner on the WPI front page, has a new link, “Guidance for Research.” We are providing daily updates on guidance from federal agencies, funding opportunities for COVID-19 research, and research-related FAQs from all the research support offices on campus. Please contact us with any questions or concerns regarding effects of the COVID-19 situation on your sponsored research projects, e.g., meeting deliverables, needing no-cost extensions, and issues regarding student or postdoc salaries. We are here to help!

Access to Labs. This continues to be restricted to essential personnel for maintaining research critical assets, such as cell/tissue culturesand essential equipment and materials, as well as tending to lab animals. The goal is to maintain the existing research-related assets in order to ensure laboratory viability and to comply with federal research regulations. If you encounter unforeseen circumstance related to a mission-critical campus function, please consult with your department head to discuss a request for an exemption from the Restricted Access Policy.

Appointments/Reappointments on Grants and Contracts. During the period of severely limited operations hiring on grants and contracts, the following guidelines apply to hiring on grants and contracts:

  1. RAs, postdocs, technical staff, non-faculty researchers, for research that can be done remotely: The Principal Investigators need to certify in writing to the VPR that the work can be done remotely. The approval of the VPR is sufficient to initiate the hiring process through HR.
  2. RAs, postdocs, technical staff, non-faculty researchers for research that cannot be done remotely: Currently campus work is not possible, with the exception of COVID-19–related research and some DOD contract work. However, some federal agencies allow the charging of salaries, even if only part of the work can be performed remotely. The VPR can approve such work and initiate the hiring process in such scenarios:
    1. Appointments for COVID-19 and DOD contracts require approval of the VPR and final approval from CERT.           
    2. New appointments, for which work cannot be done remotely, will have verbiage that specifies that the starting date is contingent upon opening of the campus facilities. Continuing appointments can be made, provided that the sponsors allow for salary charges these appointments also require approval of the VPR.

Appointments/Reappointments on non-WPI Funding. Follow same guidelines as provided above for appointments/reappointments on WPI grants and contracts.

For questions regarding the appointments described above, please contact the VPR Office vpr@wpi.edu.

Summer Salaries. Requests for summer salary charged on grants must include a written certification by the PI as to whether the work can be carried out remotely, or if access to lab facilities is needed. Processing of requests that require lab access will be delayed until mid-May, and processing will be contingent upon the sponsor's allowing such charges and/or upon reopening of the particular lab. Note that, per WPI policy, requests for more than two months of summer salary, from any source, must be approved by the Provost.

REU Supplements. Consider applying for supplements to your existing grants to support one or two undergraduate students to participate in research. PIs holding an existing NSF research award can submit a post-award request for an NSF REU Supplement, and submitters of new proposals may include an REU Supplement activity as a component of a new (or renewal) research proposal. For guidance, contact directly the program officer of your research program.  

Questions About Research opportunities and research continuity should be directed to Assistant VPR Antje Harnisch aharnisch@wpi.edu and VPR Bogdan Vernescu vernescu@wpi.edu.

Sincerely,

Bogdan