COVID-19 and Undergraduate Research

UConn Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates

The worldwide pandemic involving COVID-19 (coronavirus) has produced unprecedented challenges in the UConn community and around the world. These unusual circumstances create significant uncertainty and unease in the professional and personal lives of our students, employees, alumni, and others throughout UConn Nation.

The latest official guidance and updates on UConn’s response to COVID-19 and its impact on the university community is being provided in real time at https://uconn.edu/public-notification/coronavirus/.

COVID-19 and Undergraduate Research
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced significant changes to nearly all facets of our daily lives. At the University, the predictable rhythms of the academic year have been replaced by considerable uncertainty and newness at every turn. The suspension of research activities and subsequent phased reopening of research on all UConn campuses represent an unprecedented disruption to the University’s pursuit of its research mission, in which undergraduate researchers are valued partners. The Office of Undergraduate Research is committed to supporting undergraduate students, faculty, and staff during this difficult and uncertain time. The information posted to this page will be updated as the situation evolves, as we all learn and respond, and as new resources are identified that might be of use to students and their faculty mentors. (Last updated August 13, 2020)

FALL 2020

The following guidance applies to undergraduate research and creative activity for the fall semester, including associated undergraduate research and independent study courses. As in all of our reopening plans, we seek to prioritize the safety of our campus community, limit gatherings and density on campus wherever possible, and support the agency of our faculty, staff, and students in making choices about the degree to which they will be engaged in on-campus activities.

Guidance for fall undergraduate research and creative activity:

  • Training. All undergraduates who will be involved in research and/or enrolled in experiential learning credit (e.g., internship, undergraduate research, thesis, independent study) should complete the online COVID-19 safety training. There are two options for completing the online training and either training is acceptable: “Returning to Research Training Course” OR “Returning to Campus Training Course.” Students only need to complete one of the trainings even if they are engaged in multiple research or experiential learning opportunities. Students should provide email confirmation that they have completed the training to their research mentor/supervisor/faculty advisor. As always, research mentors/supervisors are responsible for ensuring their undergraduate researchers have completed the EHS, human subjects, and/or animal use training relevant to the research in which they are involved.
  • Safety Plans. Undergraduates involved in laboratory and/or human subjects research should review, sign, and follow their mentor’s OVPR-approved COVID-19 Safety Plan. The responsible faculty member/principal investigator is responsible for ensuring undergraduates’ compliance with all facets of the approved Safety Plan.
  • Remote as Default. Wherever possible, research (including research with associated course credit or student employment) and related activities should be completed remotely in furtherance of the goal of limiting gatherings and density. This includes activities such as lab/research group meetings and 1:1 meetings. Consider remote activity the default and reserve in-person/in-lab/in-studio time for activities that can only be accomplished with the equipment and materials in those spaces.
  • Course Modality. If a student is enrolled in course credits based on their involvement in research, independent study, or creative activity this fall, ensure that the course’s modality accurately reflects the modality of the student’s planned involvement. Modality changes to these courses should be made promptly so students’ enrollment reflects how all their fall courses will be delivered.

No additional approval process is required for undergraduate research after the fall campus reopening. Residential students with a summer undergraduate research approval may be involved in research on their campus of residence during the 2-week quarantine period if that research involvement is consistent with Residential Life’s community expectations during the quarantine period. Students may not be involved in off-campus or inter-campus research during that time.

Faculty and students: Please contact the Office of Undergraduate Research (our@uconn.edu) with any questions. The Office of the Vice President for Research (ovpr@uconn.edu) and their COVID-19 Guidance for the UConn Research Community page are key resources for the research community at UConn and UConn Health. We thank faculty, staff, and students for your care and cooperation, which are essential to involving students safely this fall semester.


SUMMER 2020

What about undergraduate research for summer 2020?
The University began a phased reopening of research on May 20, 2020. This phased reopening can now include undergraduate researchers if they and their mentors meet a set of safety and approval requirements. This is the process to follow in order to resume undergraduate research during the summer:

  • The undergraduate student should complete and submit the Student Request to Resume Undergraduate Research Form. Once submitted, this will be emailed automatically to both the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) and the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR).
  • The faculty member wanting to add one or more undergraduate students to an approved safety plan should complete and submit the Faculty Request to Resume Undergraduate Research Form. Once submitted, this will be emailed automatically to both OUR and OVPR. If the faculty member does not yet have an approved safety plan, they should follow the steps listed here to obtain OVPR approval to resume research activity.
  • Once BOTH forms are received, the OVPR will respond with an approval to both the student and faculty member.
  • If you have questions or concerns, please contact the OVPR at ovpr@uconn.edu or the OUR at our@uconn.edu.

In the spring, university senior leadership recommended transitioning summer undergraduate research programs to telecommuting/online options. In accordance with this guidance, we made the difficult decision to move all summer undergraduate research programs administered within the Office of Undergraduate Research (and the broader Enrichment Programs unit) to a remote-only model. Please note that the Health Research Program will remain in remote-only mode for the remainder of the summer program period. Participants can contact Dr. Rowena Grainger, Health Research Program Manager, with any questions. For all OUR programs, staff are available to answer program-specific questions and consult with students and faculty on how to adapt their research and creative projects to their particular circumstances.

What do I do if my faculty mentor is unresponsive?
This is a very difficult time for faculty too. Please understand that the demands of restarting research safely require significant faculty time and effort. Please reach out to your mentor using the communication channels you have used in the past and ask to arrange a conversation. Ensure that you are monitoring those communication channels regularly (e.g., checking email and voicemail) so you do not miss a response.

What do I do if my faculty mentor pressures me to resume in-person/on-campus/field research?
Any undergraduate student’s involvement in in-person, on-campus, and/or field research during summer 2020 is completely optional. Students should not be pressured in any way by their mentors or research groups to resume in-person/on-campus/field research. Please contact our@uconn.edu if you are in this situation. Continuing with remote research through the summer will be the best option for many students, including those who had always planned to work on their projects from home, those who are living at a considerable distance from the campus, and those with personal risk factors. Faculty are asked to ensure that complying with the research shut down and ramp up directives does not negatively impact their assessment of students, whether via course grades, future letters of recommendation, or in any other form.

What kinds of research activities can be done remotely?
Each project and student are different, so it is important that students and their mentors discuss what is viable for their particular situation. As a starting point for those discussions, we offer this list of suggestions adapted from the Graduate School’s Guide to Coping with the Suspension of Many Research Activities:

  • Preparing a literature review, where it is possible to do so using electronic sources available through the library.
  • Collating, consolidating, and analyzing data that has already been collected.
  • Writing thesis sections where the research is complete. Writing thesis sections that explain how the research would proceed under normal circumstances. Writing thesis sections that acknowledge unanswered questions and point to areas for further investigation.
  • Writing all or part of papers intended for publication in journals or conference proceedings.
  • Acquiring new research skills or improving existing skills (e.g., learning a new language, acquiring new computational skills, improving drafting or drawing skills).
  • Identifying and applying for future fellowship or research funding opportunities. The Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships can assist.
  • For continuing students: Developing contingency plans for worst-case scenarios associated with interruption of research (e.g., cancellation of travel to research sites during Summer 2020, extension of restrictions on use of campus facilities through Summer 2020).

Shifting research activities to remote or virtual modes (e.g., conducting interviews with participants electronically rather than face-to-face) may require amendment to existing research compliance approvals. Please visit the OVPR’s COVID-19 Research Guidance page for more information.

Consider also how you can use this time to think creatively, develop new ideas, and lean into the newness of this moment. For one undergraduate researcher’s suggestions in this regard, visit Research-Related Activities to Engage in During Closures

Considerations for contingency planning and shifting to remote research:

  • What questions can be addressed through the use of electronic resources? How can existing research questions be adapted to work in a more restricted research environment?
  • What research methods, processes, or activities can be pursued remotely? What research-related skills can be developed remotely?
  • What research compliance approvals or amendments need to be secured in order to proceed in a virtual environment? See COVID-19 Research Guidance.
  • What strategies and technologies can be used to maintain research community and collaboration? What kind(s) of support can I offer to others and what kind(s) of support do I need?
  • Refer to the developing list of questions to consider in the Graduate School’s Guide to Coping with the Suspension of Many Research Activities; most apply equally well to undergraduate projects.

How can I contact the Office of Undergraduate Research?
All OUR staff are working remotely until further notice. At this time, the best way to reach us is through email. As always, feel free to email our@uconn.edu with any question or concern, and we will respond as quickly as possible. To contact a specific staff member via email, please refer to the Contact Us page. Phone and video advising appointments are available and can be scheduled via Nexus.

I have a question that’s not addressed here, or want to share a resource or suggestion that might be helpful. What should I do?
Please send a message to our@uconn.edu! We will continue to update this page as we gather additional information.


SPRING 2020 QUESTION ARCHIVE

What does the research shut down mean for undergraduate researchers?
The research shut down means that all on-campus research activities must cease after March 23, 2020. No undergraduate student – whether earning credit, employed as a research assistant, or involved on a voluntary basis – can engage in on-campus research for the remainder of the spring semester. Consistent with the Graduate School’s guidance to their students, undergraduate researchers should assume that:

  • They will not have access to laboratories, offices, or other University facilities.
  • They will not be able to travel to out-of-state research sites.
  • They will not have access to printed materials from the Library.
  • They will not be able to meet in person with human subjects or to take samples from them.

While research is challenging by its very nature, the cessation of on-campus research represents its own kind of challenge. Undergraduate researchers: You may be feeling disappointment, frustration, sadness, or fear, among many other emotions. You are grieving what might have been. Your grief and loss are real. Remember to show yourself kindness and compassion; please make use of the student support and assistance resources available to you. Remember also that you are resilient and capable of doing hard things. For one undergraduate researcher’s perspective on this topic, visit Preparing for and Overcoming Roadblocks.

I’m earning credit for undergraduate research. What do I do now?
It is essential that you talk with your research mentor in order to make a plan for the remainder of the spring semester. The shift to online course delivery will likely necessitate changes to your learning plan. We encourage students and faculty to discuss the following points:

  1. How to amend the planned learning objectives, activities, and evaluation methods for the semester in light of the University’s move to online instruction. Your new plan should be feasible within the timeline of the spring semester (i.e., activities and/or assessment are not to be deferred to summer or fall).
  2. How to access any necessary data, software, etc., securely from an off-campus location.
  3. How communication will proceed between student and faculty and/or any other personnel who may be supervising the student’s research, including how project work should be submitted for review. Explicit, shared expectations about communication mode and frequency will facilitate the successful completion of your new plan for the semester.

The Office of the Registrar has compiled a thorough FAQ on their homepage that addresses questions related to grading, course withdrawals, registration, and graduation; please reference it for information about these topics.

What does this mean for students writing Honors or non-Honors theses, or completing other research-based capstone projects?
The same guidance about credit-bearing undergraduate research applies: students should make a plan with their thesis or capstone supervisor(s) that allows for the completion of the thesis or capstone on the normal spring semester schedule. Students: Your final product may not look exactly like what you imagined, but it can still represent the culmination of your undergraduate experience, an articulation of your learning, and the expression of your unique perspective and understanding.

Guidance specific to Honors theses can be accessed on the Honors Program COVID-19 webpage.