College of Liberal Arts

Levels of Allowable non-Virtual Research Activities On and Off Campus

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) and the College of Liberal Arts (COLA) have created a five-level plan to incrementally allow various categories of research activities on and off campus during the pandemic. These five research levels are structured by changes in the public health environment. Once the University decides that it is safe and prudent to enter a specific research level, new categories of lab-based, human subjects, and archival research and other categories of research conducted by COLA faculty can resume on or off campus.

For more information, please go to the OVPR Research Restart website and the UT Research Restart Plan and Levels.

CURRENT RESEARCH LEVEL: 3 (effective June 1, 2020)

As explained at UT Research Restart Plan and Levels, Level 3 allows research of all types that can be conducted virtually as well as certain non-virtual research activities that can be conducted on campus under specific conditions.

For on-campus research, those conditions include a cap on team capacity. At Level 3, a maximum team capacity of 33% of the total size of a team of researchers/investigators (with exceptions for smaller team size) is allowed to work on campus at a time. Beginning August 3, 2020, this maximum capacity can be managed by following a building-specific shift/cohort schedule that enables a larger proportion of a team to work on approved activities on campus over the course of a week while maintaining the 33% capacity at any one time. See below for a fuller description of shift/cohort scheduling in COLA.

For more on shifts and cohorts, workforce management, and the procurement of PPE, see the Research Restart Toolkit and the Research Restart FAQs.

DUE DATE FOR APPLICATIONS TO CONDUCT NON-VIRTUAL RESEARCH DURING RESEARCH LEVEL 3: Beginning June 5, 2020, applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

Selection of Projects to Proceed within an Allowable Category of Research Activities

Importantly, even though the transition into a new research level might open up a new category of on-campus research, not all on-campus projects and investigators conducting on-campus research within this newly allowed category can operate. That is because social distancing guidelines, other safety-related guidelines, and the availability of testing and PPE limit how much research can occur on campus during a given time.

As a result, some on-campus research activities will need to be given priority independent of the quality and merit of the research. In line with the principles for research activities adopted by the OVPR, COLA will take into account the following factors in prioritizing on-campus research activities within a category when the University enters a new research level. These factors include:
  • Size of team and location on campus in relation to density (most important factor)
  • Time-sensitivity of research
  • Involvement of early career scholars (including students) with tight timelines
  • Relevance of research to COVID
  • Careful consideration of COVID effects on the quality of data collection and analyses
  • Completion of ongoing research (vs. starting new research)
  • Safety and social distancing plan (see Research Restart Toolkit)

This need to prioritize projects within an allowable category will not extend to off-campus research, although certain factors (e.g., location off campus, safety plan) and other university policies (e.g., travel restrictions, library access policies) could influence approval of a project that falls within a general category of research activities that is otherwise allowed.

Application for Approval to Conduct Research Activities

When the University enters a new research level, COLA begins receiving applications to start research activities within allowable categories. Please note:
  • Applications are project-specific, meaning that there will be no blanket approvals for all of an investigator’s various activities. Each project requires a separate proposal.
  • To give investigators time to propose and receive equal consideration, applications will be due by a specific date for each new research level, and all applications that arrive by that date will be reviewed together (later applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis).
  • Approval will be for a specific time period rather than open-ended, and, for the sake of equity in the face of space, density, testing, and PPE constraints, some approvals granted in earlier research levels may need to be reconsidered or shortened as the University enters each new research level.
  • Approval will require regular updating, as requested by OVPR and COLA, of the number of personnel working on each project and in each space.
  • No personnel should be pressured to work if they are uncomfortable doing so, and there should be no disciplinary or retaliatory action taken against anyone who prefers not to return to work due to concerns about infection.

To apply for approval to reopen research during the current research level, please 1) review and familiarize yourself with the list of application questions, and 2) find these same questions and answer in the application.

Shift/Cohort Scheduling

Investigators can increase team capacity by using the shift/cohort model. In this model, the workday (6:00 am – 10:00 pm) is divided into two shifts, and a team is divided into cohorts, with no cohort exceeding more than 33% capacity of the total team. Cohorts are then assigned separate shifts, and research personnel can only work during their assigned shifts. Here are three examples for a team working in a building with two specified shifts per day:

One cohort 33% of the research team working in building—all of the team on a single shift—and 67% off campus.
Two cohorts 67% of the research team working in the building—split into two groups of 33% total capacity each, with Cohort A working the early shift and Cohort B working the later shift—and 33% off campus.
Three cohorts 99-100% of the research team working in the building, split into three groups of 33% total team capacity each. In any given week, two cohorts would be allowed to work in the building (i.e., Cohort A working early shift and Cohort B working later shift) while the third cohort (i.e., Cohort C) is off campus, with a new combination of cohorts working on campus the next week while another cohort is off campus.

Here are some important points to consider when working with the shift/cohort model:

  • Shifts are set at the building level, and all investigators and research teams must adhere to the building-level schedule regardless of their own preferences or team size. See grid below for current building-level information.
  • Cohort rotations must follow the daily shift schedule and not any other schedule; for example, Cohort A cannot work one day followed by Cohort B the next day.
  • Shift schedules apply to all days of the week, not just weekdays.
  • All shift schedules contain a one-hour break between shifts to allow turnover between cohorts.
  • Cohorts are, by definition, non-overlapping, which means that any and all research personnel on a team can only be assigned to—and work in—one shift per day.
  • Shift/cohort schedules should be viewed as semi-permanent. Alterations will be allowed under certain circumstances, but maintaining the same schedules (including the same roster of personnel in a cohort) is important for safety precautions and contact tracing.
  • The shifts represent a window of time in which a researcher can work but does not have to work. In other words, a researcher assigned to a 6:00 am-3:00 pm shift does not have to arrive at work at 6 am or and be on campus until 3:00 pm but is allowed to work in any or all combination of hours during this window.
Current Shift Schedules of Buildings in COLA Buildings
Building Shifts Cohorts Faculty Coordinator
Patton (RLP) 6:00am–4:00pm, 5:00pm–10:00pm Cohorts rotate early/late by week Kelly Raley (SOC)
Rapoport (BRB) 6:00am–10:00pm No Cohorts Jason Abrevaya (ECO)
Seay (SEA) 6:00am–3:00pm, 4:00pm–10:00pm Cohort A early, Cohort B late Marie Monfils (PSY)
Powers (WCH) 6:00am–10:00pm No Cohorts Anthony DiFiore (ANT)

Note that these COLA buildings include research spaces with active research activities used by COLA faculty for approved projects for this research level. Schedules will be set for additional COLA buildings as COLA faculty are approved for research activities in those buildings.

Further note that COLA faculty who conduct their research in non-COLA buildings need to follow the guidelines for those buildings, which are set by other colleges and units, and their applications to COLA need to reflect that.

  • For the Animal Resource Center, contact Dr. Glen Otto (gotto@austin.utexas.edu).
  • For the Norman Hackerman building and the Moffett Molecular Biology Building, contact Dr. Dean Appling (dappling@austin.utexas.edu).
  • For the Health Discovery building, contact Dr. Robert Messing (romessing@austin.utexas.edu).

Inclusivity of COLA Research Activities across Levels

Note that the application for Research Level 3 was designed to cover the necessary information for the specific kinds of research that will be allowed during this research level, particularly non-human subjects, non-virtual, on-campus research in labs and other spaces that will need to be monitored for density. This application will have multiple forms in future research levels to be more inclusive of the diverse kinds of research conducted by COLA on- and off-campus, including human subjects research on and off campus as well as research using libraries, collections, and archives.

If you have any questions, please email laresearch@austin.utexas.edu or email Associate Dean Crosnoe at crosnoe@austin.utexas.edu.