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Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative funds 50 new proposals

December 16, 2021 By Natasha Kassulke

Some University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers are still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work. To help mitigate some of those impacts, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education has named 50 award recipients in the second round of the Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative (PARCI). Each will receive up to $40,000 in funding.

PARCI provides critical support for research projects compelled to spend down grants during the pandemic though certain research activities were stalled. Some projects now face a shortage of funds to complete the intended work. The initiative is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“The disruption to research during COVID-19 — such as the closure of labs and travel restrictions — means many of our researchers have faced challenges completing projects by their deadlines and some have even struggled to pay the salaries of students and research staff who were unable to continue with experiments because of lab closures,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “We’ve heard from PARCI recipients in the first round of funding that the initiative has been instrumental to helping them recover and rebuild from the impacts of COVID-19 — a benefit to the entire campus research enterprise.”

The first round of funding, launched in September 2020, drew 110 applications; 70 were selected for funding. Round two, which drew 70 applications, brings the total number of funded PARCI projects to 120.

Among those funded is a project led by Zuzana Buřivalová, professor of forest and wildlife ecology, whose team was forced to postpone fieldwork for a new biodiversity and sustainable forest management project for more than a year.

“Our research group was just starting a new collaboration in Gabon before the pandemic, with funding from the Precious Forests Foundation. Starting a tropical forest research project and collaboration in a new country is exciting, but it also takes a huge amount of time and resources,” she explains. “We are now back on track and with the support of the PARCI grant, we will be able to achieve our research goals.”

Rachelle Winkle-Wagner, professor of educational leadership and policy analysis, received PARCI funding in round one for her project, “Health Profiles of African American Women on the Tenure Track and Beyond.”

The collaborative project, which she co-leads with Bridget Goosby at the University of Texas at Austin, examines the conditions under which Black women academics experience racial stress, how they cope, and the degree to which stressors relate to their health profile during tenure and beyond. The project now encompasses impacts of COVID-19 and includes a mix of research methods, including nationwide surveys and a series of interviews with a cohort of Black women academics.

Winkle-Wagner says PARCI funding allowed her to finish data collection for the initial phase of the project, including three rounds of the surveys and two rounds of interviews. Preliminary findings from social sciences faculty helped her expand the project to include Black women academics in STEM disciplines and the project was recently awarded a Spencer Large Grant for a three-year study.

“We are very grateful for PARCI funding,” Winkle-Wagner says. “Without this funding, we may not have been able to finish the first phase of the project — and that phase has already paid off in a large external grant.”

The Spencer Large Grant also supports the research training of six doctoral students at UW–Madison.

Jenny Saffran, professor of psychology, is among the researchers selected in the latest round of PARCI funding and says it will be essential to the continuity of her lab’s work. Her lab has yet to complete most of the studies it began before the pandemic, but the National Institutes of Health grant that was funding the research has ended.

“At the Infant Learning Lab at the Waisman Center, we study how babies learn language,” Saffran says. “When the pandemic hit, my lab shut down, along with the rest of campus. Because we work with babies, we didn’t reopen until July 2021, 15 months after we closed.”

Due to ongoing COVID-19 safety concerns, Saffran’s lab is still testing far fewer infants than it was before the pandemic.

“While the lab was closed, we developed new procedures to run some of our studies online via Zoom,” Saffran says. “But as you can imagine, doing infant testing over the internet is challenging at best, and several of our study methods simply cannot be run online.”

The PARCI funding will help bridge the gap until the lab’s new NIH grant begins in 2022.

“We will use the money to cover the costs of recruiting and compensating families who participate in our research, and procuring technical support for our lab,” Saffran says. “With this financial assistance, my graduate students and I hope to finally complete the projects that have been in the works for several years.”