Pandemic-related research initiative receives strong campus response
The high volume of applications submitted to a recent Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education initiative underscores the serious impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison last spring.
The OVCRGE received 110 applications for the Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative and will support 70. Funded projects come from across campus and represent each of the four research divisions.
Last spring, some researchers were faced with spending down their existing funds while the pandemic limited certain on-site research activities. This included face-to-face human subjects research, research travel and most research activities conducted in-person in university research facilities.
The PARCI supports projects that are now facing a shortage of funds to complete those activities, and is helping to replace critical and time-sensitive research supplies and resources lost due to pandemic-related restrictions. The awards vary up to $50,000.
“We heard many stories about how research progress and funding were impacted by the closure of labs, field work suspension and limitations to other research activities,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “We knew there was a need for this initiative, even as research activity has successfully restarted on campus.”
For example, chemistry professor Tina Wang’s research efforts, delayed by the pandemic and resulting campus closures, are being supported by PARCI funding. Her lab is working to develop and use new methods for research in chemical biology, exploring the interplay between protein folding and function, and development of robust sensors and gene circuits. Dysfunctional protein folding is a hallmark of a number of diseases, most notably neurodegenerative disorders.
Michael Cahill, professor of comparative biosciences, received funding to support his work with animal models and to continue funding a graduate student. Cahill’s research focuses on understanding how gene-based alterations identified in schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and autism spectrum disorders influence neuronal morphology and function.
PARCI is also supporting researchers at the Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research to help them more fully resume research into climate variability and climate change, interactions between weather and climate, and global and regional impacts of climate change.
“While this initiative will help CCR maintain our pursuit of the Wisconsin Idea through world-class research and outreach on the causes and impacts of climate change, it does more,” says Dan Vimont, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and co-director of CCR. “In addition to recognizing the importance of our colleagues for what they do, it also recognizes the importance of who they are: parents, spouses and family members who are also world-class scientists. As we face what we expect will be a challenging time for the university and for research funding, this is welcome help to our center and to our scientists. “
Due to COVID-19, the OVCRGE also has extended end dates on other OVCRGE research-related funding affected by the pandemic and considered reallocations from existing budget line items.
COVID-19 also has had an impact personally on researchers, including faculty members, postdocs, technicians and graduate students. It has affected their educational progress, their career development and their work-life balance. For graduate students and early-career scientists, the disruptions have made it increasingly challenging for them to complete necessary research and to advance their careers.
In response, the Graduate School also recently sponsored a program to support PhD and MFA students facing pandemic graduation delays. The Dissertation Completion Emergency Fellowships program provides one-semester fellowships for students whose graduation has been unavoidably delayed by pandemic-related restrictions who cannot be supported through normal program appointments or endowment funds in Spring 2021 but who now expect to graduate by August 2021. Thirty-nine fellowships are being funded through the DCEF program.