Update from Dean and Vice President for Research to staff and students
20 March 2020
Firstly, I hope you and your families are staying well. I know this is a stressful time for us all on many fronts. As Dean of Research, I am keenly aware of the many ways in which research has been, and will continue to be, affected.
My office is working hard to ensure that we are fully aware of the issues that arise and is in active conversation with our sister institutions in LERU and the IUA to share our collective learning. Trinity engages in very diverse forms of research and hence the issues will vary across disciplines. You can flag any issues by working through your representative on the Research Committee or you can register issues as they arise using the online form here. Having a full sense of these issues as they happen is vital as we make plans for the future, and also informs the sector’s engagement with Government and funding agencies.
One of the main issues at the moment relates to access to College for research purposes. The situation remains fluid, but for now we are working under the guidelines of the email from the Provost of March 12th, which states:
- Staff will be able to enter and leave the campus. Postgraduate students who need to be here for critical research projects will be able to enter the campus if they can show email permission from their supervisors. Business critical services will also be able to gain entry.
- Academic and research staff may come into College on an occasional basis if they need to do so to maintain continuity of academic activities, such as to prepare online lectures/tutorials/seminars/labs, or to continue research activities. If academic and research staff do come in there should be no congregating in groups and social distancing protocols should be maintained.
- People with underlying illnesses should not come on campus in any circumstances and work remotely where possible
In certain areas more stringent, discipline-specific rules have been put in place in line with best practice and informed by local expertise. It is essential that these rules are adhered to.
We have seen a large reduction in the activity on campus as a result of this with many working from home. For those who are on campus, we remind people to work safely, and to observe social distancing protocols. However, at this point, it is essential that everyone plans for further disruption and saves data and materials, winds up all possible activity other than that which is critical, in order to be ready should more stringent rules be required.
There are two further questions that continue to arise around access.
1. Many have asked what will happen should we be instructed by the Government to enforce a stricter lockdown. In this scenario, it is envisaged that the following activities will continue: critical support for all animal, organism and plant facilities; continued operation of critical infrastructure for the support of remote research practices; preservation of resources that are critical to the research process and not easily reproducible (e.g. biobanks, frozen cell and tissue cultures, etc.); equipment oversight for critical safety purposes and checking of facilities for any operational issues including floods, power outages and temperature fluctuations; safety walk throughs by technical staff to ensure compliance; emergency response and Covid-19 related research. It is essential to put strong plans in place for a more restrictive lockdown and we know many of you have already done so. It is also vital that these plans are communicated to those who are impacted by whatever measures are put in place.
2. We have been asked by many people how we might work productively under a ‘new norm’ of longer term mobility restrictions. While there is some way to go to flatten the virus curve and move beyond that to what might be a more steady-state level of restrictions, we are planning for how we can have the kind of research continuity that requires a physical presence on campus (e.g. access to Library, labs etc.).
There are many more questions arising than those related to access. As a result we have created a Research FAQ and this will be regularly updated as we learn more.
While I cannot go through all of the issues here, I would like to briefly comment on two. The first is research funding. There are many questions for which we do not yet have answers. However, at the sector level, we are working with the funding agencies and have regular scheduled calls to ensure that all questions are brought to their attention and good channels of communication remain open. We will communicate further and update the FAQs as we learn more.
Secondly, I think it is important to flag the balancing act that is working from home during a time that is anything but business as usual. We are well aware that at the moment people have even more demands on their time: the demands of making sure family is safe and well, the work involved in moving to online teaching, the supporting of students and staff at a distance, and much more. We recognise that the wellbeing of our colleagues comes first. In these uncertain times, our focus is naturally on finding some stability and routine amid the disruption, and it can be difficult to devote any attention to research or to feel that we are working effectively. In this situation, it is important to recognise that you are not alone in that as we are all working to find new ways of doing things. Reach out to your colleagues and try to maintain open lines of communication.
We will work through the issues one-by-one, until we are able to be back on campus. I, for one, am inspired by the community spirit I see in abundance in Trinity as we deal with this unprecedented situation. Please stay well, and continue to follow all of the advice from the HSE.
Professor Linda Doyle
Dean and Vice President for Research
Professor of Engineering and the Arts