In the past two weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has put Cornell on pause.
The University suspended classes, closed on-campus housing and limited on-campus eateries to take-out only. As of March 18, “nonessential” research was added to the list of activities that would be indefinitely suspended.
On March 15, Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice Provost Emmanuel Gianellis alerted principal investigators and researchers in an email that the majority of on campus research activities would be restricted.
“Research that is essential for the understanding and reduction of COVID-19 risk should continue,” Kotlikoff and Gianellis wrote in the email. “Beyond this, we ask that only those research activities that are absolutely necessary to retain critical research assets for long-term progress are conducted on campus.”
Activities that are classified as “critical” are those that are necessary to maintain essential components of a laboratory’s function. Specifically, the email enumerates the care of biological specimens, the preservation of unique or expensive reagents and maintaining equipment that cannot be monitored remotely.
For some, this suspension could result in significant delays in conducting experiments and publishing papers.
But it remains unclear how this halt in research will affect the long term projects of laboratories or the degree progress of graduate students.
“The most difficult aspect to deal with is the uncertainty of how long it will take until researchers can resume some or all of their on-campus activities,” wrote Julia Nolte grad.
Nolte conducts research in human development, analyzing the perception of risk in a healthcare setting in different populations. Her work requires interviewing a large number of people, which becomes impossible without undergraduate research assistants, most of whom have already returned home.
The timing of this suspension is particularly inconvenient for Nolte. She currently has funding for three experiments, two of which cannot be completed after the end of June.
“This is a truly cruel twist of fate as in previous years, I had opportunities for data collection but no funding to do so. Now I have funding for studies and no opportunity to complete them,” Nolte wrote.
Researchers have been encouraged to pursue activities that can be completed remotely, like writing papers and proposals or analyzing data that has already been collected.
Nolte said that she may have to adapt her research by either collecting data online, delaying in-person experiments or shifting her focus to more theoretical or review papers.
While current circumstances impede Nolte’s initial plans, she expressed support for the measures that the University took amid the pandemic.
“If I can return to campus in June, then the delays should not impact my dissertation too much, seeing as I still have two years until I graduate,” Nolte said. “If my data collection is stalled until the Fall semester, then I might have to adapt my plans to ensure I can still make progress toward my degree in the meantime.”