Research

Research, scholarship and creative work is the foundation upon which faculty passion is built, the vehicle that engages deep student-faculty mentorships that inspire the next generation of thought leaders, and part of how DU contributes to our vision for the public good. Throughout the pandemic, research, scholarship and creative work remained a priority in the campus reopening plan for these reasons. Some research facilities remained open during Phase I, in alignment with the Stay At Home orders, as essential to support lifeforms, maintain specialized equipment, and conduct COVID-19 research. During Phase II, in alignment with Safer At Home orders, we allowed for the resumption of all research on campus for any DU employee (faculty, staff or student employee). To comply with Safer At Home, staggered scheduling was utilized to de-densify buildings and common workspaces. Through this we established methods for gathering feedback from the research community regularly and refining protocols that were effective in supporting the research community, streamlining efforts and supporting the culture of caring necessary to keep the campus community safe. 

Phase III opens research, scholarship and creative work activities up to student researchers who are not employees, driving the DU research community back to full strength on campus but in a de-densified work environment. The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) established a comprehensive Research, Scholarship and Creative Work Protocol for faculty, staff and students to follow in order to mitigate and protect against the spread of the virus. All individuals requesting access to the campus during any phase of campus access and support plan should refer to this protocol for detailed information. 

Lab Safety

Because research, scholarship and creative work was prioritized for return to campus, laboratory safety protocols were some of the first established during Phase I and II. Procedures continue to be refined over time to streamline the efforts and support faculty and student success. Shared equipment and workspaces have been the largest challenge to overcome in determining how to safely allow individuals to continue working. Allowing faculty to establish protocols that meet requirements for safety had been a tenet for success in research for decades, and we transfer those same guiding principles to the current operation to recognize that the disciplinary, infrastructure, and size of the research group must drive outcomes. All employees follow all applicable University protocols including symptom monitoring, face coverings and social distancing while in laboratories. While working in shared workspaces, individuals should be mindful to comply with scheduling requirements and minimize time around other people. Appropriate precautions beyond those defined by the protocols should be followed including not sharing objects and regular disinfection of shared surfaces between users. 

Key attributes to all laboratory protocols include developing a schedule that minimizes the number of people in each room or workspace and communication of that schedule to division leads and COVID-19 Access Managers to coordinate the total number of individuals in a building. Augmenting the schedules by using a sign-in procedure supports contact tracing should it become necessary. Researchers must create and submit their plan to maintain social distancing. Based on guidance from the CDC, 100 square feet is a recommendation for a single-person workspace. Thus, assigning workspaces and defining traffic flow in tight spaces is critical to the development of a suitable plan. Plans that support cleaning and reduce or eliminate equipment sharing have proven most effective. Finally contactless transfer between labs or lab members of items is preferred. 

Human Subjects

During Phase I and Phase II of the campus access and support plan, human subject research is limited to DU’s campus facilities, other higher education institutions, and other community-based organizations with developed safety protocols. The collection of bodily fluids was permitted once basic protocols for laboratory safety matured enough to provide confidence in the campus’ ability to establish and implement effective safety protocols and monitor compliance. In Phase III, in-home visits will resume as long as new cases of COVID-19 per day remain below 10 per 100,000 residents. At all times, human subjects research limits the amount of time interacting with participants in order to minimize risk. 

Human subjects that need to come to campus will follow the established visitor protocols and must coordinate scheduling with COVID-19 Access Managers in order to maintain social distancing and de-densification requirements for the facility. Research staff are responsible for contacting participants and determining interest, sharing precautions and procedures, providing the visitor survey link and describing participants’ responsibilities for personal hygiene, face coverings and social distancing during the visit to campus. Participants will be required to complete the visitor symptom survey within two hours of arrival. Waiting rooms are closed during Phase I through IV, and participants will be escorted into DU buildings directly to laboratories to minimize exposure. 

All Human Subject Protocols that require in-person interactions or intervention with human subjects during Phases I through IV must submit an addendum to the currently approved IRB submission to document safety procedures. A template is available to support researchers and streamline the process. If conducting research at another site, investigators must submit an amendment through IRBNet along with the other universities’ safety protocol. Researches must review additional requirements mandated by the affiliated faculty or community-based organization. 

Field Research

In Phase I and II of the campus access and support plan in-home field research was prohibited. As long as cases remain below 10 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, in-home field research may return during Phase III. 

In Phase I and II of the Campus Access and Support Plan, travel was prohibited for non-essential domestic and international University travel, which limited field research to that which satisfied the definition of essential and met three of the following criteria. Academic deans are responsible for determining what travel for research in their division met criteria for essential. 

Travel may be deemed “essential and not possible to postpone” if THREE of following from the list below is likely to occur should the travel be cancelled or significantly delayed: 

  • Loss of grant funding, or failure to meet required completion deadlines 
  • Failure to meet contract deliverable requirements 
  • Significant damage to relationship with institutional partner 
  • Significant delay in academic progress, degree completion, or graduation 

Supports for Research

Since March 2020, the University research, scholarship and creative work community has suffered along with the rest of campus as a result of the pandemic. The movement of the campus to remote work and distance learning required limiting personnel to only those with essential research projects or those dedicated to supporting lifeforms and specialized equipment. Moreover, prohibition of international and domestic travel limited field work, conference attendance, collaborative exchanges, and other activities that fuel the creativity and passions of faculty and enhance the experiences of our students. The lift of 2,000 classes in two weeks from face-to-face to online required that faculty shift their time away from research, scholarship and creative work. This redistribution of faculty effort created a pause in our progress, or if our work was so aligned with the current needs of the region, nation, or world we were called to dramatically increase our efforts. We did not get to celebrate our accomplishments as we traditionally would and suffered pay cuts that applied to our grant-funded positions. At times, it felt like there was no room for our research, scholarship, and creative work in the middle of so many other demands. 

However, in the midst of financial distress, the University has remained steadfast in its commitment to supporting faculty in research, scholarship and creative work. External research expenditure hit an all-time high of over $40 million. Although there was some decline in spending, awards and renewals hint at how exceptional FY21 might be. The continued growth of research, scholarship and creative work remains a priority because it will help us surpass our competitors, draw in and launch DU faculty careers and provide deep rich educational experience for our students. To support research the University prioritized research for faculty and students in our return to campus, expanded resources for copy/editing of grant applications and journal manuscripts, created assistance for grant prospecting, committed to continued seed funding at or above historical levels, invested in new faculty learning communities, streamlining administrative processes, and enhanced stipends for GRAs. 

Research, scholarship and creative work was of highest priority to relaunch once the governor moved away from the Stay at Home orders. As a result, among the first personnel authorized to return to campus were the research community. In those early weeks, the research community helped define how the University would reopen campus activities. We learned quickly that in order to fuel our passions, we needed to resume our research, scholarship and creative work, and we needed to resume it together. As we have moved to later phases in the Campus Access and Support Plan, we have streamlined the return to campus approval process to make it easier and less burdensome to get back on campus and to allow more students back to join us in our scholarly passions. 

The free copy/edit service available for faculty on journal articles and grant applications has restarted and expanded to meet demand. To access this service, please email Corinne.Lengsfeld@du.edu with completed documents for review. ORSP grant and contract administrators will begin to add services related to grant prospecting and are available to support faculty and staff looking to identify and apply for grants. Contact your grants administrator for help. The University is seeking ways to streamline administrative processes to reduce the burden on faculty. One example was the development of the template IRB amendment for IRB protocols to document lab safety procedures. This made updating existing approve IRB protocols as simple as possible. 

Seed funding to support faculty remained in place through spring 2020. With 80% of all the allocated seed funding for PROF, FRF, and Knowledge Bridges and others moved forward. One-year no-cost extensions were granted rapidly for any faculty member who could not travel or conduct the proposed work from a prior PROF award. Enabling the faculty member to continue the work after a pause as a result of conditions world-wide. Additional funds were allocated to respond and to support high-need, emergent projects related to COVID-19. These seed funding programs remain in the FY2021 base budget and will be allocated with the usual timelines and funding rates as in previous years. We know that these financial supports for faculty around research, scholarship and creative work remain essential to the University progression to elevated research activity as measured by faculty retention, paper publication and citation rate, and growth in research expenditures. More importantly, these funds are pivotal to faculty career progression, institutional visibility and faculty/student recruitment. 

The new faculty learning community will launch for the second year this fall. This is more important than ever to keep first and second year faculty members focused on career path progression and the importance of maintaining a scholarly focus even when teaching load maybe unusually high. 

The FY21 budget included a salary increase for GTA/GRA to enhance student recruitment and retention. The raise was similar to the merit raise in January 1 of 2.5%. 

Finally, town halls have been an essential element to keep the research community informed, because they provided an effective method to listen to and understand the struggles and opportunities to meet the needs of our faculty. These will continue as part of a greater effort to support faculty research during a year of difficult teaching responsibilities. We will explore funding for infrastructure needs and grant mechanism for specific learning communities. 

Saliva-Based SARS-CoV-2 On-Campus Screening Pilot 

The University of Denver research enterprise is dedicated to being responsive to the needs of our community, state, region and nation in support of our vision for public good. The best way the state and the University remain open and face-to-face during the resurgence of the virus, is by minimizing the number of positive cases on campus at the start of every term, and rapidly identifying and isolating infected individuals thus reducing the number of days any single person spreads the disease. One mechanism for enhanced success prior to a vaccine is testing–frequent testing, reduced testing times, reduced testing cost, and testing large populations of individuals enhances early detection, including of asymptomatic people. 

DU is establishing a research partnership with another university to establish low cost, high through-put, supply chain insensitive, and reliable salivary testing method. Salivary testing not only provides a less painful testing route than the current best practice, thus enhancing compliance, but also targets bodily fluids associated with the known mode of transmission (e.g., orally generated aerosols). Targeting saliva where active shedding of the virus occurs has the potential of identifying individuals who are COVID-19 positive in advance of symptoms, which permits proactive isolation prior to maximum transmission. Salivary collection also provides a means for DU community members to provide a spit sample and deposit the sample themselves into a testing system. The testing system denatures the virus with excessive heat to limit exposure of the virus to testing personnel. The proposed pilot testing site would use RT-PCR-based testing with adaptations to allow for results in less than two hours. To test our entire community every seven days would require a throughput of 2,000 samples a day which is within the capabilities of existing equipment on campus. Several faculty with experience in salivary science, PCR testing and infectious disease are collaborating to run a pilot study in support of adding data that enables these techniques to become standard practice as soon as possible. DU scientists will focus on the pilot study for research purposes, with a hope of moving this to larger scale with the potential to support the health and safety of campus. This expansion however will require CLIA certification and FDA approval of the screening technique.