Research Restart FAQs

Q: I’m a principal investigator (PI). How do I get approval to resume research operations?
A: College leadership manages the approval process for resuming research operations. Visit the Research Restart website to find links to the colleges’/schools’ restart approval processes. The college or school that controls the research space (labs, offices or both) that are assigned to you is the unit that will review and approve your request to resume research operations.

Q: My faculty appointment spans two colleges. Do I need to seek approval from both colleges?
A: No. You only need to seek approval from the college or school that controls the research space that is assigned to you. If you’re unsure which college/school that is, start by talking to the associate dean for research of the college/school where you hold your primary appointment. Look up your associate dean here.

Q: I direct a research center or unit that involves faculty affiliates from multiple colleges or that reports to multiple deans. Do I need to seek approval from all involved colleges?
A: No. You only need to seek approval from the college or school that controls the research space that is assigned to your center or unit. If you’re unsure which college/school that is, start by talking to the associate dean for research of the college/school where you hold your primary appointment. Look up your associate dean here.

Q: I manage a shared-use or core facility. How does my core facility get approval to resume research operations?
A: Talk with the associate dean for research for the college/school to which your core facility reports to see how they want you to proceed with requesting restart access. Look up your associate dean here.

Q: I’m a PI, but I’m not a faculty member. How do I get approval to resume research operations?
A: All PIs who have dedicated research space assigned to them (regardless of whether they are faculty) need formal approval from their college/school to resume research operations on site. Consult with your associate dean for research if you are unsure. Look up your associate dean here.

Q: I’m a graduate student, postdoc or research staff member reporting to a PI. How do I get approval to resume research operations?
A: Only PIs submit research restart approval requests. You may be included on your PI’s approved research restart plan. Let your PI know if you are willing to return to work on site and want to be included in their research restart approval request.

Q: I already have a VPR-approved exemption on file for some of my research. Do I still need to submit a research restart approval request?
A: Yes, for the purposes of enabling building managers and Facilities to accurately estimate the number of individuals who will be occupying buildings. You should mention your approved exemption in your restart request. Important note: If the number of your essential personnel who are approved to work on site under your current exemption is greater than the Workforce Number targeted in the current Research Phase, you are not allowed to add more people to your research restart request. All current VPR-approved exemptions expire on May 31, 2020, as stated in the exemption approval letters.

Q: My students/postdocs/staff researchers and I work in offices, not in a “laboratory.” Do I need to seek approval to resume office-based research on site?
A: If you want to resume working on your research on site, then yes. You must submit an approval request. Facilities staff need to know who will be occupying space in buildings, including office space, so that they may anticipate custodial and other building needs appropriately.

Q: I’m not comfortable sending my researchers back to campus yet. Am I required to submit a research restart plan or approval request at this time?
A: If you don’t need or don’t want your researchers to return to campus yet, you do not need to submit a research restart plan at this time. Any research that can be done remotely (data analysis, manuscript preparation, etc.) may continue to be done remotely without obtaining formal approval.

Q: Where can I get further guidance on submitting my research restart request?
A: Talk with your department chair or associate dean for research. Associate deans for research are overseeing the college/school approval processes. Look up your associate dean here.

The University is currently preparing for Research Phase 3 of resuming research operations. Research Phase 3 will begin on June 1, 2020. Colleges and Schools are accepting PI requests to resume Research Phase 3 activity only. Refer to the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases PDF to learn more about what kinds of research activities are permitted in this phase. Follow the links on the Research Restart website to submit your restart approval request.

Q: Am I supposed to submit my research restart request for all Research Phases or just for the current Research Phase?
A: At this time, Colleges and Schools are accepting PI requests to resume Research Phase 3 activity only. You do not need to submit a multi-phase research restart plan.

Q: When will we transition out of Research Phase 3 and into the next Research Phase?
A: Given the uncertainties surrounding the virus and its spread in the local community, there is no definitive timeline for the duration of each Research Phase. University executive leadership will continually reassess conditions on campus and in our community, which may result in changes to the policies and research activities permitted in each Research Phase. For future Research Phases, in particular, individuals can use the information about permitted research activities provided in the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases PDF to anticipate how on-campus research activity might change over time. As more becomes known about COVID-19, and as we gain experience with increased on-campus activity during the pandemic, the details of permitted activities may evolve over time. We will communicate changes in policy in a timely fashion to allow researchers to plan accordingly.

Q: May I require graduate students, postdocs or research staff in my group or lab to work on-site as part of my restart request?
A: No. You should prioritize on-site access for your team members who are willing to return to work, and then work with those who decline to return to the laboratory in Research Phase 3 to continue to make progress toward their research and educational objectives. PIs may set work-at-home hours and conditions for their groups.

Q: May visiting researchers with UT appointments work in my research space?
A: The only visiting researchers who are allowed to enter UT research space during Research Phase 3 are those who have a pre-existing, formal visiting scholar appointment at UT. In order for them to work in your research space, you must name them specifically when you submit your research restart plan to your college or school. This includes visiting faculty, graduate students, or postdocs. If approved, they may resume work in your lab or research space. Industry collaborators are not permitted on-site in Research Phase 3.

Q: May I include undergraduate researchers as part of my restart request?
A: No, not at this time. Undergraduates are not allowed to participate in research in person until further notice.

Q: May I include non-UT employees, such as industry lab visitors as part of my restart request?
A: No. Industry facility users and other lab access visitors without UT appointments are not permitted to resume research operations in Research Phase 3. However, visiting faculty, graduate students or postdocs who have a pre-existing, formal visiting scholar appointment at UT are permitted on-site in Research Phase 3 if approved specifically in your research restart plan.

Q: My supervisor/PI is asking me to return to work for research, and I don’t feel safe. What should I do?
A: Tell them that you are not comfortable returning to on-site research. If you are unable to come to an agreement with your supervisor directly, you can report your concerns to your department chair, graduate program director, associate dean for research, or the University Ombuds.

Q: What kinds of research activities are permitted in Research Phase 3?
A: Refer to the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases to learn more about what kinds of research activities are permitted in this Research Phase.

Q: Are certain types of research activities being prioritized in Research Phase 3?
A: College leadership manages the approval process for resuming research operations, including setting priorities for types of research to be resumed. The broad guidelines given in the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases for Research Phase 3 include:

  • Time-sensitive research (COVID-19 or otherwise)
  • Seasonal data collection such as field research or experiments close to completion
  • Access for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows close to completing their degree/term of appointment, including visiting grad students/postdocs with previously approved formal visiting agreements on file
  • Sponsored research with grant end dates of 8/31/2020 or sooner, for which the funding agency has not granted leniency

Q: I had to delay a set of experiments scheduled to last several weeks or months during the shutdown. Can I resume these experiments in Research Phase 3?
A: We don’t recommend it. Given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic, you should be prepared to rapidly ramp back down to Research Phase 4 (laboratory pause with few exemptions) or even Research Phase 5 (global shutdown of UT research) at any time. Refer to the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases to see which external conditions could cause a rapid transition between Research Phases.

Q: I need to use a core facility for some of my research. Should I submit a separate request to the core facility, or to the associate dean for research who oversees that core?
A: No, you do not need to submit a separate request, although it would be prudent to discuss the needs you foresee with the core facility director or specific facility manager(s). Your college/school’s request form includes questions regarding access to shared-use or core facilities. Note your needs there.

Q: I need to use animals in my research. Should I submit a separate request to the Animal Resources Center?
A: No, you do not need to submit a separate request. Your college/school’s request form includes questions regarding animal research. Note your needs there.

Q: My research involves human subjects. Do I need to submit a request to the IRB to resume this work?
A: Per the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases, face-to-face human subjects research will not be permitted in Research Phase 3. You may not bring any study subjects to campus in Research Phase 3, nor may you interact with them in person off site. You may continue to interact with study participants 100% virtually if you have obtained IRB approval to do so.

Q: I submitted my restart request, and it was denied by my college leadership. May I appeal to the VPR?
A: No. Decisions made by colleges and schools are final.

Refer to the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases PDF to learn how Workforce Number is defined and to see the target Workforce Numbers for each phase of restart.

Q: What is a “Workforce Number”?
A: The term “Workforce Number” refers to the number of unique individual researchers (faculty, graduate students, postdocs and staff) performing research on-site at UT. This number is expressed in terms of percent relative to normal, full-scale workforce operations. Target Workforce Number percentages have been defined for each phase of research restart. See the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases to review these target percentages.

Q: How do I calculate a Workforce Number for my research group?
A: The target number of researchers you can bring back to work on site for a given Research Phase is equal to the Workforce Number percentage approved for that Research Phase. For example, the Research Phase 3 Workforce Number is 30–40%. If you have 4 researchers in your group, then for Research Phase 3 you should target to bring back as many as 2 of them (PI + 4 researchers = 5 people; 2/5 = 40%), assuming that you (PI) will work remotely. College/school leadership may adjust these percentages further for individual PIs in order to balance Workforce Number across the entire college/school portfolio.

Q: Is Workforce Number calculated based on headcount or on FTE?
A: It’s calculated based on the headcount of personnel that you supervised as of March 24, 2020. 

Q: Should I count myself, as PI, when calculating my Workforce Number?
A: Yes, count yourself, although you are not required to return to on-site work with the rest of your research group.

Q: Should I include researchers who work in offices, as opposed to laboratories, in calculating my Workforce Number?
A: Yes. Even if your research team works primarily in offices (e.g., computational research), they still need to be accounted for in calculating a Workforce Number and in submitting a research restart request.

Q: May I include undergraduate research assistants in calculating my Workforce Number?
A: No, undergraduates should not be included when calculated your Workforce Number. Undergraduates are not allowed to participate in research in person until further notice.

Q: I already have a VPR-approved exemption on file for some of my research. The exemption allows for more people than the Workforce Number allows. Do I need to scale back my people?
A: If approved by your college/school leadership, you may continue to operate at the level that was approved for your exemption. You will not be allowed to add more people to your research restart request. When submitting your restart request, be sure to mention your previously approved exemption and to include the number/names of people that you wish to continue working on site for the current Research Phase.

Q: Can I divide my workforce into shifts as a way to bring more people back sooner?
A: You may use shift work as a way to increase social distancing among your researchers, but you must adhere to the following overarching policies:

  • You may not implement a 24/7 work schedule. All research buildings will be closed from 10 pm – 6 am daily to allow custodial services to work uninterrupted. All researchers must vacate both labs and offices during these hours.
  • The sum of all researchers working across all shifts cannot exceed the target Workforce Number for a given Research Phase. For instance, the target Workforce Number during Research Phase 3 is 30–40% of the total research workforce. College/school leadership may adjust these percentages further for individual PIs in order to balance Workforce Number across the entire college/school portfolio.
  • Build time into work schedules to allow your researchers to disinfect or sanitize high-touch surfaces in your research space before, during and after their work shifts.
  • Continue to encourage researchers to work remotely whenever possible to minimize unnecessary time spent on site.

The UT Health and Wellness Working Group recommends dividing workers into two cohorts that work on rotating, two-week schedules. Cohort A works on site for 14 days, then works from home for 14 days while Cohort B works on site. This 14-day remote work period slows the spread of the virus by enabling each cohort to self-isolate while monitoring themselves for COVID-19 symptoms. Again, the sum of all researchers working across both cohorts (Cohort A+ Cohort B) cannot exceed the target Workforce Number for a given Research Phase.

Q: Can I divide my workforce into a cohort of researchers working in the laboratory and a separate cohort of researchers working in their offices on site, as a way to bring more people back sooner?
A: You may employ this strategy as a way to increase social distancing among your researchers, but the sum of all researchers working across any rooms/spaces (lab + office) cannot exceed the target Workforce Number for a given Research Phase (e.g., 30–40% Workforce Number during Research Phase 3).

Q: Why is Workforce Number being restricted to these levels? It seems like we could easily bring many more people back to conduct research by alternating people through shift work.
A: There are several key reasons why Workforce Number restrictions are necessary:

  • We do not know if limited return to work in campus buildings will catalyze an outbreak of infection, so we need to cautiously test this and refine procedures as necessary. We do not want to expose the majority of the research workforce to the potential risks involved in returning to work until we have a few weeks’ experience to assess outcomes and see whether the current plan is effective in keeping researchers safe.
  • UT cannot yet offer COVID-19 testing and contact tracing at full workforce capacity. The Health Working Group, UT Health and Occupational Health continue to ramp up these efforts.
  • Working conditions are substantially different now, and people need to become accustomed to them to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Refer to the UT Research Restart Plan and Phases PDF and the PI Research Restart Toolkit for a full list of policies and best practices.

Q: Are there policies or other guidance regarding social distancing, face coverings, or other issues that I need to know during the research restart?
A: Yes. The PI Research Restart Toolkit is a comprehensive resource that includes guidance on the following topics:

  • Social distancing
  • Illness in research personnel, including symptom tracking, self-monitoring, and what to do if someone in your group shows symptoms of COVID-19
  • Parking and transportation
  • Face coverings for general use
  • Keeping your research space clean
  • Contact tracing
  • Research-specific PPE

The PI Research Restart Toolkit also includes downloadable templates, such as a lab sign-in sheet and checklist for resuming research operations.

Q: Where can I report someone who's not complying with these policies?
A: You may report noncompliance with policies to your Associate Dean for Research or department chair.

Visit the OVPR Other COVID-19 Research FAQs page for guidance on research policies not mentioned here.

Q: Where can I find information about other research guidelines, apart from these research restart guidelines?
A: Visit the OVPR Other COVID-19 Research FAQs page for additional research guidance during the pandemic. This page also includes links to FAQ sites maintained by other offices in the OVPR portfolio, including: