During these days of social distancing, UT faculty can be assured that the Office of Research and Engagement (ORE) continues to serve their research endeavors, albeit remotely. Staff in the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) and Research Development (RD), for example, are reporting a surge in Zoom meetings, with continued contact via phone and emails.
“Nothing’s changed but the physical location,” says Jean Mercer, assistant vice chancellor and director of sponsored programs. She notes that 89 proposals were submitted between March 16 and April 9, 2020, with requested amounts totaling more than $54 million. The office reported 77 awards received, totaling more than $10 million.
“Our team is very cognizant that all of our faculty and staff are not only trying to manage working from home but in many cases also trying to balance being a parent and/or spouse,” said Mercer. “To that extent, we have been helping our faculty obtain information regarding questions that involve other areas outside of OSP,” Mercer says.
Mercer says that OSP continues to staff their main number to answer faculty questions. She notes that most of OSP’s staff contact with faculty is typically via phone or email, so working remotely hasn’t impacted their level of service very much.
Kimberly Eck, assistant vice chancellor of research development, agreed, saying, “We realize that many faculty and their research programs have been disrupted. But, in terms of providing research development supports, it’s almost business as usual.”
For example, Eck says that, pre-Covid-19, meetings like those with the UT Research Council or associate deans of research always accommodated attendance via Zoom. “Now, we just accommodate everyone via Zoom,” she says.
A large, $20 million, five-year project involving more than 70 faculty and researchers from other institutions, and a $10 million collaborative proposal between UT and ORNL were both submitted during the statewide safer-at-home order. Both received dedicated support from a team of OSP and RD staff.
In addition, applicants to the NEH Fellowship program have received input from review panels over the past few weeks. Alan Rutenberg remains available to work with humanities faculty in preparation for the fall round of fellowship competitions.
Faculty who are interested in pursuing the NSF CAREER program, which has a July deadline, may continue to work with Diana Moyer via individual consultations as well as participating in the Proposal Writing Institute, which launches via Zoom on April 21.
The first virtual SPARKS (Seeking Partnerships to Advance Research, Knowledge, and Science) is scheduled for Apr. 28. SPARKS is a program through ORE’s RD team, which helps facilitate multidisciplinary conversations between researchers around a particular topic. RD staff also continue to connect faculty to others with whom they might collaborate, and programs like Expanding Horizons and the RD Academy are convening via Zoom. Interested faculty can find a complete list of RD services that continue to be available to faculty during the Covid-19 crisis on ORE’s website.
In conjunction with the UT Emergency Operations Center, ORE has created a Covid-19 resource page that includes related funding opportunities, research guidelines, and FAQs.
“We’re all in this together,” Eck and Mercer agreed. They join with the other divisions within ORE who are committed to being creative and doing what it takes to serve UT researchers.