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The following FAQs address some of the key current concerns related to the continuity of SFU’s research activities. As the response to COVID-19 is subject to ongoing changes, these questions will be reviewed and updated daily as necessary with the latest available information.

Planning

In light of current conditions, post-secondary institutions in the province are reaching a stage to change restrictions to on-campus research. At SFU, we expect that most research will continue to be performed remotely in keeping with public health guidelines. However, at this phase, with the exception of in-person human subject research, researchers who require on-campus resources in order to perform their research will be allowed access to facilities, under certain conditions.

To ensure alignment with health and safety guidelines, and WorkSafeBC, we are working closely with the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training and are coordinating with other post-secondary institutions. In addition, faculties, Safety and Risk Services, the VPRI and others have been working together in recent weeks to set common standards for on-campus research activities.

In the month of May, individual faculties will begin to roll out new approval processes for on-campus research activity, based on these common standards. As activity plans are approved, we will see a gradual increase in on-campus research activity. Decisions on prioritizing access to on-campus resources for research will be made at the faculty level.

In the coming weeks, further resources (tools, templates and guidelines) will be shared to support this process. Please note that the status of on-campus research, along with the common standards and accompanying resources can be updated at any time, following advice from the provincial government and/or WorkSafeBC.

For off-campus research work, such as fieldwork, please check this FAQ for further information.

The SFU Recovery Framework outlines several guiding principles for learning and research continuity. These include:

  • The University will protect the health and wellbeing of students, faculty and staff.
  • The University will consider issues of accessibility, equity, diversity and inclusion in all decisions.
  • The University will consider the carbon footprint and climate change adaptation implications of all decisions.
  • The University will communicate decisions and guidance as early and as broadly as possible. 
  • Research activity will be supported to every extent possible.
  • The University will take advantage of opportunities to innovate and collaborate. 

The following common principles guide on-campus research activities at this time. These guiding principles can be updated at any time, following advice from the provincial government and/or WorkSafeBC. 

  • No in-person human subject research will be permitted except as outlined on the website of the Office of Research Ethics (e.g., COVID-related research). 
  • Research personnel who can work remotely should continue to do so.
  • All research personnel are advised to stay at home if they are feeling ill or experiencing respiratory illness symptoms such as fever or cough - with no exceptions.
  • Research personnel returning from abroad or elsewhere in Canada need to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. 
  • Any faculty members who wish to restore on-campus activity for their research group need to create a plan to resume activities in their research space. That plan needs to be approved by their Dean or delegate (and Department Chair or School Director where appropriate). 
  • Plans for continuity of research activity on campus should be written with equity diversity and inclusion (EDI) considerations in mind. Deans, and the VPRI, will be available to work with research personnel to address support and accommodations concerns of both a general university-wide nature and those that are specific to the restart of any particular research program.
  • Research personnel, including graduate students, who do not feel safe doing research on campus at this stage should be accommodated.
  • Routine daily screening is required of research personnel who will enter the research space. 
  • Plans to resume research on campus are required to address safety, including:
    • The physical distancing plan for the research space.
    • The enhanced cleaning plan for the research space.
    • Any requirement for use of personal protective equipment in the research space.
    • How compliance with the plan will be monitored.
    • Training requirements for research personnel who will be using the research space.
  • Faculty Deans may need to prioritize applications for return to campus. Considerations for prioritization include:
    • Any existing research exemptions (for example, to perform COVID-19 related research) will be high priority.
    • The need to access specialized equipment or facilities that can only be found on campus.
    • Applications with clear career progress implications. For example, Deans may consider the situation for graduate students close to finishing their thesis work, or early career researchers in their prioritization.  
  • All research personnel returning to campus (including students) must complete required training and sign an acknowledgement that they have completed the training and understand the risks. Online training is currently in development by Safety and Risk Services and is expected to be available in the coming weeks through SFU Canvas. This page will be updated with a link to the training course when it is made available.
  • Safety plans for research spaces must be posted publicly, outside each space. The Dean has the right to close any research space under their authority due to a failure of personnel to abide by these plans. 

A gradual increase in the presence of researchers on campus has implications for support services, on-campus staffing and increased safety measures. While we still expect most SFU staff to work remotely during this period, exceptions will be needed in order to support research activities.

The health and safety of researchers and staff remains paramount. Supervisors, including faculty deans, will consider issues of accessibility and equity when determining what staff are needed to do work in-person and what additional health and safety protocols and accommodations will be put in place in each work space.

In all of our exemption-approved research spaces, researchers will be able to continue their on-campus activities. We continue to expect supervisors of research assistants and graduate/undergraduate students to:

  • Avoid in-person human subject research, except REB-approved research related to COVID-19. Please refer to the SFU Research Ethics office for updates on REB clearance
  • Implement protocols for social distancing and for appropriate cleaning of equipment for personnel that need to be in the laboratory or research facility
  • Show understanding and provide accommodation for staff or students who are ill, who choose to self-isolate, or who have concerns about continuing to travel to campus
  • If you are operating a facility alone, or if you are working in an office alone, please refer to SFU's policy on Working Alone or in Isolation (GP39) for guidance on appropriate additional safety measures.
  • Environmental Health and Safety has also created supplemental resources for researchers working alone in labs and safety and risk considerations for researchers working from home.

If you have concerns, please connect with your department chair, school director, or Dean. Deans have the authority to close research labs and other facilities that they feel are not being run in a responsible manner.

Support services normally provided by SFU’s Environmental Health & Safety Department (EHS) will be limited at this time, including spill and incident response assistance. Consideration should be given to postponing all higher risk activities and experiments. Please refer to EHS for further updates.

Please refer to IT Services for resources to assist you with working remotely.

Core Facilities

  • 4D Labs: Currently running operations with skeleton on-site staff. Protocols are to screen users and maximize social distancing in equipment operation.
  • Big Data Hub (BDH): The BDH has moved operations completely online. Those with offices or labs in the facility will still be able to access, subject to social distancing requirements.
  • Imagetech Lab: The Imagetech lab at Surrey Memorial Hospital has shut down on-site operations, but staff are accessible and working remotely. All non-clinical essential research within Fraser Health has been shut down.
  • eBrain Lab: On-site operations have been shut down, and staff are working remotely.

Research involving animals

SFU’s Animal Care Services (ACS) has a crisis management plan to mitigate specific issues pertaining to the current COVID-19 situation. As an essential service, ACS anticipates being able to maintain current animal colonies with designated staff in ACS facilities. Please refer to the ACS webpage for specific updates to services.

Fieldwork and international research collaborations

The following should be considered for all researchers undertaking fieldwork. Please note that any ethnographic research must also follow current Behavioural Research Ethics Board guidelines.

  • Are you able to travel to and from your research sites in compliance with current travel advisories? The current Government of Canada Official Global Advisory is to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice.
  • Does the size of your team allow for social distancing?
  • Do modes of travel at your research site allow for social distancing?
  • Do living conditions at the site allow for social distancing and/or for self-isolation should it be necessary?
  • Are plans in place should a member of the research team feel unwell while conducting fieldwork?
  • Will your research lead to close contact with local communities?
  • Are there any factors that could impact your ability to transport/send samples home?

Research Funding

The federal Tri-Agency funding bodies are looking at a number of issues relating to grant applications and funding and providing updates on an ongoing basis. We encourage you to visit the Funding Opportunities Database for major external funding deadlines and to check funding agency websites such as NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR for the latest updates.

The federal Tri-Agency funding bodies previously communicated that they will consider the costs associated with canceled and postponed travel events paid through agency funds as allowable project expenses, provided they align with agency policies. Please see their announcement for more details. For funds from other sources, be sure to check with the appropriate funding agency/sponsor regarding eligibility. The current Government of Canada Official Global Advisory is to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice. Please refer to CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC websites regularly for updates.

At this time, SSHRC and NSERC have officially recognized that agency-funded research delayed on account COVID-19 may be eligible for extensions.

If you have a SSHRC or NSERC Grant that ends February 1, 2020 through to March 31, 2021 that is being delayed due to COVID-19 related issues, regardless of whether it has been previously extended, Research Services is authorized to directly approve extension requests for up to 12 months. Please note that Grant Amendment Forms do not need to be completed for extension requests that meet this criteria.

For researchers with active NSERC Discovery Grants: please note that NSERC has announced that all active Discovery Grants can elect to receive a one-year extension with funds at their current funding level. This includes grants from the recent 2020 competition. The announcement is now featured on the NSERC website and is included in the NSERC program information in relation to COVID 19 webpage.  Frequently Asked Questions are also posted and will be updated as details become available. 

CIHR is providing an automatic one-year extension to the authority-to-use-funds date for all active grants. This will give researchers an additional full year to use any residual funds not yet spent to compensate for disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Please note that the CIHR extensions are automatic and that no action is required from primary investigators or SFU.

If you wish to have your grant extended because of delays caused by COVID-19, please email your grant information and a brief justification of the delays to Research Services ors@sfu.ca.

Faculty supervisors are expected to maintain existing contracts for grant-funded personnel to the end of their current term. This includes Research Assistants (RA). If an RA cannot perform their duties due to illness, self-isolation requirements, or inability to work remotely, NSERC announced on March 17 that their salaries can continue to be paid from grant funds. We are expecting similar announcements from other federal funders.

Please refer to CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC websites regularly for updates.

At this time, Mitacs has cancelled the Globalink Research Internship Program this summer. Visiting research students have been instructed to discuss deferment with the Faculty of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies. Please refer to Mitacs for ongoing updates on fellowships/internships. 

Research opportunities related to the investigation and mitigation of COVID-19 continue to arise on short notice.

We expect that similar announcements will continue to emerge. Please consult the Funding Opportunities Database Bulletins and its regularly-updated list of opportunities related to COVID-19 research for the most current information.

For application development support on programs related to COVID-19 research, please contact ISA at isa@sfu.ca. For any other questions, please contact the Office of Research Services at ors@sfu.ca.

SFU Response

The SFU community can find information and resources related to the university’s response to COVID-19 at https://www.sfu.ca/covid19. The information is updated as frequently as possible.

Key Contacts

Research Ethics: dore@sfu.ca
Institutional Strategic Awards: isa@sfu.ca
Research Services: ors@sfu.ca
Office of Animal Care Services: ckennedy@sfu.ca, nba36@sfu.ca
Other VPRi operations questions: trevor_davis@sfu.ca
All other questions: vprdir@sfu.ca

 

Resources

Last updated: June 29, 2020