Research Continuity Guidelines

environmental portrait of Siddhartha Sikdar
Research Continues
Research Continues

Mason Engineering researchers are finding ways to continue their studies remotely, doing computer-based work, conducting research at home, and writing papers about results.

environmental portrait of Remi Veneziano
Research Could Fight Coronavirus
Research Could Fight Coronavirus

Mason researchers’ work with DNA nanotechnology could be adapted to fight viruses such as the coronavirus. Bioengineering Professor Remi Veneziano and his colleagues are using DNA nanotechnology to lay the foundation for developing vaccines that could block infection. 

Mason continues to closely monitor the COVID-19 outbreak and will provide updates as warranted.  


Sponsored Programs and Related Information

Sponsored Programs related information:

  • The Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) is providing regular support to the Mason research community with OSP staff working remotely. Details about OSP continuity plans and contact information can be found on the OSP website.
  • To ensure smooth communications, please use email to send documents electronically. Financial transaction approvals can be provided through electronic signatures and/or email.
  • OSP is monitoring updates from federal sponsors regarding proposals, awards, and cost allowability associated with any disruptions to sponsored projects resulting from COVID-19.

o If you have any questions or concerns about the overall strategy described in the research continuity guidance, please send them to the Associate Dean for Research or Director of Research in your College or School. They will coordinate with OSP.

o For project-specific communications and questions for sponsors, contact your Research Administration Manager.

o Principal Investigators (PIs) should continue to request assistance for proposal submissions as early as possible on the request for proposal assignment form. Support for proposal submissions are expected to continue as normal. Given the increased reliance on remote working and electronic communications, increased time should be provided for proposal review and submission to avoid delays related to slow systems or outages.

o Fiscal Services has provided a guidance memo (PDF) regarding reimbursement for nonrefundable travel costs as a result of conference cancellations or other travel restrictions. For specific questions about charging travel costs to a sponsored award, contact OSP.

o Principal investigators who anticipate delays in submitting project deliverables or required reports should communicate directly with their program officer and OSP.

o For a cost to be allowable, it will require consistent treatment across all funding sources. Some agency-specific guidance is currently available:

  • The Office of Research Integrity & Assurance (ORIA), (formerly RDIA), will provide regular support to the Mason research community, although most ORIA staff will be working remotely. To ensure smooth communications, utilize email and send documents electronically. Any updates or changes will be posted to the ORIA website.

Frequently Asked Questions

I perform laboratory based research. Can I access my laboratory to continue my work?

Effective June 10, 2020, research in Mason labs and facilities will be restricted ONLY to time sensitive activities. See the Research Continuity and Safety Plan (PDF). You must coordinate such activity with your department and dean’s offices.

May I visit my lab to pick up materials such as lab notebooks and computers I need for my research?

Yes, but visits must be infrequent/intermittent and receive prior approval from your dean’s office. You must follow all safety practices outlined in Mason’s policies and plans.

Which materials can I take from my lab or office for remote work?

You may take laboratory notebooks, computers, and other storage devices home. Laboratory animals, equipment, specimens, chemicals, tools and other supplies should not be taken home.

Your research continuity plan should include the location of computers, lab notebooks, and similar items, including those of others members of your research team.

Will my laboratory animals be cared for while I am working remotely?

ORIA husbandry staff will continue to provide routine care (food, water, sanitation, health checks) for the animals under their care.

I wish to conduct research with SARS-CoV-2, what should I do?

Contact Mason Biosafety Officer Adam Fleming at 703-993-4788. He'll guide you in understanding the safety protocols and committee reviews that might be necessary prior to initiating work.

At present, COVID-19 is not subject to heightened export controls that would restrict the involvement of foreign researchers in such work. Research with COVID-19 is considered a critical research activity, but any new research that has not already been approved must go through the “Critical Activities Related to Research” protocol noted previously.

I wish to suspend my research study, which involves human subjects. Are there actions I must take if I wish to notify the research subjects or others about this suspension in activity?

You do not need to notify your research subjects. The IRB does not require a modification for a temporary pause in research activity. Please see guidance in the sponsored programs section of these FAQs in relation to notifying your sponsor.

Will research compliance committees (IRB, IACUC, IBC, COI) continue to provide reviews?

All research compliance committees are planned to meet as scheduled using virtual meetings. Staff office hours will be conducted electronically, and guidance for scheduling remote office consultations will be posted on the RDIA website.

Can you charge sponsored project related travel cancelled due to COVID-19 to a sponsored award?

Treatment of these types of expenses may vary by sponsor. If you have specific questions please contact OSP to review sponsor policies related to allowable costs and documentation requirements. If further federal guidance is issued it will be shared with the Mason research community.

Is someone continuing to test the safety showers and emergency eyewashes during this time? Would it be possible to have designated person/people to do the testing for the labs?

For unoccupied locations, emergency showers/eyewashes are not being tested. Labs where approved research related activities are occurring should be flushing their own showers and eyewashes. All emergency showers/eyewash units must be flushed and checked for proper operation before any work begins following shutdown, however.

EHS and security are conducting routine walk throughs of Krasnow, Peterson, Discovery Hall, Colgan Hall and IABR to check on refrigeration units housing valuable collections.  EHS conducts walk throughs once a week. Security walk-throughs are more frequent. 

How is the safety of essential personnel being considered as more time sensitive activities related to research are approved?

We are closely coordinating with operations staff in the buildings where activities are occurring. The number of staff requesting access and number of staff already accessing these research facilities and labs is a consideration when new requests for time sensitive activities related to research are received. See Mason’s Research Continuity and Safety Plan (PDF) for further details.

Can we continue to charge employee salaries to sponsored projects if they begin working remotely?

If employees will be engaged in the project and are able to continue work remotely they can charge salary proportional to the work performed to the project. We anticipate further guidance from federal sponsors regarding these issues and will provide updates as more information becomes available.

How can we continue to support paid research staff, particularly if the restrictions continue beyond 2 to 3 months?

The vast majority of our researchers have transitioned to remote work and are working in support of their sponsored projects. In these cases, they can continue to charge their time to their sponsored projects.

While remote work may not be the same as that done in the lab or the field, or in community, school or clinical settings, faculty, staff and students may still be able to contribute to their project by, for example, conducting literature reviews that inform project design or findings, working on journal articles and conference papers that describe recent results, participating in on-line group meetings to discuss recent findings or future plans for the project, and so on.

If an individual is unable to work on their project remotely, there may be options to redirect the individual to work on other projects or tasks. Most sponsor organizations have indicated their understanding of the constraints everyone is facing, and have indicated their commitment to being flexible. If you have concerns about continuity of pay for a specific employee or employees, please talk with you’re the department chair and associate dean or director for research.

Am I eligible for Public Health Emergency Leave?

Public Health Emergency Leave (PHEL) of up to 160 hours is available for all employees. The amount of leave available depends on whether an employee is full-time or part-time.

There is information about PHEL on the HR website If there are specific questions regarding PHEL eligibility, those can be directed to the HR Benefits team

How is Public Health Emergency Leave (PHEL) being funded? Will my sponsored project be charged?

PHEL will be charged consistent with other types of leave and will follow the labor distribution for the employee at the time the leave is taken. If an employee is paid 50% on E&G (state) funding and 50% on a sponsored fund the PHEL leave will be charged 50% to the E&G org and 50% to the sponsored fund. In circumstances like those we face today, the vast majority of sponsors (if not all of them) expect their grantee institutions to have HR policies that are reasonable and uniformly applied, like the commonwealth’s PHEL policy and Mason’s implementation of it.

Are funding agencies granting no cost extensions?

Agencies understand the challenges we are facing and are trying to be flexible where possible on time extensions.  If you anticipate extensions beyond what is generally provided in your sponsors’ publicly available guidelines, OSP will work with you to facilitate interactions with your sponsors. This may include researchers contacting the program managers and/or OSP contacting the grants or contracts officer.

Principal Investigators should reach out to their Research Administration Manager in OSP who can help facilitate requests for time extensions or other administrative requests. If you are not sure who the appropriate contact is for your college or school, go to the OSP web page or contact Mike Laskofski.

Are grant applications and submission being affected?

All OSP and Research and Innovation Initiatives (RII) staff have been working remotely since the restrictions were implemented and things seem to be working smoothly. If you have a proposal submission you should follow the normal process and request assistance on the Request for Assistance form available on the OSP website. Mason has experienced some system delays as have our sponsoring agencies so it’s important that researchers finalize proposals well in advance of the deadline to ensure that they are not submitting on the day the application is due and risk system delays or issues impacting the submission process. 

If there are any impacts to meeting proposal deadlines due to COVID-19, some agencies are providing some flexibility with deadline dates, but that varies by sponsor. If you are in that situation please reach out to your Research Administration Manager in OSP or your local research administrator to discuss.

There is a curating list of funding opportunities and data/analytics resources related to COVID-19 on the Research Development Services website. Please reach out directly to Rebekah Hersch if you are aware of opportunities not currently listed.

How do we address facilities and environment in new submissions?

Although there is uncertainty in the timing of our full return, we do expect to return to campus and be able to continue our work as we did in the past.  For proposals submitted in the last few months or in the next few months, most awards from federal sponsors won’t start until late summer or fall, at which time it is possible that additional research will be approved outside of the home. 

Sponsors understand the unique circumstances we find ourselves in – they too have similar constraints.  If the proposal being prepared is for the nearer term effort researchers should outline how they will perform the work under the current circumstances. PIs should also coordinate with their associate dean or director of research in their college to ensure that the activity is appropriate to initiate during the current stage.

If I am working on a project remotely should I charge the on or off campus F&A (indirect) rate? Similarly, can the off-campus indirect rate be used for new applications proposed in the near term?

An employee temporarily working remotely due to COVID-19 should continue to charge the on-campus F&A rate. Although the employee is temporarily out of their office space, there is still significant expense that is being incurred to support the temporary remote employee. This includes, but is not limited to, items such as Network facilities and maintenance, which are being used extensively now by remote employees.  This is also true for new proposals.

As so many research projects may be delayed, including those on which our graduate students are working, should those graduate students expect to extend their time at Mason by a year?

In general, we recognize that it is likely that some doctoral students may need to extend their time in their program, particularly if a key experiment or engagement cannot be conducted at home, or cannot be modified to be conducted at home.  When academic progress is impacted, faculty advisors, program directors and the Office of Graduate Education should work together to provide appropriate consideration and accommodations to graduate students who are approaching their time-limit to advancement to candidacy or to finish their degree on a case-by-case basis.

Does Governor Northam’s hiring freeze affect grant-funded programs (for example, GRA or Student Wage Workers) or someone moving from one position to another within Mason?

Additional guidelines and guidance regarding Governor Northam’s hiring freeze has been provided by Carol Kissal, Senior Vice President, Administration and Finance, and can be found in the updated Fiscal and Operational Guidelines.

Can we fund our summer undergraduate research programs provided they can at least start remotely?

Yes, undergraduate research programs that can accommodate telework arrangements can be funded.