Professor Dame Jessica Corner

May 22, 2020, by Rob Ounsworth

COVID-19: preparing for the return of research to our UK campuses

Update from Professor Dame Jessica Corner

I wish to share with you how the University is preparing for the return of research to our UK campuses.

As outlined this week by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andy Long – chair of the University’s Recovery Group – emerging from lockdown is a complex challenge.

Our phased return to UK campuses will include an ongoing transition to new ways of working, both on and off campus.

Health and wellbeing remain our priority, with safety, social distancing measures and capacity constraints dictating our approach.

However, our  COVID-19 contributions have shown how we can continue to deliver world-class research despite constrained circumstances. As more of our research facilities reopen, we will learn from the expertise of our researchers, technicians and on-campus staff who are working together to support such critical and essential research at this time.

With the Recovery Group, we are working towards the return of wider research activity, both on and off campus, and new ways of working in a post-lockdown environment.

We are consulting with schools and at operational level to establish criteria for prioritised research activity; allowing us to maximise the impact of our resources, while resolving potential conflicts of interest.

In line with government guidelines, we will consider a phased return of on-campus research activity from next month — for research which cannot be done from home.

Resumption over the next few weeks will not be ‘big bang’ but phased, allowing for the gradual increase in buildings reopening, reinstatement of facilities and equipment and finally a controlled restarting of projects in line with our priorities.

It is important to underline research’s vital contribution to the University’s reputation and finances. In drawing up criteria for research that will be prioritised during the phased return, we have considered the impact of not delivering research where there is a contractual obligation, or where we risk damaging relationships with key partners.

We are also prioritising research that is externally funded, where failure to reach key milestones would terminate the project, and instances where we are working with partners such as industry, charity/NGOs and other academic institutions with a contractually committed date that would be negatively impacted. This also includes activity that supports the attainment of an academic qualification which will include postgraduate researchers.

The next phase of the campus reopening programme is under way, and colleagues are coordinating the identification of research activity on a building-by-building basis.

We will meanwhile work with staff and postgraduate research students to ascertain individual challenges in returning to work on campus. It is important to stress that we recognise some colleagues will not be able to return to campus working for personal reasons, such as caring responsibilities or shielding. We will continue to ensure that both staff and postgraduate research students are supported in flexible working and/or continued working from home.

To support colleagues continuing to work at home, arrangements are being put in place which would enable staff including researchers to collect items which are essential to support their work at home. This would be on a pre-arranged, one-off basis with agreement from their line manager. More information on this will be coming forward shortly.

We also recognise the challenges for researchers in accessing physical library resources. We will be working with the Libraries team to consider whether access can be provided in some way, again more details will follow.

Please do bear with us as we safely work through the detail and the challenges associated with recommencing research on campus.

Town halls for researchers: help us prepare together for future challenges and opportunities

Your experiences and insights will inform how we approach our return to on-campus working, while considering new ways of delivering research in a post-COVID world.

The first in a series of virtual town halls for postgraduate researchers took place yesterday and was full of insightful and useful questions to help us to consider the information that you need. Thanks to all who attended. We are developing the FAQs to the questions asked as part of the session yesterday and we will make these, and the recording available by the end of next week. Please register for a future session; these online forums are an opportunity to share ideas, ambitions and concerns, and to offer mutual support.

Extensions for postgraduate researchers

As announced in my last update, UKRI is funding extensions for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) due to complete in the next year, and the University Executive Board, in line with University values, has agreed that equivalent support should be extended to all PGRs supported with University stipends. Extension support is also available for other PGRs whose funding ends between 1/3/20 and 31/3/21, see link below for postgraduate researchers.

All COVID-19 related extensions will need to be justified by a statement of need and will be considered case by case through an application process – details of this will be released soon. All students will be treated equitably in this process, and the time extension awarded will be commensurate with the disruption experienced up to a period of six months.

UKRI PGR COVID-19 extensions are being prioritised.

The deadline for UKRI funded extensions is 26 May for return of information to UKRI in June. We can then to look at extension requests from other PGRs – please be patient as we get this process in place.

Please raise any questions with your supervisors, DTP/CDT director or manager or refer to FAQs and other resources for postgraduate researchers.

Postgraduate researchers are invited to register for the next town hall on Monday 1 June, 10-11.30am, to share thoughts on this and other issues.

Gold Athena Swan award for Faculty of Engineering

The Faculty of Engineering has become the first engineering department in the country to be awarded a coveted gold Athena SWAN award.

Nottingham holds a Silver Athena SWAN award at an institutional level and has a number of academic departments with silver and bronze awards. This is the first such gold award for the University and a tremendous achievement, highlighting the dedication of colleagues within the faculty who have been working towards this over many years.

Future Food research fellow success

Congratulations also to Dr Gabriel Castrillo, a Future Food Beacon Nottingham research fellow, who has been awarded £324,510 to work with our partners at the University of Kansas to investigate the impact soil microbes have on crops and their reliance to drought.

The award, from the international UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council /US National Science Foundation joint programme, is open to both UK and US researchers. Gabriel’s success is testament to his hard work and tenacity in such a competitive area.

#WeAreUon and #UoNEngaged

Our researchers continue to inform responses to COVID-19.

The School of Geography’s Professor Simon Gosling has examined the  effects of the lockdown on the global climate for a European Commission report, while his colleague Professor Sarah Hall has written on the UK’s economic recovery as part of a series curated by the Institute for Policy and Engagement  on the world after the virus

Neuroscientist Dr Maddie Groom is meanwhile leading a Nottingham study as part of an international collaboration examining lessons from the explosion in homeschooling.

Digital research

Our Digital Research team has been highly proactive and innovative in supporting researchers, not least in highlighting opportunities to consider how new ways of working could enhance research in the post-COVID world.

This activity includes:

You are also invited to take part in a Digital Research service survey to inform the team’s support for research ambitions at Nottingham.

Supporting businesses through COVID-19

COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge to business. We are working to make sure our business services remain accessible, adapting where we can. For example, we now offer virtual student placements and online employer presentations to students, and a new business support hub aims to help businesses navigate through the crisis.

We are also working alongside local authorities, the local enterprise partnership and other partners to coordinate our approach to the skills and innovation required to help our region towards a sustainable and inclusive recovery. We will have to do things differently in the future. It will be more important than ever to ensure we work in partnership with business to translate our world-leading discoveries into the advanced healthcare, efficient manufacturing, cleaner transport and sustainable food we need to meet societal challenges.

Thank you for your support

Further updates will follow as we progress planning on what on-campus research will look like in the coming weeks and months, and how the University is supporting our research community as we face the challenges of recovery and emerging from lockdown.

Thank you once again for your goodwill, support and patience as we navigate these uncertain times.

We continue to do vital work in response to the coronavirus crisis, while we can take heart as the campus re-opens at University of Nottingham Ningbo China 

With best wishes for the long weekend,

Jessica Corner's signature

Professor Dame Jessica Corner
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange




Posted in research