Carnegie Mellon University

March 13, 2020

Following our usual procedures for research communications, this message is being sent to Associate Deans for Research (or equivalents) in each college, who are asked to forward to department heads, faculty and researchers.  A copy of this message is also posted on the OVPR Research Communications Page.

Dear Colleagues,

We appreciate your flexibility as we evolve our actions needed to protect from and prepare our CMU community for the coronavirus, COVID-19. 

The health and safety of our community are paramount. Within the constraints imposed by our responses to the threat, we recognize that our research is a crucial component of our community, and the continuity of your research is a priority. We must be prepared not for if coronavirus comes to our area, but when it does. 

Social Distancing

Researcher operations are continuing but all researchers must implement social distancing practices for all research activities.

We strongly urge you to cancel or postpone all CMU events and meetings, whether on- or off-campus, that involve in-person participation by more than 25 people and refrain from planning future gatherings until further notice. Meetings with less than 25 should follow CDC social distancing guidance of allowing for enough space for 6 feet between participants.

Student Researchers

There have also been questions about which students are permitted to come to campus to perform research activities.  To be clear, at this time (and subject to future updates):

  • Undergraduate students who are doing research for credit, pay or volunteer (independent study, hands on research courses, work-study, etc.) are NOT PERMITTED TO DO THAT RESEARCH ON CAMPUS. Paid and volunteer research projects can continue if the work can be done remotely.  Those undergraduates enrolled for research for credit should work with their faculty supervisor and department to formulate a plan for satisfying the credit requirements remotely and online; in these extraordinary circumstances, faculty have been instructed to be creative in finding solutions. However, no solution should involve having the undergraduate students come to campus (or Pittsburgh) to do their research.
  • Masters and Ph.D. graduate students performing research on campus ARE, under the current circumstances, permitted to be on campus to perform their research. However, we are encouraging supervisors to find ways for students to work on their research remotely wherever practicable and under no circumstances should a student who is uncomfortable coming to campus for research related activities be compelled to do so.

It is also important to keep in mind that federal grants frequently do NOT allow for work to be done outside of the United States unless granted prior approval.  Researchers must work with their research administrators and OSP to determine what is allowable in their specific circumstances.

Contingency Planning

All research faculty should also be developing continuity plans for their lab groups in the event of a physical closure of campus.  Your plans should include the possibility of a full closure of the campus for at least a four (4) week period potentially with very little notice.  Please see the guide (a 2-page self-examination) on the OVPR page to help you with your plans. 

Based on the input you provided to our recent survey, we are aware of activities that may be affected in the event campus access is limited.  This information, balanced with the safety and wellness of our community, and compliance with federal and local regulations, will inform the definition of “essential” activities in the event of a closure.   To reiterate, for planning purposes you should assume little or no access to campus.

We are aware of issues that may be raised regarding the performance of Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved human subjects research in the event of limited access to facilities. The IRB and Information Security Office (ISO) offices are currently drafting guidance on this topic that will be distributed to relevant researchers and available on the CMU coronavirus website.

Coordination with Sponsors

If there are sponsor deadlines or deliverables that are impacted by COVID-19, researchers should contact their program officer now to understand what, if any accommodations or adjustments can be made.

OVPR is working with our sponsoring agencies and associations to obtain more uniform guidance on what, if any accommodations will be made under the current circumstances. A post on the OVPR website provides a summary of current guidance from government agency sponsors and professional societies.

We know that the above topics are do not exhaustively cover all research questions. We are working on a comprehensive research guidance page that will be continually updated as new information becomes available and which should be live by Monday and linked from the CMU coronavirus website. Please check there regularly.

As we continue our research operations on campus, we also urge you to consider and be respectful of the personal circumstances of your faculty and staff colleagues with whom you are collaborating on research.  Today’s circumstances require flexibility and empathy as we prepare for the impact of COVID-19 on our research operations, in light of the overarching concerns for everyone. Thank you for your ability to adjust to the evolving guidance as we work to help keep our community healthy and safe while we execute our research mission to the best of our ability.


Michael McQuade, Vice President for Research
Jim Garrett, Provost