Skip to main content

Mar. 15, 2020 – On-campus research laboratories ramping down

Posted by on Sunday, March 15, 2020 in Community Messages.

Update: Phase II of Remote Work in place until April 11

Dear colleagues,

The rapid evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic requires Vanderbilt University to accelerate its response to this unprecedented challenge. In order to protect the health and safety of our community, all on-campus research laboratories will be restricted to only essential activities by close of business on Monday, March 16, where possible, and by Wednesday, March 18, at the latest.

Similar to our peers, including Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Johns Hopkins, we are ramping down all on-campus research laboratory activities. Minimal access to laboratories will be maintained so that critical activities, such as maintaining unique reagents and essential equipment and materials, can continue.

Based on the directive of the provost, your deans have already been in communication with you about ramping down research. Each faculty member should work with their laboratory personnel (students, postdocs and staff) to ramp down operations as soon as practical. We know that many of you have already started to ramp down your laboratories, and the ramp down must be complete by Monday, March 16, or at the latest by Wednesday, March 18. If you need more time, please inform your department chair and the dean, provide a concise justification, and receive written approval. Please consult with your department chair or the dean with questions about specific issues. You should plan for a remote-work research operation that could last for an indefinite period and could possibly be longer than the initial two weeks outlined in Interim Chancellor and Provost Wente’s campus email on Friday.

We understand that this will be disruptive to the research and scholarly activities of you, your students and your research team, and we will work to support your efforts. We encourage you to take this time to focus on the activities that can be completed remotely, such as writing papers and grant proposals and completing data analysis. The university’s COVID-19 website includes resources for telecommuting and remote work.

We expect you will not make any immediate changes to the support of your staff, students and postdocs. Faculty are responsible for assigning and overseeing the work performed remotely by their students, postdocs and staff. The chain of essential functions throughout the university will be in place throughout this time to enable faculty to submit grants, reports, etc.

Please continue charging to grants as normal. Our research administration offices are prepared for fully remote support. We also have been working with research sponsors as part of our business continuity activities to ensure that we continue to operate in a compliant and appropriate manner.

We are fully aware of the difficulties this minimal on-campus activity will pose, and we will work closely with the appropriate evaluator bodies within your schools to minimize the impact on your professional advancement and the advancement of your students and staff.

Further information related to the ongoing performance of clinical and human subject research will be provided separately. We have been diligently preparing phased plans to maintain continuity of services for these research activities during this difficult time.

You need to complete contingency plans for your research immediately. Be prepared for this reduced level of operations to last longer than two weeks.

Please read these details carefully:

·      Beginning March 18, access to labs will only be available for essential personnel who perform critical procedures, processes or equipment management that requires regular personnel attention to maintain laboratory viability (e.g. liquid nitrogen tank filling, maintaining shared computational equipment). Notify your departmental administrator as soon as possible about who these individuals are.

·      PIs should immediately identify essential research experiments that are at a critical phase, meaning that abandoning them would cause a major or irreversible loss in project momentum. This high-priority work should be a limited set of the current laboratory bench-based experimentation.

·      Even essential work in labs should be staggered so that minimal laboratory personnel are present at any one time.

·      Please continue charging to grants as normal.

·      No undergraduates or external visitors are allowed in labs.

·      Make sure you have access to contact information for your students, postdocs and staff, and review contingency plans and emergency procedures within your group.

If anyone carrying out critical research activities demonstrates minor symptoms of illness, including but not limited to cough or fever, that person has to stay home. If someone has doubt about whether they could be ill they should NOT come to work. Refer to the university’s COVID-19 website for guidance on what to do if you are sick. In addition, individuals should disinfect common laboratory areas, including the bench top and shared keyboards/mice, and touch points (e.g. doorknobs, sink handles, freezer doors, telephones) with 70 percent ethanol or a virucidal disinfectant at least twice daily. Additional guidance for researchers is available on the COVID-19 website.

Consistent with the urgency of the current public health situation, the university is taking substantial steps to limit the spread of the virus while supporting the important work of our colleagues. Messages to the Vanderbilt community, information and resources are updated frequently on the university’s COVID-19 website:

Finally, it is our foremost desire that you stay safe. Wash your hands frequently and practice social distancing.

Thank you in advance for your efforts to keep our community safe. If you have any questions, please contact your dean or department chair.


Padma Raghavan

Vice Provost for Research