Guidance on Graduate Student and Undergraduate Student Researchers

May 20, 2020

Sent on behalf of Mark A. Barteau, Vice President for Research

Guidance on Graduate Student and Undergraduate Student Researchers

As stated in the Plan for Resuming Research Operations, the paramount principle is the health and safety of our communities, especially of vulnerable individuals. This guidance aims to further clarify appropriate roles for students as PIs prepare and plan for resumption of research operations. While as much research activity as possible should continue to be carried out remotely, the work of many of our students will require their return to campus laboratories and other facilities. These activities, as well as any fieldwork, must be carried out under plans approved at the unit level (or higher if specified) that include provisions for social distancing, reduced occupant density, etc., as specified in the May 7 guidance.  In addition, all student researchers, both graduate and undergraduate, must complete on-line training on safe practices related to COVID-19 through either TrainTraq or Howdy, depending on the nature of their appointment, before beginning or returning to any research activities that are not carried out remotely. Further, if significant training and supervision is required for new students, it will likely be difficult to do so while preserving physical distancing. Therefore, plans should incorporate the following requirements.

1. New graduate student researchers

Some departments accommodate incoming graduate students either as paid researchers or graduate assistants during the summer prior to the semester in which they would ordinarily matriculate. Also, some departments may offer new research opportunities this summer to current graduate students as paid researchers or via scholarships. Wherever possible, these students should work remotely. However, work on-site will in most cases require in-person on-boarding trainings for safety and other items, as well as specific training on research tasks/procedures/instrumentation. Therefore, before any new personnel are permitted to begin on-site research activities, the responsible PI must submit and receive approval by the unit head of plans that specifically address in-person trainings and laboratory instruction/supervision that is consistent with social distancing and other COVID-19 safety provisions. 

2.  Undergraduate student researchers

For Texas A&M students conducting research for credit to meet degree requirements, the Office of Undergraduate Studies has issued the following restriction, permitting: “Only students who are required to complete undergraduate research in summer 2020 to fulfill requirements for their degree or a transformational education program (e.g., Undergraduate Research Scholars).”

Students who are not required to complete research projects or who can defer research to a future term are not eligible.
This form is required only for students who need to conduct their research in an in-person format. Those who have projects that can be completed remotely do not require approval.” 

Paid undergraduate student researchers may return to research programs/laboratories in which they have previous experience. They should be able to function with little further training or direct supervision so that physical distancing can be observed.  From the present to the start of the Fall 2020 semester, continuing employment or rehiring of any undergraduate researcher will require documentation of the student’s experience and approval by the department head. No new undergraduate researchers may be hired or permitted as volunteers unless their work can be conducted entirely remotely.

Some human subjects research involves students as subjects under IRB-approved research protocols.  Human subjects research that involves face-to-face interactions with subjects may not be resumed until guidelines and approval procedures are put in place by the ad hoc committee constituted for this purpose.

These guidelines represent the minimum university-wide requirements. Individual departments and colleges may impose additional procedures, restrictions or requirements.