Guiding Principles for a Discipline-Based Approach to Restarting Research

Overarching goal

Our overarching goal is to keep all members of the Miami community healthy, while resuming research activity quickly and as safely possible.


Our framework is informed by the following principles and observations.

Principle #1

Follow the cognizant local, state, and national public health authority directives to shelter-at-home and implement social distancing with the use of approved personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • Observation: Ohio’s stay-at-home order has been extended until May 29, 2020; however, effective May 4, 2020 most businesses and operations are allowed to re-open. Governor DeWine has implemented a “Responsible Restart Ohio” initiative. Information on all state initiatives and data can be found on the Ohio Department of Health website, as can The Director’s Stay Safe Ohio Order allowing business and operations to reopen.
  • Observation: The Butler County Department of Public Health has up-to-date information on the pandemic, including an up-to-date listing of all businesses that are to remain closed and protocols for businesses to restart, including (1) face coverings, (2) daily health assessments, (3) practice of good hygiene, (4) cleaning of workplace, and (5) social distancing.
  • Observation: President Trump has issued a similar set of criteria for re-opening economy activity, known as the White House Plan for Opening up America Again
  • Conclusion: We can expect these State, County, and National plans to influence the timing and implementation of return to research activities. Discipline-based plans for return to research should conform to such timing requirements. Furthermore, we will need to be prepared to return to more restricted access to facilities should COVID-19 infections again rise.

Principle #2

Protect the health and safety of the research workforce, emotional as well as physical, and the health and safety of our clinical patients and human research subjects (adults and children).

  • Observation: No researcher should feel they are being compelled to work on campus or in the field during periods of broad shelter-at-home directives. Safety within laboratories must be rigorously maintained, with adequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety-related supplies. Miami’s department of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) must be made aware of all research activities within university spaces. Labs will not be authorized for access unless adequate safety supplies are identified as being available and adequate space for social distancing is available. Principal Investigators (PIs) must identify who among their workforce are considered to be essential personnel (and their corresponding replacements/backups), and a process should be established whereby researchers who feel uncomfortable about their work situation can anonymously report their concerns.
  • Observation: Minimizing contact with participants may be more or less difficult depending on the department, research question, and research population. Individual labs are encouraged to develop their own guidelines for protecting subjects and researchers, as well as checklists to ensure PPE stocks are maintained and equipment is properly sanitized during the workday and at the end of the workday. Procedures for research involving shared equipment, non-disposable equipment, and/or close contact with subjects must be established and reviewed by EH&S. Any changes to research with human subjects should be reviewed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
  • Observation: Research involving vulnerable populations (e.g., over 60 years of age; with underlying health conditions, including heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes; with weakened immune systems; who are pregnant; caregivers of children with underlying health conditions) and/or children may require modification.
  • Observation: Given that the relaxation of access constraints is locally determined, it may be especially challenging to ramp up projects that are distributed across sites or that depend on international collaborations.
  • Observation: Lifting of travel restrictions, such as those that limit international travel or restrict non-essential travel, are necessary before select field research can recommence. This observation includes human subject-related field research that must be conducted in person.
  • Observation: A number of research projects have successfully and safely transitioned to being remote, requiring infrequent or no access to university spaces. While also considered important and essential, research that can be conducted remotely is not considered in the priority tiers discussed below.
  • Conclusion: Each discipline must develop guidelines or checklists, appropriate to their situation and laboratories or studios, to assure the health and safety of the research workforce, emotional as well as physical, and the health and safety of our clinical patients and human research subjects. For example, the guidelines for a life sciences laboratory will differ from an art studio. The “Responsible Restart Ohio” website provides best practices and checklists. These guidelines or checklists may be submitted to EH&S or the Office of Research and Innovation (ORI) for review.

Principle #3

Protect the careers of early stage researchers.

  • Observation: To the extent that it is possible under the public health authority directives, as access restrictions are relaxed, priority to return to research spaces should be given to those researchers who cannot work remotely and are under time constraints to complete degrees, term appointments (e.g., postdoctoral researchers), or for tenure and other career reviews.
  • Observation: The Provost has announced an extension of the tenure clock for tenure-track faculty whose research has been interrupted by closure of the university.
  • Conclusion: The Return to Research (R2R) committee endorses the Provost’s tenure-clock policy for early career researchers and further encourages the university administration to implement additional protections should restrictions associated with the pandemic extend longer than expected.

Principle #4

Undergraduates are students first, researchers second.

  • Observation: Engagement of undergraduates in research on campus or that requires travel should only be permitted under the most exceptional of situations. These may include the situation in which (1) the undergraduate student is an essential team member for the project; (2) the project itself has been authorized for access, and (3) the work of that student must be performed in person in the research space; and (4) no other work can be assigned to that student that can be performed remotely. Individual situations will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Undergraduates who can conduct their research remotely and without travel may continue.
  • Conclusion: Return-to-research guidelines should assure that requirements for research work by undergraduates are restricted and considered on a case-by-case basis by the Vice President for Research & Innovation (VPRI), possibly in consultation with EH&S and the Office of Research and Innovation. The Return to Campus committee will need to address how to re-incorporate undergraduates in research when students return from summer break.

Principle #5

Implement a fair and transparent process for granting access.

  • Observation: The conditions and priorities for granting access should be rational, non-arbitrary, and made public.
  • Observation: While the vast majority of people who have been granted access are following the safety protocols, a small number of abuses is inevitable. Enforcement will be the responsibility of Deans and Department Chairs.
  • Conclusion: Return-to-research guidelines should identify faculty, staff, and graduate students who should be granted access to research spaces. Guidelines should address appropriate monitoring and enforcement.

Principle #6

Ensure as rapid a research restart as the public health conditions permit.

  • Observation: To implement social distancing and to reduce density of research personnel in university research spaces, consider permitting 7-day/24-hour building and lab access, schedule staggered work days or work shifts, plan to extend EH&S, janitorial, and facilities support to enable round-the-clock operation of laboratories, research facilities, libraries, archives, collections, etc.
  • Observation: Plan in advance for supply chain issues on restart. Under no circumstances should safety be sacrificed due to lack of adequate supplies, such as the type and quality of PPE.
  • Observation: Ensure research centers, the Physical Facilities department, electrical and machine shops, and similar support services are engaged and ready to ramp up in advance of need.
  • Observation: Researchers, EH&S, ORI, and building managers must work in concert to ensure that local infrastructure and physical layout of research spaces within buildings are considered during ramp-up.
  • Conclusion: Return-to-research guidelines should address work schedules, plan in advance for any supply chain issues, prepare research facilities in advance of need, and coordinate with EH&S and building management.

Additional principles for returning to scientific field research

Principle #SFR1

For field research that will be conducted off-campus, all guidelines for Miami University and relevant local, state, national, and international regions must be followed.

  • Observation: Field research often involves travel to, from, and through geographic regions beyond Miami University’s campuses and associated properties such as the Ecology Research Center.
  • Observation: Field research may involve sampling one to many sites, including those on- and off-campus, in-state and out-of-state, national, and even international, where current guidelines and policies regarding COVID-19 vary greatly.
  • Observation: Field research may involve the need to interact with investigators from other institutions who contribute different types of expertise to a given project at common or complementary field sites.
  • Observation: Field research often requires shared use of residential as well as laboratory facilities at field stations, as well as with private, public, state, federal, or other hosting institutions or organizations.
  • Conclusion: In addition to following the guidelines for Miami University and the relevant local, state, national, and international regions encountered, field researchers must also respect and act in compliance with the guidelines of the institutions with which collaborators are associated, as well as any field stations or other institutions hosting the research. This includes following the guidelines of the CDC on How To Protect Yourself & Others from COVID-19.

Principle #SFR2

Protecting the health and safety of field researchers, emotional as well as physical, involves dealing with potentially hazardous conditions beyond those experienced in the laboratory, thus requiring additional safety measures.

  • Observation: The nature of some field research often means exposure to challenging and harsh environmental conditions including strong winds, rain, sleet, snow, and lightning; working in potentially hazardous areas, such as on small boats or on steep slopes; and other adverse conditions not experienced in normal laboratory research.
  • Observation: Many procedures in field research require more than a single person working in very close proximity and cannot be accomplished either safely or effectively by one person or by maintaining social distancing.
  • Conclusion: Protecting the health and safety of field researchers, emotional as well as physical, requires more than just wearing PPE. A more effective model, utilized by other research laboratories such as University of Wisconsin’s Trout Lake Station and University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs, involves groups of 2-4 researchers working closely together as a “pod” in a common living and working environment.


To return to research safely each discipline must develop guidelines or checklists that are informed by these guiding principles. As appropriate to the discipline, guidelines should address:

  • Timing or phases: Although some research activities at Miami can resume effective May 4, 2020, based upon the Ohio Director’s Stay Safe Ohio Order allowing most businesses and operations in the state to reopen, safety protocols, approved by ORI, must be in place. For field research, monitor and comply with local conditions/restrictions at field sites, travel restrictions, and ability to travel safely.
  • Hygiene recommendations: Provide adequate PPE, hand washing/hand sanitization, disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, more frequent cleaning or laundering, and other applicable guidelines.
  • Density limitations: Limit occupancy of research and performance venues to follow guidelines and support physical distancing.
  • Personal safety: Implement physical distancing, symptom monitoring (temperature) prior to engaging in teams, and after-hours safety (e.g., working at night).
  • Human subjects: Researchers involving human subjects should review research protocols regarding contact with these groups especially people at high risk.
  • Libraries and archives: Limit the number of researchers using libraries, archives, and collections and use hygiene and social distancing protocols.
  • Research laboratories and studios: Identify personnel whose access to laboratories or studios is required to maintain research operations. The PI's role is to help ensure compliance.

Contact Us: Restarting Research

Susan McDowell
Vice President for Research & Innovation
102 Roudebush Hall