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Queen Mary Academy

Town Hall Meetings for Research Staff

Organised by Researcher Development, these meetings began in July 2020, as a means to communicate information relevant to staff engaged in research* who were managing remote working with the safe return to campus spaces, amid the COVID pandemic. 

*Staff engaged in research includes postdocs, research fellows, research assistants, research technicians, research support staff, and postdoctoral teaching staff who carry out research in addition to teaching.

Future meetings will be held approximately quarterly, and will be hosted online. They will feature a panel of our research leaders including the VP-Research & Innovation and the Faculty Deans for Research, as well as representatives from HR, the JRMO, and Researcher Development.

Questions can be pre-submitted (anonymously) by research staff before the event or posed live in the forum. Answers and minutes from the discussions will be posted below shortly following the meeting.

For an up-to-date listing of future Town Hall Meetings for Research Staff, visit the CPD Bookings Page, and search for course code CoR010.

Panel included:

  • Prof Adrian Armstrong, Deputy Dean for Research (HSS) – meeting chair
  • Prof Andrew Livingston, VP-Research and Innovation
  • Prof Mauro Perretti, Dean for Research (SMD)
  • Prof Yang Hao, Dean for Research (S&E)
  • Coleen Colechin, Clinical Research Operations Manager, JRMO
  • Jan Clarke, Post-Award Operations Manager, JRMO
  • Vicky Byers, EU Unit Manager, JRMO
  • Vinu Bhudia, HR Partner SMD
  • Samantha Holborn, Senior HR Partner S&E

Q1: My questions relate to UKRI's £180 million grant extension allocation. UKRI has made it clear that funding will be issued to, and then administered by, research organisations. How will QM be managing its allocation, and how will it be distributed? What will the internal processes be? Will postdoctoral fellows like me be eligible for costed extensions? If so, how do we apply? Many of us have had our postdoctoral fellowship plans severely disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis, and our contracts are coming to an end in September, so we urgently need an answer.

Yes – UKRI will provide a COVID extension grant based on the amount of UKRI grant/fellowship payments we should have expected from March onward (on grants finishing between 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021 – See answer to Q3) so long as extensions to grants finish by September 2021. To be clear, this is meant to only support our eligible UKRI and Research Council grant portfolio and does not cover those from other funders.  

The grant must be accepted, and Prof Andrew Livingston (VP-Research and Innovation) will oversee it as PI. The first step of the process involves QMUL submitting a Governance Plan to be approved by UKRI before funds can be allocated to the relevant grants. The template will be drafted by VP-Research Advisory group and approved by the Senior Executive Team (SET).

The goal will be to support as many eligible postdocs and fellows as possible with extensions of up to 3 months. More information about this will follow as soon as the Governance Plan is accepted by SET and a budget for the available funds worked out by Research Services. Both of these are underway and will be communicated in August.

Q2: Do you know if for an MRC grant we can request an extension following covid-19? and if so how does it happen?

As the MRC is part of UKRI, there may be an extension available for such a grant, if its end date is before 30 June 2021. How these funds will be made available will be publicised shortly. (See answer Q1)

Q3: COVID shut down has impacted PDRAs at a vulnerable time in their careers as they aim for highly competitive fellowship grants. The shutdown has led to loss of pilot studies, and data collection opportunities that would have supported such grants. Can QMUL support PDRAs during this time? Particularly considering small or seed grants that don't require applicant to have a permanent post.

As mentioned above, costed extensions to UKRI grants finishing before 31 March 2021, and if funding permits, up to 30 June 2021, will be available for supporting postdocs and fellows from these grants. Other funders (e.g. Wellcome Trust) have also provided costed extensions and you/your supervisor should seek advice through those funders. For funding of pilot studies that fall under these UKRI-funded projects you should speak to the principal investigator of that grant or your supervisor.  

RE: Centrally provided Seed funds – as these would be intended to support new research (and not research that was interrupted), central funding these at this particular time would be challenging. The priority for now is getting work that was suspended during the lockdown up and running again. Pilot and seed projects related to ongoing work should be matters discussed with your supervisors.

However, you might consider looking into Impact Acceleration funds (IAA). This is an internal funding scheme that may be applied to seed/pilot studies in certain circumstances. Speak to your supervisor or get in touch with the Impact Support Team (https://www.qmul.ac.uk/research/research-impact/impact-support/).

Q4: Will QMUL extend contracts for Leverhulme Early Career Fellows by 12 months due to the impact of COVID?

As these are match-funded by QM, there would have to be an agreement from QM (at the faculty level), and this will likely be decided on a case-by-case basis. You should get in touch with your Faculty Research Dean explaining the situation (funds requested) as well as with the Leverhulme Trust. Funds will come through the faculty.

Q5: There were two questions from applicants to the Royal Society International Exchanges scheme who enquired about the likelihood of additional travel restrictions imposed by QMUL.

Queen Mary's travel restrictions will mirror the British Government Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) guidance. If they allow travel for work/study purposes, then QMUL isn’t likely to impose any additional restrictions. This is because it will be difficult/impossible to get insurance if the FCO office does not support travel to a particular country and we want to ensure the wellbeing of our staff and students. Risk assessments should be completed in advance of arranging any travel.

Note that if you do receive the award, there may be a possibility to delay start to the project (and this applies to other funding schemes).

Q6: Question related to prioritising ethics approval for Covid-19 research: is this only for medical research? (Context: I submitted a proposal on a piece of research to understand the impact the lockdown had on researchers in terms of their mental wellbeing and work practices, but I’ve not received a decision or an update since 21 May)

JRMO initiated a fast-stream for COVID-19 medical projects, and non-medical projects as well – so panel is unaware as to why you have not received feedback on your application. You should get back into touch with the ethics team.

The panel is meeting regularly every Tuesday morning, and applicants shouldn’t be held in wait for too long.

If you have an amendments to make to on-going approved research, you can contact the JRMO ethics team (Hazel Covil - h.covill@qmul.ac.uk) instead of making a new application.

The JRMO is investigating a new process that will enable such amendments to me made in Worktribe. Details will follow when process is available.

General advice concerning the re-opening of lab and campus facilities

Lab access: In some respects, the reopening of Queen Mary labs is ahead of the curve by comparison with other HEIs. Some laboratories never fully closed. Some labs in SMD and S&E were working on COVID research or supporting COVID testing.

Since June, the John Vane Building (Charterhouse Square) and the Blizard Institute have reopened with a lower density of researchers (approximately 25% occupancy) in the building. S&E labs have also re-opened with social distancing measures in place.

Labs have implemented shifts and booking procedures in order maintain distance protocols.

Maintaining this level of occupancy is enabled by those who remain working from home when their presence is not needed on campus.

So far, researchers returning to campus have reported no incidents. Given the time of year with researchers away on annual leave, there hasn’t been an overwhelming demand (beyond current imposed limits) to return, but as researchers return from leave this may change.

Senior executive and management teams in Schools/Institutes with lab spaces will be examining the possibility of further reopening of labs. The focus moving forward will always be on the health and safety of QMUL staff and students. Air conditioning systems and air quality are under evaluation, and any returning research staff and students will be expected to adhere to any relevant distancing protocols. We are preparing for and assessing risks if 1m+ distance is implemented in wet labs.

Researchers should contact their supervisor/line manager in the first instance if they have any questions regarding access or return to a campus lab or research space.

Library access:  library has begun to reopen on a phased basis and individual study spaces can be booked. They have also started a click and collect service.

Ad hoc Zoom poll of participants about return to campus:

50% wanted to return to campus as soon as possible
10% wanted to wait until it was safer
40% have managed to be just as productive from home

Questions from the panel to researchers about interest in commercialising research and how researchers find out about fellowships and funding opportunities

Of those polled, only a minority (approx. 12%) had pursued innovation and commercialisation opportunities based on their research, but about half said they were interested in looking into these possibilities. This may be picked up in future – look out for information from the VP-Research and Innovation.

How funding opportunities are disseminated to researchers varies across campus from a mixture of prompts from their School/Institute Research Manager, calls sent from the JRMO (including the EU Unit), to training from Researcher Development and the JRMO on funding schemes and tools such as Research Professional (www.researchprofessional.com) that the university has subscriptions for.

Reminder from EU Unit regarding the up-coming deadline for the H2020-Marie Skłodowska Curie Individual Fellowships in September. If you are interested in applying, contact the EU Unit (jrmo-helpdesk-eu@qmul.ac.uk).

Closing thoughts from the panel

We will aim to run one of these Town Hall sessions with our research leadership, research support services, and HR approximately every quarter with responses being published shortly thereafter. More details on future events will follow in the Researcher Development newsletters and the E-Bulletin.

The JRMO in Research Support Services are there to help support and manage all research at QMUL and Barts Health Trust; not just the clinical research. If you have any questions or would like to submit an application for funding, please reach out to them. Contact information is available on their website: www.jrmo.org.uk

The Faculty Research Deans acknowledge that these have been challenging times and that the challenges will remain in for the time being as we reopen things and adjust to the new realities of academic research; likely involving funding restrictions. They urge researchers to not despair as this isn’t the first time that the sector has been challenged like this. It is important for the postdocs to maintain their ambition and their drive for high quality research, and to go back to active work when relevant to support their career progression. Please reach out to the various support structures in the faculties and within the organisation.

Useful URLs for researchers

Details to follow shortly.

Visit CPD Bookings Page for the most up-to-date workshop and event listings, search for course code: CoR010.