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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Making Research Work: Phase 1 of the campus research reboot

I hope you and your families are safe and healthy. We have come to the end of this very unusual spring semester, during which COVID-19 has dramatically changed how we conduct research and scholarly activities on campus.

As Chancellor Blank noted in her May 18 Blank’s Slate blog, we are now looking forward and preparing for a phased reopening of campus operations over the course of the summer and fall semester. An important piece of that plan is a limited expansion of on-campus research, while ensuring we are following campus guidelines to minimize the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m grateful for the extensive and thoughtful input that I have received in planning for a safe return to research on campus – from campus leadership, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, deans, associate deans for research, center directors, facilities planning and management, environmental health and safety, University Health Services, Emergency Operations, University Communications and more. I know we are all eager to get back to our important on-campus research work and we miss seeing our colleagues in person. We all want to do this safely, for both UW–Madison researchers and the community.

Research will be restarted voluntarily and in phases, with a focus on expanding research activities while minimizing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to our students, staff, faculty and the larger community. All plans for on-site research must comply with campus and external guidelines and be an approved activity. Important resources and contact information for restarting on campus research can be found online at


Our administrative services staff have been working hard to prepare to start ramping up research and will be available to assist as researchers return to campus. It’s important to note the return to on-campus research is not mandatory. No one should feel pressure to return to their lab or research space, including students and staff. Doing so should be voluntary.

As we move into Phase 1 of expanding research on campus, activity will be very different from that prior to COVID-19. Only activities that cannot be performed at home will be allowed on site during Phase 1. Significant changes in workplace practices are expected of returning researchers. Restrictions will limit the number and density of people in campus buildings and rooms used for research and scholarly activities. New health and safety protocols that align with public health recommendations and best practices will be in place throughout campus operations.

During Phase 1, we will consider research activities that present a low risk for viral transmission and that can be conducted safely.

We have created an application for PIs who wish to request a to return to on-campus research and scholarly activities. I am especially thankful to Max Coller in the OVCRGE IT department for his efforts to create this application on a tight deadline.

PIs must complete this application as part of their request to conduct on-site research during Phase 1. PIs must complete this form on behalf of all personnel under their supervision who also seek to return to on-campus research. These requests will be evaluated by department chairs, section chiefs or center directors, who will consider the request along with those from other researchers in the unit. After the chair/section chief/director reviews the request, they will forward the request and recommendation to the appropriate dean or to the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (or their appointees for additional coordination and final approval).

We will learn a lot from Phase 1, as it provides opportunities to test and refine new procedures for maintaining physical distance, minimizing the number of people in research spaces at any given time, reducing contact duration, developing capacity for contact tracing, and monitoring for local instances of viral infection at research sites and buildings.

While I cannot tell you when we might be ready to launch Phase 2, we are closely monitoring public health conditions in the state, county and city and will provide further instructions for the next phase based on future developments.


Thank you, once again, for your dedicated service and your patience as we move through these very challenging times.  If you have any questions, you can direct them to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education email at


Steven A. Ackerman
Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education

Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences