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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative funds 50 proposals

By Natasha Kassulke,

Some UW–Madison researchers are still feeling impacts on research due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help mitigate some of those impacts, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education has named 50 award recipients in the second round of the Pandemic-Affected Research Continuation Initiative (PARCI) funding. Seventy proposals were submitted for funding consideration of up to $40,000.

PARCI provides critical support for research projects that were compelled to continue during the pandemic though certain research activities were stalled, such that the project is facing a shortage of funds to complete the intended work. The initiative is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“The disruption to research during COVID-19— such as the closure of labs and travel restrictions— means many of our researchers have faced challenges in completing projects by their deadlines and some have even struggled to pay the salaries of students and research staff who were unable to continue with experiments because of lockdowns or lab closures,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “We’ve heard from recipients of funding through PARCI in round one and now round two that the initiative has been instrumental in helping the campus research enterprise recover and rebuild from the impacts of COVID-19.”

The first round of funding, launched in September 2020, drew 110 applications; of these, 70 were selected for funding. Round two brings the total number of funded PARCI projects to 120.

“Our research group was just starting a new collaboration in Gabon before the pandemic, with funding from the Precious Forests Foundation. Starting a tropical forest research project and collaboration in a new country is exciting, but it also takes a huge amount of time and resources,” explains Zuzana Buřivalová, assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology, who received a PARCI grant for the project, ‘Stethoscope for tropical forests – biodiversity monitoring tool for sustainable forest management’. “The pandemic began just as we were ready to start our first proper fieldwork, which had to be postponed by over a year. We are now back on track and with the support of the PARCI grant, we will be able to achieve our research goals.”

Rachelle Winkle-Wagner, professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, received PARCI funding in round 1 for her project, “Health Profiles of African American Women on the Tenure Track and Beyond.”

The collaborative project (The co-PI on the larger project is Bridget Goosby at the University of Texas–Austin) examines the conditions under which Black women academics experience racial stress, how they cope, and the degree to which stressors relate to their health profile during tenure and beyond. The project, which is multi-institutional and now encompasses impacts of COVID-19, includes a mix of research methods including nationwide surveys and a series of interviews with a cohort of Black women academics.

Winkle-Wagner says PARCI funding allowed her to finish data collection for the initial phase of the project, including three rounds of the surveys and two rounds of interviews. Preliminary findings from social sciences faculty helped her expand the project to include Black women academics in STEM disciplines and the project was recently awarded a Spencer Large Grant for a three-year study.

“We are very grateful for PARCI funding,” Winkle-Wagner says. “Without this funding, we may not have been able to finish the first phase of the project – and that phase has already paid off in a large external grant.” The Spencer Large Grant also supports the research training of six doctoral students at UW–Madison

For Jenny Saffran, professor of psychology, PARCI funding will be essential to keep her lab going.

“At the Infant Learning Lab at the Waisman Center, we study how babies learn language,” Saffran says. “When the pandemic hit, my lab shut down, along with the rest of campus. Because we work with babies, we didn’t reopen until July 2021, 15 months after we closed.”

While Saffran is very glad to see the lab open again, they are testing far fewer infants than they had been during pre-pandemic times due to COVID safety protocols.

“While the lab was closed, we developed new procedures to run some of our studies online via Zoom,” Saffran says. “But as you can imagine, doing infant testing over the internet is challenging at best, and several of our study methods simply cannot be run online.”

Saffran adds that because of all of these issues related to COVID-19,  her lab has yet to complete most of the studies that they began before the pandemic, and the NIH grant that was funding the research has now ended.

“The PARCI funds will be invaluable in helping us to keep the lab going until our new NIH grant begins sometime in 2022,” Saffran says. “We will use the money to cover the costs of recruiting and compensating families who participate in our research, and procuring technical support for our lab. With this financial assistance, my graduate students and I hope to finally complete the projects that have been in the works for several years.”