The following provides answers to some of the common questions around how research is managed at UTS as the current COVID-19 situation continues to evolve.
More general advice and information for UTS students and frequently asked questions for graduate research students have also been published.
Should I proceed with my current research project?
Please follow any advice from your faculty or school about reviewing research activities and re-designing these in accordance with official NSW Health advice. This advice may include pausing or scaling down non-essential activities.
The following should be considered:
- Researchers should review the appropriateness of continuing to conduct human research studies and/or clinical trials at the current time. All study protocols must be reviewed to ensure compliance with current advice from state health authorities
- For projects that depend on campus facilities and equipment, consider whether undertaking your laboratory-based research is essential right now or could be postponed.
- New studies involving animal research will be considered on a case-by-case basis, based on the availability of technical staff and impact on animal welfare. Current research projects may continue if there are enough staff to undertake specialist tasks.
Some research delays may have significant consequences, so seek advice from your manager or supervisor before taking any action on your research project.
All research must follow precautionary measures including social distancing and normal hygiene practices to minimise potential risk.
What if my research involves face-to-face contact with human participants?
All data collection requiring face-to-face contact with human participants will be suspended effective immediately until further notice, unless an exemption is provided in consultation with the HREC. This includes both Australian-based and International research.
Where possible, we strongly suggest researchers consider remote data collection methods (telephone, online, skype, zoom etc.) or delay data collection. If you are in a position to continue your research without face-to-face participant contact, we ask that you submit a request to modify your project as outlined below. This might be a good time to consider other ways that information may be gained to explore your research questions.
I may need to change my human research ethics approval. What do I do?
Please ensure your request meets the following criteria:
- The change is being requested in order to adhere to current advice provided by the Australian Government, NSW Health and UTS
- The change will not impact the feasibility of the research (in terms of meeting the expected aims & outcomes of the research), nor research merit and integrity
- No other changes are being made to the protocol
Any proposed changes that do not meet these criteria must be submitted via the normal amendment process in ResearchMaster in accordance with submission deadlines.
Requests to modify your project will be triaged based on complexity and may be referred to a subcommittee or faculties for review. The Ethics Secretariat will liaise with faculties on your behalf. Please note we will be working as quickly as possible to ensure projects continue in a timely manner.
Projects only changing to an online platform may receive executive approval for the change within 48 hours. Projects requiring subcommittee review may be asked to allow at least 7-10 days for review, not including public holidays.
For more information, email Research.Ethics@uts.edu.au
What should do about my clinical research?
For studies and trials that have been primarily approved by an external local hospital district human research ethics committee (and ratified by UTS), researchers should follow the specific advice of that heath district and notify UTS of the outcome by email at Research.Ethics@uts.edu.au.
Researchers involved in studies based in clinical settings and/or using health professionals should consider the impact their research may have on existing resources, even if adjustments are made to eliminate face-to-face contact.
NSW Health is drafting guidance for clinical research and we’ll provide a link when it is released. Further topics for planning clinical research during this time can be found on the Bellberry website (see ‘Research Participant Welfare & Study Changes’).
For all research, it’s important that you continue to maintain accurate records. Where participants withdraw from a study or deviate from the planned protocol (miss a visit or assessment), you must record this detail.
If there is any indication that a participant has contracted a COVID-19 infection, this should be immediately reported to the Research.Ethics@uts.edu.au as with all adverse events.
What if my research involves working with animals?
The UTS Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC) will continue to review new applications involving animal research in UTS animal facilities. However, a final decision on whether or not new research can commence will be made in consultation with the Facility Manager and Animal Welfare Officer based on the availability of technical staff and any potential impact on animal welfare.
Research currently being conducted in UTS facilities can continue if there are enough competent staff to undertake specialist tasks. Please discuss with your Facility Manager if you’re unsure how or if your research will be affected.
Interstate and/or international fieldwork experiments will be suspended effective immediately until further notice, unless an exemption is provided in consultation with the ACEC.
Where an urgent decision needs to be made to protect animal welfare, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Any amendments related to this will be expedited by the Ethics Secretariat.
For more information, email Research.Ethics@uts.edu.au.
What should I consider if I want to change my research from face-to-face to online?
Interviews and some other fieldwork can be conducted online instead of in person.
If you wish to change your methodology, there are a few questions to consider:
- Are the participant and researcher in safe and private places?
- Is the device used to record the interview secure?
- Is your data backed up to a secure location such as OneDrive or CloudStor? Consider the UTS-endorsed solutions for storing your active research data.
- Will the interview be audio or video-recorded? If video-recorded, you should provide further justification and consider the amount of detail captured (such as in the background).
- How will you ensure that privacy and confidentiality is maintained?
- Will video footage and/or image stills be used for any purpose other than data collection and analysis (such as in publication)?
How should I manage participant information and consent online?
Where it is no longer feasible for participants to provide a signed consent form, you should consider obtaining consent online and/or through a verbal consent process. A script must be used when collecting verbal consent - a template verbal consent script is available on Staff Connect.
All participants must receive a Participant Information Statement (PIS) clearly outlining how data and videos will be used, stored, the timeline of their storage and destruction. Existing PIS should be updated to include this information in track-changes.
What should I do if research participants could face distress and need support?
You should consider whether the protocol/s you have in place for managing potential distress are still appropriate in an online format. Participants should be provided with appropriate advice regarding support and/or referral options including online support providers and helplines. You should also have information available for those concerned about the potential impact of COVID-19, consider providing links to Australia.gov.au and the NSW government information.
What do I do if there are likely to be delays in my research project’s funding deliverables?
Researchers who have existing funding agreements need to ensure that they are still able to meet deliverables agreed to with funding bodies. These include project scope and timeline, and use of funds on categories other than that specified in your funding application/agreement.
If you need staff to work on your research project, all recruitment must be in accordance with the most up to date rules. Rules around staff recruitment are changing as the impacts of COVID-19 are being felt.
At 24 March, the Vice Chancellor has advised a pause on recruitment of roles that become vacant through normal attrition or the appointment of budgeted new roles. There will be exceptions including importantly for roles that are operationally critical or generate additional revenue for the university - which includes positions funded by external research income that has already been gained but recruitment hasn’t yet commenced.
Any delays or variations on a research projects will need to be notified to the funding body via the Research Office.
How do I manage all the other activities with partners and funding bodies to deliver my current research projects and opportunities?
Researchers engaging in opportunities with potential funders should ensure that proposed deliverables are sufficiently flexible in light of further potential restrictions that may be advised by NSW Health and UTS.
All activities, workshops and current opportunities discussed with funders, as well as any activities to do with existing projects (e.g. team meetings, collaborations, etc.), should consider the following:
- Postpone any non-essential meetings, workshops or other gatherings that are not essential at this time or conduct meetings by Zoom
- Ensure rooms for necessary meetings are of sufficient size to allow social distancing as recommended
- Consider whether field work requiring long distance travel of groups in vehicles can be postponed
What do I do with my research-related travel?
All work-related travel arrangements need to comply with advice from governments and UTS. This advice is changing constantly. If you consider your domestic work travel to be essential, please provide a business case to your dean/director.
Where can I go for help and support?
We understand that you may be feeling anxious or having difficulty coping at this time. We would like to remind you that UTS provides free, confidential counselling and support by qualified professionals for staff through its Employee Assistance Program (log-in via Staff Connect).
What resources are there to help me work remotely?
Managers are prepare their teams to practise increased social distancing and work remotely. To support this, a central portal has been developed on StaffConnect (UTS Staff log-in required) and more resources will be added as needed.
The Working Remotely portal includes resources for accessing technology remotely, safety and wellbeing considerations and managing remote workers. It also provides links to useful information on teaching and undertaking research remotely, and where to go for support.
Many secure systems can be accessed through the UTS virtual private network.
There are also links to a range of data collection and analysis tools for research staff and HDR students is available on Staff Connect.
What central research support is available?
The Research Office and Graduate Research School are all available to support our students and staff. You can continue to access our central facilities but we ask that precautions are taken, such as physical distancing measures, to safeguard everyone's health and wellbeing.