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University of Manitoba restricts research activity

On-site research that would violate social distancing rules suspended.

[UPDATED: March 26, 2020] – The University of Manitoba is limiting its research activity to reduce coronavirus risk.*

“Researchers are continuing their research remotely, but only limited research is continuing in university research facilities, including off-campus research sites,” said Martin Scanlon, dean of agricultural and food sciences at the U of M.

Scanlon explained that any continuing research on campus or at field sites “must adhere strictly to social distancing rules and to normal safety protocols.”

If those conditions can be met, the university is continuing with research projects that have significant up-front investment, such as thousands of people-hours. “Maintenance activities” may also continue, such as marker-assisted plant selection for breeding programs that are preparing material for the field season.

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The university will also continue preparing for the field season, as long as those activities doesn’t involve starting any new experiments, Scanlon added.

Researchers will also work remotely when possible. Modelling work will carry on, Scanlon said, with some help from the university’s IT teams. For those who have been conducting experimental lab work, they can write up their research and work on “knowledge translation.” Students and researchers can access books and journals remotely to help with the writing, he added.

“The timing may not be optimal for all students and researchers, but it is a necessary part of the research process, and can be conducted remotely as efficiently as it can on campus,” he said.

Social science researchers conducting questionnaire-based research or interviewing people are shifting from face-to-face to online interviews. That research may continue nearly on the original schedule, Scanlon said.

Effective March 24, the university had closed all of its buildings, granting access to essential employees only. Faculty and staff are working from home. The university is now delivering courses online and is developing online exams and assignments so that students can complete their winter terms.

“This has been a major effort by our professors and instructors, along with our IT staff, and our students are now one week into attending their classes remotely,” said Scanlon. “At this time, it is anticipated that there will be no in-person classes until September 2020.”

The university is not the only research organization with projects in limbo due to the pandemic. Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives has cancelled all events from mid-March to the end of May, said Dr. Mary-Jane Orr, general manager of the non-profit. They are tentatively planning events for June, she added via email.

Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiative has some flexibility, as full-time staff can have separate work spaces, Orr added, and they can easily accommodate the two-metre distancing on farm operations.

“Right now we are in a holding pattern for field trials and will follow the direction from our university and AAFC partners on what they are able to complete,” said Orr, adding they will be making decisions on seeding and summer student hires in mid- to late-April.

*UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the University of Manitoba had suspended all research activities.

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Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is the editor of Canadian Cattlemen. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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