Graduate students revise timelines and funding to account for COVID-19

Daily File Illustration by Meher Yeda

COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact on research in the Northwest. In addition to limited travel opportunities and work on campus, students have also been affected by the funding changes.

Home COVID-19 orders meant more than weekly Zoom lab meetings and online doctoral courses. candidate Mélissa Manus.

The fourth-year biological anthropology researcher previously completed her research in Veracruz, Mexico, every summer. Manus had to edit and resubmit grant proposals to show funding committees how his research would virtually advance. She has also reduced her fieldwork entirely to the Chicago area due to travel restrictions linked to COVID-19.

“It was an extremely difficult decision and definitely not what I wanted to do,” Manus said. “But he was sort of one of the COVID victims of the past year and a half. “

COVID-19 restrictions have prevented students like Manus, whose research involved domestic and international travel, from doing fieldwork in person. In addition to limited travel opportunities and work on campus, students have also been affected by the funding changes.

PhD candidate Kyle Craig, a fifth-year anthropology student, said his grant to the Fulbright Institute of International Education was cut short due to financial pressure from COVID-19. But two other research grants he received, the Wenner-Gren Grant and the American Center of Research Grant, continued to fund his efforts against the pandemic, Craig said.

“Basically the (Wenner-Gren foundation) didn’t take my money,” Craig said. “I had to review my research and explain to them how I’m going to switch to digital methods.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is funded by the private sector and distributes grants for anthropological research around the world, according to its website. Manus also revised his Wenner-Gren application in the summer of 2020. The National Science Foundation, which provided its second grant, was more ambiguous about funding, she said.

“Frankly, the NSF hasn’t talked too much about COVID,” Manus said. “There was nothing from the NSF about remaking (my proposal), so (it) stayed as it is.”

While Manus said she initially received funding from neither the NSF nor Wenner-Gren, she received both grants after reapplying in the fall. She said she saw the first round of nominations as an opportunity to get solid feedback for the next one.

Many research students initially struggled to adjust to the conduct of their work during the pandemic, according to Blake Rasor, a fifth-year chemical and biological engineering student. While funding from the NSF and the Department of Defense has not been cut, he said in-person capacity restrictions had impacted some of his lab’s research projects.

“COVID-19’s capacity restrictions have led to a few downsizing or significant downsizing so that we may have something finished to report to our funding agency,” Rasor said. “We were concerned that Defense Ministry funding, and indeed all government funding, was tight enough on timelines.”

While capacity restrictions have prolonged research projects like Rasor’s, some students were more concerned about the lack of funding for graduate students at the University. NU graduate workers reported on how the University laid off hundreds of service workers and failed to give graduate students a sixth year of universal funding despite the money to do so, according to Craig.

Craig said the university had not offered enough financial support to graduate workers during the pandemic. The contributions of graduate workers to the school are essential, he said, and support for their work has come from university workers at the bottom of the payroll.

“The people who come together and form these support networks are also among the lowest paid people in the University,” Craig said. “(They) provide essential resources to a vital part of our community.”

Despite funding and research timing issues, some students felt that revising research plans turned into a positive learning experience. Manus said she used data collected from projects completed before the pandemic to write two research papers.

Manus added that the support of his mentors and research advisers was essential to help him continue his research journey.

“I was extremely well supported,” said Manus. “It’s great that we have a network of people here to help us know exactly what we should apply for and that we’ve seen students succeed in this field. “

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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