Below are the answers to frequently asked questions related to research. Visit the USC Office of Research website for additional research ramp-up guidance and policies in addition to the phases of research. For general health-related information, view the restart health and safety FAQs.
Timelines and Plans
The deans of the schools will reach out to researchers within their schools to let them know whether their school’s plan was approved.
Do principal investigator (PI) plan requirements apply to PIs who are doing research at Keck, Norris, etc.?
Yes, principal investigator (PI) research plan requirements apply to all PIs.
Will National Institutes of Health-funded research technicians be allowed back on the campus as part of the restart plan if they are essential members of the research team?
Yes, each principal investigator (PI) should work with the relevant school to develop a plan.
Will USC work with the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center to ensure research can resume across the entire Health Sciences Campus?
Please see the research ramp-up plan that includes all components of USC research.
Please read the university-wide guidance on the research ramp-up.
Schools may choose to post their individual plans online, but you should check with the dean's office of your school. Principal investigators (PIs) are unlikely to post their plans. Please contact them directly.
How will you reconcile individual principal investigator (PI) plans with building limits on personnel, especially when PIs from different schools occupy the same building?
All school-level plans were developed using a consistent set of guidelines described in the ramp-up guidance. Thus, they were built on the same underlying principles. This will ensure essential uniformity across principal investigators (PIs) from different schools. Furthermore, all buildings must have a building coordinator.
My research does not need to take place on campus right now. When is my plan due? Can I wait to submit until we need to reconvene in person?
All researchers who can effectively work from home should continue to do so.
Do faculty members who conduct research in their offices and don’t have labs need an individual principal investigator (PI) plan to restart research?
If you plan to be on campus for any kind of research, you need an individual principal investigator (PI) plan to restart.
School deans and vice/associate deans of research should communicate with faculty researchers/principal investigators (PIs) about research plans and approval processes. Typically, the plans are reviewed at the department level and then at the school level.
If you are working for a PI, please contact them to see if they have submitted a plan, and to see what your role is in that plan. If they have not submitted a plan, remind them that they need to do so if they want to return to on campus research.
We have focused on Phase 2A so far but are actively planning for Phase 2B and Phase 3. Additional guidance to the community will follow.
At this time, all researchers who must work on campus and cannot do their research work remotely should develop principal investigator (PI)/lab/group-level plans. These plans must be reviewed at the department and school levels in order to return to campus.
Will staff who support research but are not directly involved be allowed to return to campus when researchers return?
No, only approved researchers and essential employees can return to campus at this time.
We will continue to follow public health guidance. The health, safety and well-being of our entire university community is our top priority.
With the return of students to campus in the fall, de-densifying across campus will become more difficult. It is unlikely that we will be able to return to full capacity, but specific lab capacity and building use and capacity varies.
We will collectively work on creative ways to keep the density in each building within public health guidelines, including possible solutions such as time-sharing access to research spaces. We will share additional information about fall research as soon as it becomes available.
Health and Safety
Researchers often work closely together. How are you restarting research activities while ensuring everyone’s safety?
Each school must have a research restart plan that is reviewed and approved by USC Environmental Health & Safety, Student Health, Risk, Legal, HR, the public health policy advisory group, and the provost. Those reviews are rooted in strict guidelines that adhere to all local regulations as well as all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and USC guidelines.
All plans must require that researchers maintain a minimum of 6 feet of physical distancing, ensure that all researchers and support staff have any required personal protective equipment (PPE), and that their research spaces are appropriately cleaned and disinfected.
Additionally, our leadership will work closely to maintain appropriate personnel density. This may mean that research facilities operate under capacity, that personnel work staggered shifts, or that personnel rotate between working from home and working in the laboratory to make sure physical distancing measures can be implemented.
Principal investigators (PIs) returning to campus must develop PI/lab/group-level plans that are consistent with the school plans mentioned above, observe all of the rules/requirements, and are approved by the school to ensure all safety standards are met.
We encourage students, faculty and staff to use the stairs inside campus buildings whenever possible. Most elevators should be limited to two occupants per cab, and everyone is required to wear a face mask while traveling alone or with other occupants.
Avoid touching the elevator buttons with an exposed hand/fingers, if possible. Wash hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers upon departing the elevator. Those waiting for elevators in lobbies should practice appropriate physical distancing.
All researchers must wear cloth or surgical masks as a minimum required safety measure. Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) depends on the type of research and its environment, and the requirements are determined at the department and school level. Each principal investigator (PI) must develop a specific PI/lab/group-level plan that includes appropriate PPE needs. The relevant school then reviews and approves the plan.
How will USC distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer to labs and workspaces?
USC will make personal protective equipment (PPE) available to the approved schools (schools with approved research ramp-up plans) through the USC Bookstore, and the schools will make it available to the approved principal investigators (PIs) (those with approved research ramp-up plans).
USC Facilities Management Services will install hand sanitizer stations on campus over the summer.
USC Facilities Management Services will frequently clean all workspaces. In addition, researchers should maintain high standards of cleanliness, including disinfecting all shared surfaces and equipment before and after usage. Principal investigators (PIs) should work with their schools to ensure they have sufficient and appropriate disinfectant for their research environment.
All centrally controlled heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) building systems are run at least two hours before and after building occupancy. Systems that have the ability to run with 100 percent outside air will be run during this time to flush the buildings with filtered outside air.
We have also disabled the centrally managed demand control ventilation system to maximize the amount of outside air to each space within the buildings at all times.
USC’s HVAC systems are designed to meet all required ventilation standards and building codes by allowing enough fresh outdoor air to control contaminant levels in buildings.
In line with public health guidance, many of our buildings will not be at full occupancy, and all occupants must adhere to physical distancing measures. This results in higher per person outdoor air flow rates to control contaminants, including COVID-19.
All schools must adhere to the same basic safety standards regarding masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), physical distancing, disinfectants, etc. Specific labs may have additional safety requirements.
When working in multiple labs, researchers must uphold the standards of each lab. If transitioning between multiple labs is required in short amounts of time then the highest standard of the labs should be maintained (e.g., in terms of PPE).
Schools will make facilities/building arrangements. Please discuss this with your research vice dean or associate dean.
Please plan on using only one building per day if at all possible. Exceptions should be handled at the school level.
Many of the shared research cores like the machine shop remained in operation as essential resources, and others that researchers need are reopening now. Please visit the core facilities and laboratories website to see specific plans.
For department-specific shops such as the glass shop in chemistry, you will need to contact the department chair. The chemical stockroom is run by VWR. You can find information about its opening on eMarket.
If the computer lab is a necessary (not just convenient) resource for your research, please make sure that it is part of your plan or your principal investigator's (PIs) PI/lab/group-level plan that the department and school reviews.
The USC Libraries offer extensive resources and expertise that support online teaching, research and learning – even if the physical buildings remain closed for now.
Subscription journals and databases, digital collections, remote research help, and many other library services and programs remain available. The libraries also make several streaming services available, including music and film collections.
In some cases, the libraries can ship books or other materials from USC's collections. If the item you need appears available in the libraries’ online catalog, request shipment using the “Request via interlibrary loan” link. Please note that “Request via interlibrary loan” is the correct option for requesting books from the USC Libraries' collections that are marked as available. This is necessary to initiate the shipping process. You will receive the book from USC Libraries rather than the interlibrary loan.
Faculty may schedule information literacy and other library instruction for their classes, and subject specialists can help students with research projects and other coursework via Zoom.
The USC Libraries maintain a detailed set of online research guides that include information on subject-specific resources. You can also find more specific information on digital collections of primary sources.
The most current information on USC Libraries’ services, collections, and programs is available at libraries.usc.edu/coronavirus. Students and faculty with questions about library resources can contact the libraries remotely through email and chat services.
All individual principal investigators (PIs) provided a lab research resumption plan targeting a density/occupancy that maintains at least a 6-foot distance at any given time at up to 30% occupancy. This plan includes a description of the physical space (re)configuration to accommodate the personnel density, a staggered work schedule of lab personnel, and the designation of a lab monitor for each work shift to ensure adherence to specified conditions of physical distancing and hygiene (corresponding to the USC research activity level).
Research hours remain unchanged. However, hours spent physically on-campus for research should be included as part of the principal investigator (PI)/lab/group-level plans and must be approved through the daily campus check-in and building access system.
Hours spent physically on-campus for research should be included as part of the principal investigator (PI)/lab/group-level plans and must be approved through the daily campus check-in and building access system.
Please note that no one is allowed to work in isolation. Individuals who plan to work alone in a laboratory space need to have a buddy system in place with adjoining labs to ensure safety.
Each school will determine specific timing. Every principal investigator (PI) must have a school-approved PI/group/lab-level plan.
You should order your items as you normally do. USC Environmental Health & Safety will continue to receive and deliver radioactive materials to labs.
The normal reusable lab coat is still approved for use in the COVID-19 environment. If you are handling new materials such as flammables then you may need a new type of material for your lab coat, but disposable gowns are not required to return to the lab. Please contact Medico for increased laundering of your lab coats.
Animal research is part of the principal investigator (PI)/lab/group-level plans that each school must approve. The Department of Animal Resources will continue to provide information to its users and has remained open as an essential service throughout COVID-19.
Human Subjects Research
Will the schools or the USC IRB decide when in-person human subjects research will be allowed again?
Human subjects research is occurring within the guidelines issued by state, county and local public health authorities, and in accordance with university guidelines and provost-approved school-level plans. Researchers can see more information in the COVID-19 research ramp-up guidelines. Currently, the university is in Phase 2 of the four research ramp-up phases.
USC IRB approval to resume research will require submission of the principal investigator’s (PI)-level plan approval notice (e.g., letter, email) and the completion of PI and study team attestations reflecting state, federal and institutional requirements.
Please refer to the Office for the Protection of Research Subjects (OPRS) website for directions on how to submit research involving in-person interaction for approval.
Will in-person human subjects research involving vulnerable populations resume at a later date than research involving less vulnerable populations?
The steps for restarting in-person human subjects research with vulnerable populations are the same as for other populations. USC scheduled the restart of in-person research that's conducted in off-campus and/or community/field-based settings for a later date (Phase 3). See the phases of research during the COVID-19 pandemic.
No. At the moment, the USC IRB is not approving community/field-based research. A university-level committee is developing details regarding community/field-based research requirements. Once this information becomes available, researchers can view it in the COVID-19 research ramp-up guidelines.
The USC IRB will only require the submission of principal investigator (PI)-level plan approval notices.
We will continue to follow public health guidance and will share more information about research-related travel as it becomes available.
Please review important information for humanities researchers.
USC may allow research involving ethnography that takes place in the community/field once the university enters Phase 3 of its restart plan. The conditions for ethnographic research will be defined by the guidelines provided by state, county and local public health authorities along with university guidelines and school level-plans.
You can find all updates regarding human subjects research – including the requirements for resuming research and the submission of new research – on the Office for the Protection of Research Subjects (OPRS) website. You can also find the requirements and instructions for USC IRB submission on the OPRS website.
Undergraduates, including those in progressive degree programs, should not participate in the on-campus research ramp-up this summer. We encourage all undergraduates to conduct remote research to the fullest extent possible.
Remote research is ongoing, and we strongly encourage undergraduates to conduct remote research over the summer and during the upcoming academic year. The ability to conduct undergraduate research physically on campus in the fall will depend on the overall public health situation. We will share additional information as it becomes available.
Should graduate students follow the research restart plan, or does it only apply to research staff and postdoctoral researchers?
Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers play key roles in the research ramp-up plan. Each school should communicate with its faculty researchers about developing principal investigator (PI)/lab/group-level plans that include graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, as relevant to that PI/lab/group. Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers should actively communicate with their PIs about the PI’s lab/group plans.
Master's students involved in research can be part of principal investigator (PI)/lab/group-level plans.
No. The provost informs the school deans when their schools are approved for research. The school deans inform research vice/associate deans who then inform all principal investigators (PIs) whose PI/group/lab-level plans are approved to resume research.
The PIs then contact their graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. If you are a PI who has not heard from your school’s research vice/associate dean or dean, please contact them for more information. If you are a graduate student or postdoctoral researcher, please contact your PI.
Transportation and Parking
During Phase 2A, on-campus parking is free for all researchers, including graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.