College Town: Shutdown could create science research backlog, T&G, Jan 9, 2019

Filed in Uncategorized by on January 22, 2019

There is good news and bad news about how the government shutdown is affecting supported research at area universities.

The good news is that grant proposals can still be electronically submitted to closed federal agencies. The bad news is that there will be no one on the other end to review them.

Such is the case with proposals made to the National Science Foundation, according to Bogdan M. Vernescu, vice provost for research at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Mr. Vernescu said review of proposals usually takes six months, and a backlog will extend the time, which in turn complicates budgeting and planning.

At WPI, about 30 percent of grant funding comes from NSF. Most grants are paid in increments and funds already paid may be used, but if the agency remains closed when the next installment is scheduled to be paid, no check can be issued even though the money has been promised, Mr. Vernescu said.

Other closed agencies from which WPI receives funding include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

Another area that has been affected is the peer review process, which is an integral part of determining whether work should be funded.

The reviewing process is sometimes done in person and sometimes online, Mr. Vernescu said, adding that travel plans have been suspended, airline tickets have been canceled and online panels will not take place.

However, more good news is that although the government shutdown is now in its third week, WPI received $22 million in federal research funding from July 1 through Dec. 31 and is poised to exceed the record-setting total of $33 million in funding from the previous fiscal year, Mr. Vernescu said.

“More than 50 percent of WPI’s funding comes from agencies that are not shut down, such as the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health,” Mr. Vernescu said.Specific projects that were not affected by the shutdown include a $3.5 million grant from NIH that WPI received to develop an MRI-compatible robotic technology to provide minimally invasive brain tumor therapy that is ready for clinical trials, and $4 million awarded to WPI and QCC to create a comprehensive joint laboratory that will support the growth of integrated photonics. These labs are housed in Gateway Park in Worcester.

Here’s what other schools who weighed in on the shutdown had to say:

Yuko Aoyama, associate provost and dean of research and graduate studies at Clark University, said, “We already have a faculty member who is having trouble getting to the first international collaborative project meeting because the award letter is being delayed from NSF. We also have a couple of faculty who are having trouble submitting new grant proposals to NSF because the submission system updates are not taking place. The impacts will be amplified with prolonged government shutdown.”

At UMass Medical School, “The vast majority of our funding is from the NIH, which is not affected by the shutdown,” spokesman James Fessenden wrote in an email.

Professor Mauri Pelto, vice president for academic affairs at Nichols College, said, “Since Nichols College does not accept direct grants from the federal government, the shutdown is not going to affect us.”

Mr. Pelto, who is an environmental science professor and also works with the U.S. Geological Survey and is on the advisory board for NASA Goddard, said his research and work with those two agencies is at a standstill.

The shutdown is not affecting Worcester State University, spokeswoman Maureen Stokes said. “However, if the shutdown goes longer than the end of this month, we will have a relatively small impact,” she said.

Psychology accreditation

Assumption College’s clinical counseling psychology program has been accredited by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council for a two-year period. The program trains counselors who treat common clinical problems like aggressive behavior in children, ADHD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

Law school partnership

Worcester State University and Western New England University School of Law in Springfield have signed an agreement that allows undergraduate students attending Worcester State to apply for admission to the private law school and begin their legal education during their senior year. The agreement shortens the time required for students to earn both a bachelor’s degree and law degree from seven years to six years. Anthony S. Caprio, president of WNEU; Worcester State President Barry M. Maloney and Russ Pottle, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Worcester State, signed the agreement during a recent ceremony at Blake Law Center at WNEU in Springfield.

By Bonnie Russell, Telegram & Gazette, Jan 9, 2019

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