Research Resumption FAQs

FAQ for PhD Students in BGS and Postdocs in BPP on Research Resumption


These FAQs have been developed for trainees in BGS and BPP. They should serve as a supplement to the PSOM Guide for the Safe Return to the Workplace and any other guidance provided by the school, institute, and/or department in which a trainee conducts research.

Some details about the return to research process for trainees have not yet been worked out. These FAQs will be modified as new information becomes available.

BGS students should feel to raise any questions or concerns about the return process with anyone with whom they feel comfortable.  Options include their mentor, graduate group chair, program chair, thesis committee chair or other thesis committee members, other faculty members, other lab members, fellow students, or the offices of BGS or EVDCSO.

BPP Postdocs should feel free to bring any questions or concerns about the return process with anyone with whom they feel comfortable, including their PI, other lab members, fellow postdocs, the department chair, or the offices of BPP or EVDCSO.


Q: What are the University’s plans for resuming research activities?

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research has been consulting with school representatives and recently issued a plan, available here:

The plan has three phases:

  • Phase I: Increase of prioritized research, with enforced population density restrictions and telework continued.
  • Phase II: Expanded scope of research operations, increasing the population with social distancing enforced, telework continued.
  • Phase III: Return to full research operations, with new awareness and hygiene practices as the norm and telework utilized where possible.


Q: What is the projected start date for Phase I?

A: The University has indicated that Phase I will start on June 8 (postponed from June 1). Note that CHOP has identified 5/26 as their start date for Phase I.


Q: Can some research take place before the formal start date for Phase I?

A. Because some research has been deemed an ‘essential activity’, with proper approvals some University labs may be re-opening at least partially before 6/4.


Q: I read the description of Phase I above, but can you expand on that description?

A: All dry lab and office-based research will remain off site until Phase III. For wet-bench research, Phase I sets a limit of 20% of normal capacity at any given time. Therefore, lab members will be expected to set up a collaborative schedule ahead of time in order to adhere to this strict low-density guideline.  The precise mechanism in place for scheduling will be determined by the School, Department and/or Lab.  Additionally, not all labs are expected to open in Phase I.


Q: What guidelines will be in place with regard to proper social distancing and hygiene?

A: Anyone returning to campus will be expected to strictly adhere to the set of guidelines being developed by the various committees throughout the University and the PSOM.  Expectations will be issued not only regarding the scheduling of lab personnel, but for use of PPE; building entrances; possible temperature monitoring; building sanitization procedures and individual wipe-downs of touchpoints; capacity limitations in spaces such as elevators, break rooms, and labs; and personal health monitoring. Guidelines are also being developed regarding travel to and from campus, including Penn bus, biking, car shares, and parking options. Additional information will be shared about travel considerations as it becomes available.


Q: What will be the expectations for PPE?

A: The University is setting policies consistent with CDC guidelines. For example, individuals will be expected to wear masks at all times, and surgical masks at work should be reused until they become soiled or contaminated. More information will be shared as Phase I approaches.


Q: If standards for re-entry and working in the lab vary across schools or institutes, which standards should I adhere to?

A: The University is endeavoring to set common standards across schools. However, to the extent that there may be differences, or if your lab is outside of Penn (e.g., in CHOP, Wistar, or Monell), you should follow the standards of the school or institute in which you are conducting your research. When in doubt, you should follow the more stringent requirements. Please consult with your PI, or, if you are a student, your graduate program chair or BGS, and, if you are a postdoctoral fellow, BPP.                


Q: How will Penn assure that labs are adhering properly to social distancing, hygiene, and sanitizing guidelines?

A: Plans are being developed for addressing such concerns, including means for reporting violations by phone or online:  215-P-COMPLY. Additional information will be shared as it becomes available.


Q: If my lab reopens in Phase I, do I need to return if I do not feel comfortable because of concerns about my health or the health of others, childcare, eldercare, or about public transit, etc.?

A: No. You do not need to return.  Return prior to Phase III is completely voluntary. In fact, students and postdocs will be asked to ‘Opt-In’ prior to returning to campus until Phase III per this statement,

“Participation of graduate students and postdocs is voluntary. As part of the Research Resumption Plan, Schools and graduate groups, in collaboration with the School’s Graduate Deans, are responsible for establishing processes for students to opt into research. The opt-in process should not involve faculty mentors; trainees should be allowed to decide independently. In addition, we strongly encourage scheduling flexibility in consideration of childcare, elder care, transportation concerns, and safety.”


Q: What will the Opt-In process consist of? 

A: Plans are still under development, but the Opt-In process is expected to include the following: 1) indication of your voluntary agreement to return in KnowledgeLink (through this link or search for "COVID-19 Opt-In Certification" in the Find Learning Search Function); 2) certification that you have completed EHRS training via Knowledge-Link in COVID-19 related safety measures; and 3) an attestation to comply with all safety requirements. Please be aware that opting-in is voluntary. It is a requirement for returning to the lab, even for students considered "essential personnel." However, opting-in does not obligate a student return to research on campus. Students may change their mind and decline to work in the lab at any point in prior to phase III.


Q: I am wondering whether to return to the lab for Phase I. Besides my PI, with whom should I discuss the timing of my return?

A: Graduate students and postdocs should discuss their research resumption plans with their PI for the purposes of lab planning and developing expectations.  However, they should make their decision to return independently of the PI and not feel compelled to return before they feel ready. If a student has concerns about the planning process or would like additional input, they should talk with anyone with whom they feel comfortable. Options include their graduate group chair, program chair, thesis committee chair, other members of their thesis committee, other faculty members, other students, the BGS director, or the EVDCSO Office. Postdocs should consult with the department chair, BPP director, or the EVDCSO Office. In any case, no student or postdoc should feel compelled to return to campus prior to Phase III.


Q: Will I continue to receive my stipend even if I do not Opt-In and return – or if my lab does not re-open (or is not ready for me to return to) – prior to Phase III?

A: Yes, you will continue to receive your stipend if you do not return for Phase I or Phase II, assuming sustained levels of federal funding for research and research training.

However, it is important to work with the PI/advisor to coordinate research activities that can be done remotely and to keep a record of all activities.  Suggestions for valuable remote research activities can be found on the BGS and BPP websites.


Q: Is there any funding in place for students close to graduation who would have graduated at a time when their PI could fund them but now need extended time and funding?

A: Students may elect to delay graduation to remain in their thesis lab as a predoc. If the mentor anticipates a financial shortfall due to the extended period of support, the mentor should consult with the graduate group chair about making arrangements with BGS. BGS is looking at available options for addressing this scenario.


Q: Can a student who has graduated stay at Penn as a postdoc in their thesis lab or another lab even though there is a hiring freeze?

A: Students who have met all PhD degree requirements* may transition to a postdoc status at Penn if the answers to the questions below are yes.

  1. Does the mentor have adequate funding for one full year?
  2. Is the student eligible to work in the US?  Students in an F-1 visa status must contact ISSS and must file an application for their F-1 OPT 90 days before their scheduled defense.
  3. Is there a plan for the candidate to work remotely or has this candidate already been listed as essential personnel?

*Students are considered to meet all degree requirements once they have had a successful defense and their degree paperwork has been completed and submitted to BGS.



Q: If I have safety-related concerns or witness safety violations, how can I report them? 

A: If you know the person and feel comfortable discussing the issue with them, please do.  Otherwise, you may call or log in to 215-P-COMPLY to make a confidential report.  Do not confront people who are not wearing PPE or who are not adhering to other requirements.  Graduate students may also wish to consult with their thesis mentor, thesis committee chair, graduate group chair, or BGS. Postdocs may wish to consult with their PI, department chair, or BPP.


Q: Is there a plan for testing people before they can return?

A: No, there is not a specific testing plan, but the University and Health System are considering a variety of promising new testing options and may implement one or more tests as validated, scalable tests become available.


Q: What should I do if I don’t feel well after returning to the lab?

A: If you feel any symptoms of infection (e.g., fever, cough, or shortness of breath), immediately leave work, self-isolate, and inform your supervisor. The supervisor notified should contact Environmental Health and Radiation Safety for advice regarding testing, contact tracing, and disinfection. Graduate students should also contact Student Health Service.


Q: What if there is a spike in infections? Will plans change?

A: Yes, we will scale back and depopulate to whatever extent is advised.


Q: How will plans vary by building?  For example, Smilow is connected to PCAM and has an open floor plan. Will we receive building-specific instructions?

A: Yes, building-specific plans are being developed and will be communicated through the PI.


Q: What if someone in my building or floor or lab tests positive? Will I be notified?

A: Yes, plans are being developed to notify anyone who may have come into significant contact with a person who tests positive. Penn is actively involved in local contact tracing initiatives and is weighing additional measures.


Q: Will the core facilities be open for use in Phase I?

A: This will vary by core, depending on the individual employees and facilities.


Q: Will housekeepers be on site to remove trash and recycling?

A: Yes.


Q: My office PC switched off unexpectedly and I cannot work remotely. Is it possible to get access to the building to turn it on again? Do I still need a special permit since I am not an essential worker?

A: PMACS can help with turning computers back on for you. Submit a ticket for help. Or contact PSOM Security.


Q: I supervise undergraduate researchers. When will they be allowed to return?

A: Undergraduates will not be allowed to work in labs until Phase III.


Q: What if I have concerns about the school’s plans?

A: Students and postdocs with concerns about the School-based procedures can contact for students or for postdocs.