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UT Adjusts Research Project Protocol

by Juliana Walter

COVID-19 created an array of issues for education across the country. Particularly, The University of Tampa’s Office of Research and Inquiry have had to come up with creative solutions to do their field work both remotely and hybrid mix. But many students and faculty are skeptical if UT would set them up with the appropriate tools to get the full research experience.

Eric Freundt, the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (OURI), believes that the university has been doing their best within the parameters of COVID-19 restrictions.

“As far as students who are doing independent research with faculty mentors or doing research through one of the grants that OURI provides, almost all of the students are able to continue working on their projects with faculty while still adhering to the health and safety guidelines including physical distancing and face coverings,” said Freundt.

During the 2020 Spring semester, all classes at UT, including research, were transitioned to fully online. For many professors and students, this posed an issue of quickly having to change the direction of their projects. This Fall issues the same problem as independent research is done either completely remote or in a hybrid mix, based on a case-by-case basis.

Sophia Pisano, a junior political science major working alongside Mary Anderson, professor of political science. Their project involves research on first ladies’ agendas while their husbands were in office.

“Before COVID, we would have weekly meetings in the Sykes building,” said Pisano. “However, due to the restrictions we meet over zoom once a week and work on our project throughout the week on our own time. Dr. Anderson has been great with being transparent with us and always making [herself] reachable.”

Freundt said that the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiries understands that students are losing valuable experience by having to transition these classes into online courses. For each independent research project, the opportunity to present their findings at a conference is one of the most important pieces of the course and experience.

“Currently our research students are limited to attending virtual conferences,” said Freundt. “Although these can be great opportunities for students to talk about what they’ve found, the quality of interactions online often doesn’t replicate the experience of being in person at a conference, especially when it comes to networking, learning about grad programs, and meeting others in one’s field.”

Due to students missing out on valuable research opportunities, like these in-person conferences, the research department has extended the deadline on research fellowships so that student’s grant money for traveling may be used throughout the next year. This plan is to allow time for travel and large gatherings to become safe yet again.

Ryan Welch, assistant professor of political science at UT, currently teaches the senior research seminar in international studies, where his research with students has been interrupted due to travel restrictions. Welch is working on two separate independent research projects with two UT students, Katie Sturmer and Christina Pasca.

“I travel to several academic conferences each year to present my research in progress,” said Welch. “Doing so allows me to collect criticism of my work from experts in my field [and] strengthen my research projects before sending them out for publication. When COVID shut down safe travel, it shut down many of those opportunities.”

Students, whether in political science or biology research, are all encouraged to continue their projects to the best of their ability. The OURI, like the rest of UT, hopes that independent research will return back to its normal routine when health and safety are no longer a concern.

“I feel as if communication is key. The easier it is to get in contact with your professors the easier it is for the project to run smoothly,” said Pisano. “It is important to be adaptable, we don’t know how learning will change in these next month’s so keep an open mind.”

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