FAQ: Research

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. For general health-related information, view the Health and Safety FAQs

If you have questions that are not answered in our FAQs, please email covid19@usc.edu. Our response team will help find an answer.

Timeline 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.   

Yes, principal investigator (PI) research plan requirements apply to all PIs.  

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. 

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. 

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.  

Based on what we learned over the summer, we have simplified the phase system.   We now have a simple set of guidelines for Phase 2 that should be followed by all.  Those can be found here. It is not known when we will be able to transition to Phase 3 as that depends on LA County ruling based on local virus infection rates.

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.

For the latest information on the university's Phase 2 and Phase 3 guidance, please see the Phase 3 Guidelines (USC Single Sign On required for access).

You can also view the Phase 3 appendices below that are relevant for researchers:

No, only approved researchers and essential employees can return to campus at this time.

We are in the process of cautiously scaling up on-campus research to a maximum of 50% capacity with numerous guidelines in place to ensure everyone's health and safety. All safety measures approved for 30% capacity continue to apply, as do all approval procedures at the department, school and Office of Research levels. There is no need for additional approvals at the Office of Research level to scale up from 30% to 50%, but schools must make sure that each principal investigator (PI) has a plan that safely accommodates scaling beyond 30% up to 50%.
All USC researchers are expected to follow Student Health guidelines for symptom reporting and testing, and they are strongly encouraged to obtain free flu shots through USC. Schools and PIs should reach out to USC Environmental Health & Safety and/or Facilities Management Services with any needs or concerns relating to scaling up to 50% in their research environments.

Fall research activities will remain in Phase 2 (maximum of 50% of capacity) with important guidelines in place to ensure everyone's health and safety.

Health and 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. Elevator occupancy should be limited in order to maintain a minimum 6-foot distance between riders, 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, and refrain from talking. 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. 

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 installed 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.

There are currently no verified cases of transmission of COVID-19 from droplets traveling over large distances, including through air conditioning systems.

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. 

Any non-compliance with safety policies (physical distancing, face coverings, personal protective equipment (PPE), hand washing, etc.) in other researchers observed by an individual (student, postdoctoral researcher, staff and faculty) may be reported directly to the individual’s principal investigator (PI) or the vice dean for research. If an individual prefers to remain anonymous, they may report their concern by calling the USC Help and Hotline at (213) 740-2500 or (800) 348-7454, or by filing a report over the web.

Building Access

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 while physical buildings remain closed for now.

Subscription journals and databasesdigital collectionsremote 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 most 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 can schedule information literacy and other library instruction for their classes, and subject specialists can help students with research projects and other coursework via Zoom. Although physical course reserves remain suspended, electronic reserves are available.

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.

  1. All visitors should be noted in each school’s restart plan and reviewed/approved accordingly.
  2. During Phase 2, any non-USC visitor approved for campus entry should complete this form on a daily basis and file it with the host department. Each visitor will also be required to register and make a building-specific visitor reservation via iVIP.
  3. Full implementation of the campus-wide check-in will be operational in Phase 3 and will include a version of Trojan Check. Information on that system will follow when ready.
  4. Visiting vendors are required to follow campus health and safety procedures. Observed non-compliance should be reported to USC Procurement.

Working Hours

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. 

Supplies

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

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.

The steps for restarting in-person human subjects research with vulnerable populations are the same as for other populations; detailed guidance is provided on the IRB web site. Community/field-based research is now allowed under strict guidelines of prior approval, data maintenance, and oversight. For more information, please refer to the Field/Community Research Ramp-up guidelines.

Yes, community/field-based research is allowed under strict guidelines of prior approval, data maintenance, and oversight. For more information, please refer to the Field/Community 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.

Ethnography is a type of field/community research. Community/field-based research is now allowed under strict guidelines of prior approval, data maintenance, and oversight. For more information, please refer to the Field/Community Research Ramp-up guidelines.

Student Researchers

We are allowing the inclusion of undergraduates in on-campus research at the 50% capacity level, but only under the following constraints:

  • Undergraduates must be necessary for the proposed research to proceed and must get important academic value from the research.
  • Undergraduates must be pursuing the research for pay or as volunteers – not for credit (per L.A. County rules).
  • Undergraduates should have at least one year of on-campus research experience and training.
  • Undergraduate involvement in research must be specifically approved by the school’s vice dean of research or dean.
  • Undergraduates pursuing on-campus research must complete the TrojanLearn module and receive additional safety mentoring from the principal investigator (PI), and the PI’s research plans must include these safety mentoring plans.

We are allowing the inclusion of undergraduates in on-campus research at the 50% capacity level, but only under the following constraints:

  • Undergraduates must be necessary for the proposed research to proceed and must get important academic value from the research.
  • Undergraduates must be pursuing the research for pay or as volunteers – not for credit (per L.A. County rules).
  • Undergraduates should have at least one year of on-campus research experience and training.
  • Undergraduate involvement in research must be specifically approved by the school’s vice dean of research or dean.
  • Undergraduates pursuing on-campus research must complete the TrojanLearn module and receive additional safety mentoring from the principal investigator (PI), and the PI’s research plans must include these safety mentoring plans.

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

Parking will remain free for all USC faculty, staff and students through Dec. 31, 2020. See the FAQs for additional details.