The University of Michigan hosted a virtual town hall to answer questions from faculty, students and staff regarding the ramp up in-person human research on Thursday afternoon. Rebecca Cunningham, vice president of research, moderated a panel discussion via a Zoom webinar to introduce a tier system with guidelines on how to safely conduct in-person human research.

Srijan Sen, associate vice president for health sciences, shared a presentation detailing the procedure for tiered prioritization of research studies based on potential benefit to the individual participants, the risk of COVID-19 transmission and if the study was already existing.

“Putting the benefit and risk together, each study can grow through this flowchart to see where they fall,” Sen said. “Each study gets classified into a tier between Tier 0, the most prioritized, versus Tier 3.”

Studies that are classified as Tier 0 or Tier 1 are allowed to currently submit applications to re-engage their research. Tier 2 applications open July 13, with an unspecified date for Tier 3 studies. More details regarding classification is provided on the University research reengagement website. These guidelines put forth to ramp-up human research follow an earlier announcement from the University that provided an update on resuming limited laboratory research.

Cunningham discussed other required procedures such as health screenings, mask protocols, disinfecting shared spaces and contact tracing to minimize COVID-19 transmission along with the importance of following the tier system. 

“By setting up this tier system, we hope that if we do have to ramp back down in some way again, we will be able to do so with a little bit more finesse and in tiers,” Cunningham explained.

Rackham student Julia Smith conducts research related to political psychology. Unlike many of her colleagues, Smith said her research has had fewer repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic, given most of her data can be collected through online surveys and experiments. 

“I think I’m really lucky,” Smith said. “I know a lot of people’s research has been extremely disrupted because they work face to face with participants. For me, I’ve been able to run most of my studies as normal, because I just put them on the online platform.”

LSA junior Olivia Chang works in a lab in the School of Social Work. In a correspondence with The Daily, she wrote though her lab is unable to have in-person contact with participants in community-based program research, they have used online surveys for data collection.

“I think researchers at the university should explore other ways to conduct research in a way that might be more safe and comfortable for all parties involved,” Chang wrote.

Summer News Editor Kristina Zheng contributed to this article.

Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at

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