BIO REU Leadership Council Covid-19 FAQ
Last edited March 18, 2020
Some REU Directors are considering whether and how they will be able to offer their programs in the summer of 2020 due to impacts of COVID-19. The BIO REU leadership council has developed the following FAQ to help guide your decision making. Note that the information provided is neither exhaustive nor proscriptive–we expect decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis in light of a number of factors particular to each program.
Q. Has NSF provided guidance for REU programs?
A. NSF has provided a general FAQ for coronavirus-related questions that can be found at
BIO REU Covid-19 FAQ. Questions 18, 19, and 20 are REU specific.
Q. How certain can we be of these answers?
A. Answers provided here by the REU Leadership Council are based in part on good communication with NSF. However, other than the posted guidance on NSF’s FAQ, nothing we can provide is an “official” answer. The situation is rapidly changing, and conditions vary among programs. Each program must make its own decision, and accept responsibility for that decision, knowing that NSF is looking to be supportive and flexible.
Q. Is NSF telling programs whether they should or should not proceed?
A. Not at this time.
Q. I have to cancel my program, or I think it is best to cancel my program. Is that a problem?
A. No. Many programs will be cancelled.
Q. Our program is or will be cancelled. How do I let NSF know?
A. You will need to request a change of scope through research.gov. Because of the backlog of work, NSF has asked that you delay making the request, at least until mid-April. So go ahead and cancel the program, but wait a bit before requesting the change of scope. NSF has indicated they will be flexible in responding to such requests.
Q. If I cancel the program, can I extend the program an extra year?
A. NSF has indicated that it will grant no-cost extensions. It is straightforward to request a one-year, no-cost extension.
Q. I have cancelled the program after accepting students. Can I defer and offer them positions next year?
A. Currently NSF does not allow students who have already graduated to participate. Other than that, as long as you have funding available, there is nothing keeping you from deferring participation for another year. We will let program directors know if NSF relaxes the rules on graduating students participating.
Q. It looks like we might be able to operate our program, but it would look very different (e.g., distance-learning, non-residential with a focus on local students, or partial/reduced programs). Can I do that?
A. It is likely that NSF will approve such requests. We recommend you move forward with the change of plans and submit a request for a change of scope in the next month or two.
Q. How do I request a change of scope?
Step 1: Log-In to fastlane.
Step 2: Go to “Awards and Reporting”
Step 3: Click the +Prepare New (this is the tricky part because it’s easy to overlook)
Step 4: Click the bubble for “Changes in Objectives, Scope,……..”
Step 5: Write up your proposed changes: Concisely, describe how you will change the scope of the project without diminishing the REU student experience. Justify the reason for the change in scope. Provide a few details about how this is still aligned with the overall training objectives of the REU program. Mention something about how you will stay within budget (as appropriate).
Step 6: Submit for AOR approval
Step 7: Contact your Office for Research and Sponsored Programs and bug them until they submit to NSF
Step 8: Let your absolutely wonderful and helpful and accommodating NSF Program Officer know that you have submitted
Step 10: Wait
Q. I am interested in doing an online program. Are there any resources to help me?
A. If you are interested in hosting a virtual program, e.g. for computational or other remote work, please contact Joe Ayoob (firstname.lastname@example.org) who will be organizing a working group to discuss feasibility and strategies for this approach.
Q. Can I pay students a stipend even if they don’t end up participating?
A. No. Until NSF provides alternative and official guidance, we recommend that if you are going to pay students a stipend, they will need to be working. You should not plan on paying them for no work.
Q. Because of restrictions on housing and/or travel, I would like to run a program focused on local students. Can I do that?
A. Yes. However, we recommend that unless further direction is provided from NSF, following existing directions at least half of the students in your program come from outside your own college or university. You might collaborate with other local institutions of higher learning, such as community colleges.
Q. I would like to modify my program to involve more K-12 teachers, high school students, more undergraduate participants, or faculty from non-research institutions. Can I request additional funds?
A. Yes, you can request a supplement for your program. However, keep in mind that there is no guarantee that the supplement will be funded, and that there may be delays in processing.
Q. If I bring a student out and then have to fly them home, can I request additional funds? Will there be support for unanticipated emergencies?
A. You can request additional support as a supplement request through research.gov. However, we recommend that you be very thoughtful, recognizing that NSF will be experiencing a higher than normal workload, NSF is balancing a wide range of financial issues and constraints, and there is no guarantee it will be funded.
Q. If I accept student and incur expenses (housing, travel), but then cancel, can I be reimbursed?
A. We are unaware of any relevant guidance from NSF, though we believe NSF is looking into it. We will provide further guidance if we learn anything new. We recommend that you look at your own institution’s policies.
Q. How quickly can I expect responses from NSF?
A. Program officers are dealing with a lot of uncertainty at NSF and may be slow to respond to personal questions. Also, they recommend delaying the submission of requests for change of scope until at least mid-April.
Q. What factors might I consider as I decide how to move forward with my REU?
How cancellation will affect the students: Students may be counting on the stipend as an important source of income, especially if they have given up other opportunities upon committing to the REU program. Many may be rising seniors with no other opportunities to gain this preparation for future scientific pursuits.
Housing: Will housing be available? Is the institution adjusting move-in or move-out dates for REU students in response to changes in spring semester?
Student Health: If applicable, are your student health services in a position to serve the REU students? Do they have guidelines or recommendations?
Program/student support: Will other support services (e.g., library, IT, financial services, dining halls, animal care facilities, etc.) be available at levels needed to serve the REU program?
Lab placement: Will mentors and labs be prepared to support projects carried out by REU students?
Participating institutions: Does your program involve access (e.g., to federal buildings) that may have special clearance requirements that are delayed by a slowdown in government processes?
Quarantine: What procedures are in place for quarantine and disinfection of buildings or dormitories in case an infection is detected?
Travel: With unknowns regarding air travel, now may be a good time to focus locally and perhaps incorporate more community college students in programs.
Alignment with campus recommendations: Each program director will have to make their own decisions. However, we strongly recommend that you look toward direction from your host institution and local and state governments as you move forward.