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Associate Deans’ Updates

Senior Associate Dean for Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET) Roger Chalkley

In the BRET Office, we have been on a steep learning curve, doing business from afar. Students and postdocs have to get paid and appointed (despite the quarantine, we see new postdocs arriving and going through the appointment process at about the same rate as before, though now this is all conducted at a distance). It must be a very strange experience to move to a new town and find yourself isolated.

Faculty are becoming accustomed to dealing with dissertation defenses electronically. I, along with more than 100 others, “went” to Jenny Aguilar’s recent defense. She did a great job, and the whole event went without a hitch (hat tip to Kendra Oliver, your online meeting resource).

The vital pulse of BRET administrative life has continued unabated. The finance group has been following each student to make sure that nobody drops between the cracks and everyone still gets paid. The training grant support group has a regular set of tasks regardless of whether they’re hosting journal clubs and similar activities; this involves working with faculty to create the annual reports, making sure the budgets are balanced, and helping prepare the monster tables that still have to accompany competitive renewal applications.

The IGP and QCB have had a great deal to cope with this year. We face the regular activities of classwork and rotations, which have been complicated by students having to sample the fourth lab rotation from a distance. Obviously, this is far from ideal for an activity that is primarily experiential. At the same time, we have converted our tried and true recruiting activities into distance approaches—not an easy task in and of itself.

Classes continue via distance learning for our first- and second-year graduate students. The sudden closing of the labs has left first-year IGP/QCB students with one issue that will need to be resolved creatively over the next few weeks, a consequence of the fact that we were only two weeks into the fourth and final rotation when students had to leave the lab. Many have stayed in touch with their fourth rotation labs and advisors, but obviously, if the quarantine continues for much longer, it will impact final lab choices. Other institutions with umbrella programs are facing the same issue, with some making plans to delay the final lab choice significantly, and others hoping to resolve final lab selection before the quarantine ends. We intend to work closely with faculty and students to ensure an equitable and fair selection process.

We have established a website (easily accessible from the menu bar of the BRET homepage) for quarantined faculty and students to exchange information, as well as to point colleagues to useful information.

We are still doing exit interviews (not face to face, of course) when our students graduate, continuing to collect a large amount of data that allows us to maintain the databases that help us evaluate how we are doing. Hopefully, we will not return to this particular environment again once this enforced hiatus is resolved.

Associate Dean for Biomedical Sciences Kathy Gould

The BRET Career Development ASPIRE Program remains open for business – virtually, of course! Our monthly career and professional development series – including the ASPIRE Job Search, ASPIRE Postdoctoral Café, and ASPIRE Bistro for Ph.D. students – are moving online for the remainder of the spring semester. The Beyond the Lab alumni interview series is available 24/7 for trainees to learn about career options for scientists. Our in-person weekly CV/Resume Drop-In Clinic is cancelled through the end of April, but Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows may request a Zoom career advising appointment or CV/resume review using this new Google form. Lastly, we are developing a contingency plan for the Annual Career Symposium at the end of May. Click here for the most up-to-date information on the Spring 2020 ASPIRE programming.

Associate Dean of Faculty Development Alyssa Hasty

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the provost and interim chancellor, with affirmation by the deans of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges, instituted a one-year automatic extension on the tenure clock for all tenure-track assistant professors. This automatic extension does not affect the ability of a faculty member, with the consent of their dean, to come up for tenure early. The extension only affects the length of the probationary period. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the extension, please contact me, Associate Dean for Faculty Development Alyssa Hasty (for Basic Sciences faculty), or Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs David Raiford (for VUMC-employed faculty). For all faculty, please keep in mind that the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available for virtual, confidential counseling for you and for postdoctoral fellows. Appointments can be made by calling 615-936-1327. Career development workshops and programming will be resumed in the fall.

Associate Dean for Research Chuck Sanders

A favorite Talking Heads song declares that “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.” The notion that something good can come out of dramatically slowing down the pace of life and experiencing a time of quietness is deeply rooted in multiple world religions. As research scientists, we now have a rare chance to spend some major time reflecting on what we do for a living, read a good book, explore the literature related to topics we previously wished we had time to explore, and recharge our batteries (some of you are also very busy taking care of children at home—so your environment might not be very quiet!). Of course, thanks to Zoom and a robust internet connection (both a great blessing and a ball-and-chain!), for many of us there is still plenty to do in terms of our regular work, academic, and research responsibilities.

Our grants submissions and reporting system remains fully operational. I would like to remind faculty of the S10 instrument grant programs (more info in the March Basically Speaking newsletter) and to keep an eye out for new grant program announcements coming down the pike from NIH and other agencies. It is also very possible that as the pandemic rolls along we may find compelling opportunities for generosity and service.

I want to thank everyone for their contributions to the orderly pausing of lab work and temporary closing of our research facilities. If you have any questions about policies or resources during this time of lab hiatus, do not hesitate to contact me.

Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Linda Sealy

Inclusion in the time of coronavirus means having a reliable home internet connection to participate in courses and lab meetings, attend seminars, and maintain social connections remotely. The Student Hardship Relief Fund, launched with a $1-million investment by the university, can provide funds to cover the cost of paying for an internet hotspot if reliable Wi-Fi is not available. Graduate students are eligible to apply and can find the online application form here. Anyone needing technical advice can also reach out to Marc Wozniak, IT Project Manager for the Vanderbilt Basic Sciences.

The COVID-19 crisis has made abundantly clear how much community actions determine our own individual health and wellbeing. Embracing inclusion and finding ways to stay connected in this time of social distancing are key to making it through this crisis together. If you or your lab have found new, different, or innovative ways to stay socially connected remotely, please send them along to Lorena Infante Lara to be shared on the BRET and/or Basic Sciences websites or in the next issue of the Basic Sciences monthly newsletter.

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