In late summer of 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued and the delta variant dominated the news, the leadership team at the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE) began brainstorming about how to help social science faculty whose research had been affected by the pandemic get back on track.

“Many researchers had to halt their research altogether or develop revised strategies and plans to continue their work because of the need for social distancing, closed facilities or the inability to interact with study participants,” said Karen Roberto, the executive director of ISCE and a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science. “Added to these challenges were the competing demands of pivoting from in-person to online or hybrid teaching, and for many, family issues related to a lack of daycare and their children’s remote schooling.”

Given these challenges, ISCE created the COVID-19 Reset Program, an initiative that offers both funding and mentoring for social science faculty whose research has been interrupted during the pandemic. The funding supports data collection activities and writing time needed for the faculty members to become competitive as they pursue external grants. The mentoring includes monthly meetings for the cohort of participants with the ISCE leadership team, comprised of Roberto, Yancey Crawford, and Isabel Bradburn. These meetings enable the participants to connect with ISCE and one another as well as contribute their expertise as they provide feedback to each other, all while completing an external proposal to support their research. 

“Although scholars of all types and ranks have had their careers disrupted by the pandemic, there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that women have been especially hard hit. The COVID-19 Reset program gave priority to women faculty who applied,” explained Roberto.

“I am incredibly thankful to ISCE for this opportunity for mentorship and support for myself and other female faculty,” said Rosanna Breaux, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Science. “Being able to connect with other researchers from across campus and get feedback from different perspectives is something I truly value as an academic and I believe makes research significantly better, ultimately increasing chances of funding.”

After a competitive review process, five faculty were selected to participate in the program, and each received up to $7,500 in funding. The selected faculty and their associated research projects include:

“The ISCE Covid Reset program is providing me the opportunity to launch a new direction of my research at an ideal time - after securing tenure and after struggling to carve out time for research during the height of the pandemic,” said Jewitt. “I know that the work I put in throughout the program will increase my chances of securing external funding to collect data for my next book project. The funding and the mentoring associated with the program will certainly make my application stronger than it otherwise would have been.”

The program participants attended their first meeting in September, beginning a series of interactive sessions focused on identifying appropriate funding opportunities, reviewing common elements of grant proposals and budgets, and developing a well-honed concept paper to share with colleagues, collaborators and program officers at funding agencies.

“Being able to meet monthly and be given insight into how to write and tailor proposals to increase chances of funding has been immensely helpful as an early career faculty member," said Breaux. “I particularly enjoyed when we reviewed each other's concept papers/specific aims and participated in a role play of us speaking with a program officer about our proposal. Having regular assignments to help us think through and work on pieces of our proposals has made the writing process easier and more enjoyable, and helps with accountability and time management.”

Upcoming meetings during the spring semester will focus on developing the specific components of their individual proposals, with the ultimate goal being for each participant to have drafted each major section by the end of the program.

“The mentoring sessions associated with the ISCE Covid Reset Program have provided fantastic opportunities to workshop portions of my grant application and make steady progress,” said Jewitt. “It allows me to ask questions to those more experienced with grant applications as well as colleagues who are in similar positions to me. ISCE staff are giving me invaluable guidance and confidence throughout the process. It also provides an ideal opportunity to meet other faculty members and learn about the fascinating work they are doing.”

Written by Yancey Crawford