Shtudown Effects Linger For Research
Published: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 01:10
The federal government’s 16-day partial shutdown may have ended, but students conducting research, professors and other members of the Georgetown community are still feeling its negative effects.
“You can’t just stop a research project and say 18 days later we’re going to pick it up,” said Scott Fleming, Georgetown’s current associate vice president for Federal Relations.
Delays in both research and evaluations of grant proposals affected many graduate students and their supervisors, who were told not to come into labs or check government emails during the shutdown.
Fleming said that while most extramural research, which is not dependent on federal funding, was able to continue, intramural research could not. According to Steven Singer, chair of the biology department, restrictions on access to data maintained by federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture, caused major issues for faculty and students.
“Some faculty were unable to access the data they needed for their research. I was delayed in publishing a paper since the final requirement for publication was release of my data set by the NIH repository, but I was unable to log into their system and release the data,” Singer said, adding that collaborators at NIH were not allowed to read or respond to emails.
Dried-up funding reserves, however, did not pose immediate problems. Singer explained that grant funds had been transferred to the university prior to the shutdown.
Misha Smirnov (GRD ’14), a graduate student whose work is primarily done through the NIH, recalled the initial confusion over how the shutdown would affect his lab and ongoing research.
“It was unclear of what we were and weren't allowed to do, but people figured it out by trial and error,” Smirnov said.
The NIH, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, funds over 300,000 research personnel at over 2,500 universities and research institutions nationwide. The shutdown delayed the review of more than 11,000 research grant applications, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey wrote on her Rock Talk blog.
Smirnov, like most NIH workers, including those in his lab, wanted to resume work, but was actively barred from doing so.
“Most people wanted to come into the lab, and we were allowed on the NIH campus but people were literally walking down each hallway and checking labs to make sure no one was working,” Smirnov said.
All six of the researchers in Smirnov’s lab felt the effects of the shutdown, which caused many NIH researches to halt their often labor-intensive research projects, he explained.
Others, like biology professors Edward Barrows and Peter Armbruster, said the shutdown had minimal but noticeable effects on their work.
Barrows missed two meetings at the Museum of Natural History, but he managed to find the silver lining of the government shutdown.
“At times, it was easier to drive to and from Georgetown because many federal workers were not on the road,” he said.