Research Programs & Lab Operations

The following questions and answers are provided for the Harvard School of Engineering and FAS Division of Science communities.


Currently, undergrads living locally, off-campus, are not allowed in the labs. However, this "guidance applies through the end of the 2020 calendar year." Will this change for the Spring semester? 

That is under active consideration. Stay tuned for updates.

We know that Harvard requires researchers (graduate students, postdocs, etc.) returning from somewhere other than a lower-risk state to comply with the Massachusetts Travel Order requirements before returning to campus. This would allow a researcher who recently obtained a negative test result to return to campus immediately after travelling. Is a PI allowed to implement more stringent post-travel access requirements for their lab if they wish? For example, could a PI require that researchers returning from somewhere other than a lower-risk state wait five days and then receive a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to their lab? Or would such a requirement create any HR, union, or other policy issues?

No, a PI cannot impose more stringent requirements than university policy.


What is the University's perspective about faculty conducting in-person research off-campus with a private lab, at a time when on-campus research is either limited or not happening at all?

Harvard-related research must happen in our lab facilities. Any exceptions require decanal approval.


Is it true that graduate students working regularly in labs will have viral testing twice a week, while others who work on campus are expected to have weekly testing?

Yes, once the routine repeated testing is implemented, that is the University’s plan. We suggest you direct questions about this policy to Harvard University Health Services,


What is currently (as of mid-August) the procedure for a lab member to obtain one-time access to their office? Who do they need to get approval from (and in what form does the approval need to be - does an email suffice)? Do they need to submit any forms?

Lab members should reach out to their department/area chair or local administrator for permission to access campus.


I am a faculty member and I work from home. I need to access my office one time to pick up some books. Is this possible?

Yes it is, with approval from your department/area chair.


What is the return-to-work plan for researchers (faculty, grad students, staff, postdocs)?

Following the Governor’s four-phase plan to reopen businesses in the Commonwealth, Harvard has started a phased return to on-campus research. This return has been guided by protocols that are in line with national and state guidelines and resources issued by the CDC and WHO. We are starting at low density, subject to approvals at the PI, Departmental/Area, School, and University levels, through an evaluation process that is based on protecting both the health and the safety of our research community and all those working in the buildings.

Harvard’s current policy is that, “all those who can successfully work remotely should continue to do so.” This applies to all members of the Harvard community, including staff, faculty, students, and postdocs. But in some cases, purely remote work cannot accomplish a research project’s goals. Staff and post-doctoral fellows supported on research funds that have an essential on-campus element are expected to fully engage in the work for which they receive salary or stipend support, as are graduate students who receive funding from federal research funds and whose progress toward their advanced degrees require on campus research. Graduate students, postdocs, and staff should consult with their Principal Investigator (PI) or supervisor about reciprocal expectations for on-campus experimental work. It is expected that experimental and hands-on work occur on campus.

Read the full return-to-campus work policy for researchers (as of July 16, 2020).

"This guidance only applies to labs in FAS or SEAS buildings. We discourage off-campus undergraduate students from working in labs at Longwood or other local institutions during Fall 2020.” How should I understand this? I think one of the main reasons I got permission to return to campus was because I indicated that I intend to pursue research in my lab at HMS. I am a rising junior. Can you please clarify whether I will need permission to commute to my lab daily?

Please consult the College about any restrictions on undergraduate travel from the Cambridge campus to Longwood, and for your particular circumstancesTo find more detailed information, please visit here:


For people who are on an alternating weekly schedule, it is ok if they are just getting tested only on the weeks that they are on campus (i.e. every other week)?

Yes, that is permitted.


A research group member wants to go on a personal vacation out of state to a state which requires quarantine upon re-entry to MA. The researcher is being paid by a federal grant and all of the grant objectives require hands-on lab research. When the researcher returns and quarantines for 2 weeks, is that quarantine time also counted as vacation (or sick leave)? Or does the lab need to offer remote work -- perhaps from a different funding source? -- for those 2 weeks?

  • Staff should check with their HR Office.
  • If this is an academic/research appointment, contact the appropriate Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs.

A visiting scholar from another US state would still like to come to our department to do research this fall. Is this allowed, as long as it works within our re-occupancy planning and capacity, or is Harvard not supporting any new residential visiting scholar appointments?

Please contact the Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs in the appropriate Division or School.


For College students, does the prohibition of research with faculty while on a leave of absence extend to other schools (such as HBS)?

For College students on a leave of absence, the prohibition of research with faculty extends to other schools (such as HBS). It is University-wide. Overall, undergraduate student access to physical facilities will be very limited. To find more detailed information, please visit here:


For the undergraduate research policies, I understand that students off campus or on leave cannot participate in research on campus. However, what about the new first-year students who will be living on campus and participating in all of the regulations and viral testing? Can we include them in our research plan, provided that their participation can be accommodated with all social distancing and other regulations? I have often had first-years involved in research and have ideas as to how I can safely train them to participate even with distancing requirements.

First year students cannot participate in research in physical buildings on campus this fall. The only undergraduates allowed to enter the FAS and SEAS research lab buildings will be seniors who are living on campus and conducting research for their senior thesis or comparable "capstone" project:

Could there be a relaxed policy regarding students on leave and their interaction with faculty, researchers, and courses (i.e., not a strict separation)? This with regard to TF positions, too, as many SEAS courses rely on undergrad TFs?

If an undergraduate student is on leave we are unable to hire them as a CA, per faculty legislation. Ordinarily, undergraduates cannot be hired as TAs.


Can local undergraduates be included in re-boot plans and work in labs?

Please check the section of our site, titled Fall 2020 Guidance. We have included updated guidance on Undergraduate Teaching & Research, here:

Do you know what guidance has been communicated for anyone testing positive and notifying the PI / their manager? I would imagine that managers are advised not to share that information. Though are others then encouraged to be tested?

Individuals are to notify HUHS of positive test results. Contact tracing and notifications will come through HUHS and state authorities.


What are the quarantine requirements?

Effective August 1st, all visitors and returning residents entering Massachusetts must follow new travel orders. Review the new travel order, exemptions, and protocols as well as the University Travel Guidance webpage.

For College students - more detailed information will be added here:


My glasses keep fogging up due to my mask, what can I do to prevent this?

There are also affordable products you can purchase:

We need to bring technicians into the building to service one of our instruments. When can we do this and who do we need to contact to get authorization?

Laboratories can schedule and bring service technicians into the lab as needed. Each technician/lab visitor must:


If I live with someone who has traveled internationally or out of state, does that impact my ability to come to the lab as part of our return plan?

All Harvard community members must stay home if they are sick. If you suspect an illness or symptoms may be related to COVID-19 you should contact your healthcare provider to discuss testing and to receive additional guidance. Otherwise, please follow the steps that individuals returning to campus must take prior to entering Harvard facilities in order to enable the safety of those returning and essential on-site staff:, and review the University Travel Guidance webpage.


Can someone take another person’s place (in the same lab) in a different shift if they are not going in? Will this be tracked and accounted for via the keycard swipe address?

Yes, if you are substituting people who are both already listed on your laboratory’s re-occupancy plan. If the person coming in is not listed on the plan, they should be added before the schedule change is implemented. Building access is being monitored and compared against the roster of individuals listed on approved re-occupancy plans.


Can we clarify the exceptions (aside from eating/drinking) to the requirement of wearing a face mask ("single occupancy offices")? Is wearing a face mask required in rooms that are occupied by only a single person at any one time, but by different people at different times?

Sole-occupancy spaces are OK for taking off face coverings. If the office is shared, please wear your face covering and you will also need to carry the face covering with you as you move around campus; you must wear a face covering in all public spaces and common areas.


Is the inventory of lab coats increased? We would like to have one new coat per day, but this is only possible if the pick-up stations have adequate stock of new coats.

Lab coats inventory will be increased as needed to meet increased demand. Lab coats should not be shared. However, lab coats will not be increased to the level that allows each individual to get a new coat every day as it is not necessary to change your lab coat every day. EH&S recommends coats be exchanged once they are soiled or used for two weeks.


Is there any guidance on signage that should be displayed in labs? Either minimum requirements or recommendations? Or is signage to be hung at the discretion of the individual lab?

Signage for laboratories are available at EH&S does not have specific guidance, other than if a room has an occupancy limit, that limit should be posted.


How is lab supply delivery taking place? Pre-COVID, supplies were delivered directly to our lab in MCZ labs. Will that still be the case? We have ordered new PPE and supplies and just need to know the best way to receive them upon delivery.

Shipping and receiving is delivering packages to laboratories.


Are we allowed to wear our own masks until we reach the lab and then switch to Harvard-distributed masks?

Yes, you will need a face covering prior to arriving on campus. The City of Cambridge has issued an order requiring that face coverings be worn in all public places, businesses and common areas of residential buildings. To learn more, visit here:


How do I find out more information about testing?

Each Harvard affiliate’s testing requirements vary based on whether you live on campus, work in residential housing, work elsewhere on campus, or have a regular presence (4 hours or more per week) on campus. Our testing plan is subject to modification if the public health situation indicates changes in community risk.

Please review the policies and frequencies for unobserved self-administered testing.


Regarding the app for declaring ourselves symptom-free: is there a specific list for what (and what severity of) symptoms we need to declare? For example, having a random headache, sniffling because of the mask or the walk to lab, if someone has allergies, etc... These are symptoms that appear easily in the absence of sickness. What's the standard for getting access to the building?

Use your best judgement to ascertain level of symptoms, and if in doubt then stay home. Please read the “Steps for a Safe Return to Labs”,


Does the University have a plan or checklist for a safe reopening?

Yes it does, you can find it here: "Steps for a Safe Return to Labs"


Will HUIT support be available to assist labs with desktop or IT issues as they resume research on campus?

Yes, for support, please contact the HUIT Service Desk at 617-495-7777 or visit the IT Help Portal at to “browse knowledge”, chat with a technician, or submit a ticket. There will also be a limited onsite HUIT technician schedule for laboratory IT support. All HUIT support requests should be made by contacting the service desk.


Our research lab is located in the Rowland Building. After reopening, where can we collect the masks for our group members?

Local units are responsible for mask distribution to their labs. Please check with your PI or department administrator for more information.


Will the VWR Stockroom be open on Monday, June 8?

The Biolabs VWR Stockroom is actively preparing to open the week of June 15, 2020. More information about the opening and shopping modes – likely “curbside” pick-up -- will be updated here. Please check back for future updates.


When can the lab restart the ordering to prepare the work, especially the reagents ordering?

You may start now, except for ordering of research organisms that are curated by OAR. Please coordinate with them if appropriate.


If we have our own N95 mask, which are much better than surgical mask, can we use our own?

We prefer that N95 masks be held in reserve for where they are required. There are, for example, research teams on campus whose laboratory work requires N95s and so we urge you to contact them, share, and use the university-supplied face coverings.


Non-BioLabs occupants (from NWL as an example) often pick up dry ice and liquid nitrogen from the BioLabs basement (near VWR Stockroom). Will building access be made available to these researchers?

Yes, we will make that work. Contact Facilities Coordinator, Eileen Snow, for access requests.


Will Harvard be reaching out to Federal agencies to ask about exceptions around purchasing new desired PPE which many not be applicable to the research but will enable my lab to perform research in a safe manner?

In the event additional measures beyond masks are needed, we will evaluate those requirements in conjunction with occupational health experts and Harvard will procure items as needed.


What is being done to ensure equitable resources among the labs in terms of acquisition of PPE above and beyond what the university is providing? i.e. better resourced labs getting more PPE vs less resourced labs getting less.

Harvard is providing face coverings to all.


For staff that cannot sufficiently perform their job duties remotely and have moderate/severe asthma will a higher form of face protection be provided such as an N95 mask?

Instances like this will be referred to occupational health services.


How are wipes used for disinfecting surfaces to be disposed of?

They can go into the regular trash. They are not biohazardous waste.


Where are we receiving our funding for plexiglass? or other PPE related items?

Harvard is committed to providing and sustaining a workplace that meets our goal of virus suppression. If individuals or PIs have concerns about their workspace they should bring this to their supervisor or department chair and we will address it case-by-case.


Is it still okay for us to go to the shared space area where we switch out lab coats?

Yes, one at a time with appropriate attention to shared surfaces.


Can I conduct research that involves physical experimentation at home?

The Office for the Vice Provost of Research has provided the following guidance on physical experimentation at home:

  • With rare exception, the University cannot approve the use of private residence for research purposes. Such work at home raises a number of health and safety, and potential building and fire code related concerns that are subject to routine health and safety inspections and mitigation measure at the university laboratories and cannot be verified in a residential setting. These potential hazards include but are not limited to occupancy rating of the building (e.g. residential vs. research), electrical hazard associated with the use of the equipment (e.g. personnel safety, overload of circuitry, etc.), presence of untrained individuals in the research area, etc., none of which have been assessed by university.
  • Remote research using computers for data driven analytics, social behavior type studies that can be conducted by audio/video conferencing, etc. is allowable.
  • Rare exceptions of at-home experimentation can be approved on a limited basis by SEAS/FAS. This approval is achieved through a thorough process and must meet strict safety requirements. To request home researcher, access the request form here:


With the slow ramp-up of laboratory research, will you ensure the presence of lab safety personnel on campus that can respond to laboratory accidents?

Yes, laboratory safety is of the utmost importance, and resources will be available to proactively support labs as well as reactively address any lab issues or accidents should they occur.


If a student can work at a non-Harvard lab near their home this summer, can we provide funding for that student?

Yes, if there is:

  • some Harvard academic connection and supervision,
  • subject to the safety and travel constraints at their location, and
  • subject to discretionary spending constraints


Will Harvard (OVPR?) work with (federal) granting agencies to maintain eligibility of postdocs (years after Ph.D.), who will have lost time on their research due to Covid-19?

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR) is currently communicating with peer institutions and federal agencies.


Are there any restrictions on paying undergraduate summer researchers who are working remotely (e.g. outside MA, or out of the country)?

They can be paid as usual if paid as “stipendees.” The Office of the Controller has provided Interim Payrolling Guidance During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, for more information visit:


Is there a call for 3D printers to help produce respirators?

COVID-19 related fabrication is being coordinated by James Weaver, 


Guidance from the dean indicates that we should wear gloves while in the lab. While we have some gloves on hand, we buy them on an as-needed basis, and of course cannot get more of them now – although our PI will hopefully be getting six boxes of size medium nitrile gloves shipped to his house from Amazon this weekend, and will bring them in to the lab. Can you please let me know if there is some sort of University backup supply of gloves and/or if you have any recommendations for sourcing them?

We recommend that researchers employ appropriate protocols. We currently expect shipping & receiving to function, please place orders as needed.


I think my team can contribute on the research front, to COVID-19 diagnostics or therapeutics. What should I do? 

First, coordinate with the broader Boston-wide consortium. Contacts are:


Diagnostics team co-leads:

Pardis Sabeti:

David Walt:


Mark Namchuk:

Jonathan Abraham:

If your idea is embraced by them then fill out and submit this form:


Who should I submit an access exception request for?  

If individuals, including PIs, will need lab access, an exception requst must be submitted.  Going forward, exception requests will be coordinated locally - PIs should contact their Department/Area Chair.  FAS centers should send requests not associated with a PIs research program to Sarah Elwell.

Can using an infrared sauna at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or more help kill or lessen the affects of the Coronavirus? (or) I have been doing a red light therapy in a bed that resembles a tanning bed. It has been incredible and the health benefits have been astronomical. My question to you is the red light kills viruses. Even airborne virus is. With that being the case, can’t that help us with the coronavirus?

For questions related to the survivability of COVID-19 please refer to the resources provided by the CDC, If you are interested in research opportunities, please see this NSF site for proposals: 


My PI and I are not finding it easy to outline what researching remotely should look like for me. I am worried that they will penalize me later for not carrying out experiments now. Do you have tips for how we can navigate this? Does Harvard have intermediaries who can help?

We understand that working remotely poses a challenge. Restricted access is being imposed on the entire community. Please contact Seth Avakian at & Moriah Silver at about professional conduct issues and the concerns you’ve expressed. 


We were informed that 2-3 people could be designated to perform essential experiments and lab maintenance. Can this set of people change day-to-day or week-to-week, or does it have to be the same 2-3 individuals throughout the entire shutdown?

This will be coordinated at the department/SEAS Area level.

For those authorized to access the lab, do they have to be accompanied by another person for safety reasons?  

Yes, but this may be able to be accomplished virtually.  Please see the new **updated** virtual buddy system guidance:

What about the Operation Center's emergency contacts for specific instruments?  Do I need to submit access exception requests for them?

No.  Emergency contacts on file with the Operations Center for specific pieces of equipment (-80 freezers, -20 freezers, incubators, etc.) do not need an access exception.  If they are contacted by the Ops Center due to an equipment alarm/failure, they may access the lab to respond to the emergency.

Can research personnel take their office desktop computers home?

Yes, but please work with your supervisor to track serial numbers.

Can I conduct research that involves physical experimentation at home?

The Office for the Vice Provost of Research has provided the following guidance on physical experimentation at home.  

The University cannot approve the use of private residence for research purposes. Such work at home raises a number of health and safety, and potential building and fire code related concerns that are subject to routine health and safety inspections and mitigation measure at the university laboratories and cannot be verified in a residential setting. These potential hazards include but are not limited to occupancy rating of the building (e.g. residential vs. research), electrical hazard associated with the use of the equipment (e.g. personnel safety, overload of circuitry, etc.), presence of untrained individuals in the research area, etc., none of which have been assessed by university.

Remote research using computers for data driven analytics, social behavior type studies that can be conducted by audio/video conferencing, etc. is allowable.

Do you have a template for laboratory research contingency planning? 

The Environmental Health and Safety guidelines, can be found here: 

If research buildings are locked, will I still be able to get it?

Yes, research buildings will be defaulting to weekend mode and will be accessible to those with swipe card access.  Only those that have decanal approval to continue care of vital research organisms or approved essential research functions should be accessing laboratories.

Can faculty, postdocs, and graduate students come to campus to use their offices after Wednesday, March 18th? 

Decanal approval is needed for access to the building for essential personnel and personnel authorized to return to lab facilities.


Will building operations staff still be on site and available to change gas cylinders and liquid nitrogen dewars?

Yes, building operations will continue normal operations as staffing levels permit. More building-specific information is being emailed to occupants.  Building Ops staff will continue to change gas cylinders and liquid nitogen dewars as staffing levels permit providing there aren't any interuptions to the availability of gases and cryogenics.  It is recommended that lab's emergency contacts for equipment requiring gases and LN2 be cross-trained on how to change cylinders in the event building staff are not available. 

I have -80 freezers that are not alarmed with the Operations Center.  Is it too late to have them alarmed?

Please contact your building manager as soon as possible to discuss the possibility of alarming your freezer. They may be able to assist you with this as staffing levels allow.

Will the electricity remain on?

We do not anticipate any interuptions to electricity. 

Will science buildings change the temperature or air change settings for the labs?  Constant temperature is important for my research animals/organisms.

No.  The current plan is for these building settings to remain status quo.  If this changes, you will be notified by your buidling manager.

Will shipping and receiving remain open?

We are accepting deliveries as usual for now; our loading docks and shipping/receiving are open normal hours until we receive further instructions to shut it down or limit the hours. Starting early next week, we will be paring down our staff to only 1-2 building managers a day for limited hours to patrol the buildings in my portfolio, so we are actively trying to line up deliveries with the times we will be onsite and asking everyone in our building to limit non-essential deliveries while the university is closed.


Will hazardous waste pick-up still be available?

Yes, Triumvirate waste pick-up will still continue as needed.  Please continue to request pick-ups as needed; however, we expect that needs for pick-up will decrease as research is ramped down.

Will the Helium Recovery Facility remain open? Liquid helium is essential to maintaining our equipment.

Yes, we understand that this essential service is critical to many research groups.  The helium recovery facility will remain open providing staff are able to work.  Please continue to follow standard procedures for ordering dewars.  Only order helium you need.  Please do not place bulk orders to "stock up".  Emergency dewars will continue to be available as per normal operating procedures and are for emergency use only  Please continue to anticipate your helium needs and place orders accordingly.  All dewar handles and push rings are being sanitizied before delivery and we encourage you to do the same after use. 

Will core facilities remain open?

Please check with the core directly regarding the status of your fee-for-service work and the availability of self-service equipment.  If you have an instrument reservation that you do not plan on using, please remember to cancel it to avoid being billed.

Will Research Computing resources still be available?

Yes. Research computing resources will remain available.

Several SEAS labs have Start-up tech companies embedded in their Harvard Labs. Can we have non-Harvard employees of the lab/startups working in the Harvard lab spaces? 

Start-ups are not allowed in Harvard spaces. Harvard’s resources should not be used for outside work. Please consult your Divisional Dean or SEAS Dean for further information.  Visitors or workers external to the Harvard community are not allowed on campus. 

What is the DoD Guidance on Salaries?

The DOD will allow recipients to continue to charge salaries and benefits to currently-active awards consistent with the recipients’ policy of paying salaries (under unexpected or extraordinary circumstances) from all funding sources, federal and non-federal.


What impact will this have on my research program? 

The NSF has posted an FAQ page here: 

The NIH has posted information here:

The DOE has posted information here:

DOE Office of Science Accommodating Interruptions due to COVID-19:

A list of all FOAs and DOE Laboratory Announcements may be found at, and, respectively.

I think I might be in a position to undertake a research project relevant to COVID-19. Is there a rapid-response funding opportunity? 

The NSF has established a program you might consider. See 

I am concerned about long term care of cultures/samples/animals in our lab. Who should I talk to? 

Research continuity guidance is available from Environmental Health and Safety; see 

We will take all possible measures to minimize the long-term impact to your research program, subject to personnel safety concerns. Faculty should contact Sarah Elwell ( FAS Science) and/or Leigh Needleman ( - SEAS) for area-specific research continuity questions or concerns.  The BRI is currently developing business continuity plans for review and approval by the IACUC.  

Since postdocs and graduate students don’t technically get sick time, how should we be handling their absences? 

Grad students and postdocs who are working remotely are fulfilling their effort obligation. If they are ill, that is handled as we normally do.   

We  employ an undergraduate who runs our radio telescope on the roof of one of the campus buildings at night and on weekends. He works almost entirely alone. He will be moving in with a relative in the Boston area. Can he continue to work for us? 

Please see most recent policy: 

If I am an undergraduate who lives within the vicinity of campus, am I permitted to conduct wet lab research in the lab after March 15?  

Please see most recent policy: