PuneetDr. Puneet Srivastava, associate dean for research and associate director of the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES), discusses how research initiatives have continued to thrive throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, showcasing the resilience of our essential employees across the state of Maryland.

What are the implications of starting and stopping research programs during this kind of an unprecedented shutdown, and how has MAES handled this process?

We all understood the importance of flattening the curve, but going into severe research restrictions certainly presented challenges. On campus programs were restricted to maintaining critical research and animal populations. However, since off-campus research operations maintain herds of cattle and grow crops that are planted and harvested at specific times, if we had stopped off-campus operations completely, people would have lost a whole year’s worth of work. Because of the ability of our essential employees at off-campus facilities across Maryland to maintain social distancing in outdoor settings and implement necessary precautions, we were able to keep everybody safe despite not halting off-campus operations.

Why is continued research innovation important during periods of crisis, and how can AGNR research lessen the effects of the pandemic?

In these situations, it’s incredibly important to continue research because science provides objective information to make decisions for the benefit of society. Our Extension system does a wonderful job of translating science to stakeholders, which is equally important because the public needs that information to stay safe. Everything we do at AGNR addresses grand challenges like emerging diseases, climate change, environmental degradation, and feeding the ever-growing world population. We even have researchers in our Department of Veterinary Medicine who are actively working on developing a vaccine for COVID-19. We just held our Annual Cornerstone Event on Human, Animal, and Environmental Health, and the kind of research we do at AGNR intersects all of these areas of health on every level. In the face of the pandemic, MAES has actually seen an increase in federal research funding.

Can you describe how our research initiatives have continued to thrive?

Our research funding has continued to grow, with an increase of over 13% from last fiscal year. That is amazing considering the last third of that year was in the height of the pandemic. The credit goes to the faculty and staff who have continued to write proposals, come up with innovative research ideas, and stay motivated. All we can do as a college is try to identify and remove barriers as much as possible, building a system that not only supports efforts to go after grants, but rewards successes. We hope to do more to support continued growth and high impact research.

What have we learned from the pandemic that will be carried forward into future research planning and initiatives?

The future of research is bright because more people than ever are realizing how science is addressing
societal challenges. When we went into the pandemic, we did not have all of our processes down about how to adapt our research, but now we have everything in place and know we can do it even more effectively in the future. Overall, we have been able to manage the research portfolio of the college very well during this pandemic, and the reason is the faculty and the staff who stepped up and continued to maintain their programs, guide their students, and not just work, but work well while staying safe.