August 24, 2020

Dear BTI Community,

We would like to thank you for your continued engagement and share a brief update on COVID-related matters here at the Institute.

BTI’s top priority remains the health and well-being of our community. In support of this, we have slowly worked through an initial reactivation that has reached a stable phase with maximum 50% occupancy and limits on office occupancy, use of stairwells and various other details. We remain compliant with Cornell University, New York State, and national guidelines. In keeping with these guidelines, remote work is still required where it will not impact productivity, and waivers for remote work by non-laboratory personnel are on a case by case basis. Our Reactivation Committee, with members from across the Institute, meets weekly and has initiated two surveys, both with high response rates. In general, the Institute is seen as a safe workplace and most people agree administration has dealt with the crisis appropriately, and with adequate communication (most prominently our well-attended weekly webinars). However, many employees are stressed by the broader context of COVID, and feel a lack of sense of community due to remote work and/or social distancing at work. We continue to explore new ways of providing a healthy sense of community for our employees, such as virtual coffee and happy hours, new engagement committees, and the like. 

Both the board and leadership team have closely managed the institute’s financial situation, which has resulted in a roughly 4% decline in the value of the endowment, year to date. Research revenues have recovered, and a rather large number of new awards have been made to BTI faculty that were not in our projections. Along with PPP funds, this has allowed us to plan for several much-reduced endowment draws in the summer and early fall.

We have developed contingency plans, with specific triggers through the end of 2020 in case a resurgence of COVID impacts revenues and/or the endowment. We are now planning for 2021 and beyond, with both a normal budget (slow recession of COVID) or a contingency budget if we are going to experience a long-term major impact (e.g. be shut down again, serious national economic jolt, etc.). This will be an ongoing internal conversation as well as with our board finance committee.  

BTI’s first summer Virtual Professional Development Series was a success. 115 students signed up to participate in the series.  We provided multiple opportunities for group networking sessions with postgraduates, scientific discussions with 6 faculty, a panel with 9 Cornell SIPS Directors of Graduate Study, and a Career Beyond Academia panel. The participants stated the 7-week series exceeded their expectations and helped build awareness around graduate programs and plant research at BTI & Cornell. 

Everyone involved held out hope for hosting both research and workforce high school students at BTI for a less rigorous program this summer. Unfortunately, all in person internship programs had to be canceled. 

With COVID making in-person events impossible, the new virtual engagement series, Breaking Ground, is providing opportunity for the broader BTI community to continue to engage with BTI science. The first and second episodes, featuring Joyce Van Eck and her Physalis work, as well as Jim Giovannoni and Zhangjun Fei’s tomato pan-genome work, were well-attended. August 26th will feature David Stern discussing the latest Decadal Vision for Plant Science. 

Thank you again for your continued support. If you have any questions, please contact us, and if you would like to make a gift today to help BTI through this crisis, you may do so here.

With my best wishes,

David Stern's Signature



David Stern

BTI President

Previous Updates:

April 30, 2020

April 30, 2020

Dear friends of BTI,

On behalf of the BTI family, I would like to express our deepest gratitude for your support and expressions of concern as we have navigated the COVID-19 crisis. Our first priority has been, and will continue to be the health and well-being of our researchers and support staff. We are grateful for success in our application for Paycheck Protection Program funding, which will prove enormously helpful to maintaining the institute’s staffing and fiscal health over the coming months. We are also committed to bridging the gap in many employees’ abilities to work in the remote environment, and their eagerly awaited return to our nearly empty building where a small cohort continues courageously to ensure the preservation of essential biological resources and other infrastructure. As is the case worldwide, BTI staff have had a wide range of experiences with remote work, given the constraints that vary from person to person. In this vein, we are forever in debt to our IT team (of two), which has made remote work and maintaining the social fabric of the institute possible.

COVID-19 has been a tragedy but also a voyage of discovery, learning how we miss the daily in-person interactions and the spontaneity of hallway moments, and at the same time learning of our resilience through Institute-wide virtual happy hours, weekly leadership webinars, and creative social spaces that maintain community, productivity, and connections. In certain ways this crisis has drawn us together, and I find that thought enormously heartening.

The COVID-19 world of today, and the still-hazy post-COVID world of tomorrow, bring into stark relief the vital importance of science in our collective wellbeing. In this light, BTI’s mission of discoveries to support food security, human health, and the environment has never felt more relevant. Just as one example, BTI’s own HighFiveTM line of insect cells, exceptional at producing proteins for vaccines and diagnostic tests, has come into wide use in the global push to use science to expedite the end of the pandemic and the misery it has caused.

BTI has always championed its nimble, flexible culture and environment. Because of this, we’ve been able to embrace changes in a world where the pace of adjustments has been incredibly compressed, where our reactions need to be fluid, and where the courage and tenacity of our staff has become the backbone of our survival.

Please stay in touch. We are all “Zoom experts” now, and happy to connect in a world where physical distance has little meaning. In the coming months, you’ll see announcements for a virtual Art at BTI reception, and a variety of ways to connect virtually. Please feel free to reach out with any questions.

We hope that you are, and continue to be, well. Thank you for your commitment to the Boyce Thompson Institute.

With my best wishes,

David Stern
BTI President

March 20, 2020

March 20, 2020

Dear BTI Community,

I will start by saying this is NOT yet another directive, but mostly a message of thanks.

You may have heard news today from NYS that 100% of the workforce at non-essential businesses must work from home to further limit the spread of COVID-19. Tompkins County Health Department has confirmed that ALL research laboratories are being considered essential at this time, therefore our current lab continuity plans, fully implemented today, will remain in effect, until further notice.

As we make these moves I want to sincerely thank each of you for your cooperation in the implementation of these new contingency plans that this pandemic has forced us into. I know that, for us all, it has been super difficult to have to severely restrict, and in some cases completely abandon (for a temporary period!), the great work that we do here at BTI, and for most to adjust to a new, completely remote working format.

This will continue to be a huge challenge for us all in the days ahead, but the level of cooperation that I have seen from everyone through this first phase shows just how we can come together here at the institute. It is important to highlight and focus on the positive things that we see when we are faced with a difficult situation like this. Thanks so much for your ongoing, collaborative efforts. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to reach out to me at any time.

Thanks again. Please have a safe and restful weekend.
Paul Debbie, and the rest of the Senior Leadership Team

March 17, 2020

March 17, 2020

Dear BTI Community,

As we navigate these unprecedented times, we thank you for your patience and first and foremost, take care of yourselves and your families. We also encourage you to stay up to date on guidelines for community and individual health. BTI leadership is committed to mitigating the impacts of COVID-19, which begins with looking out for our staff, but also ensuring that vital research materials are protected. In doing so, we are working in close collaboration with our Cornell University and USDA-ARS partners to develop and implement cohesive messaging and procedures.

At BTI, Research and Operations administration are working with faculty and core facilities to ensure that essential functions are maintained, and that sensitive materials and plants critical to our research mission are maintained, while minimizing interpersonal contact and maximizing sanitation.

All departments are rapidly developing remote work plans, to be implemented as quickly as possible. Employees are working with their supervisors to plan appropriate projects,  taking advantage of technologies for virtual meetings and project management, such as Zoom, Hive and Slack. While we are unable to on-board new employees until further notice, new positions are being posted, and interviews may be conducted remotely in anticipation of eventual resumption of more normal operations.

March events, tours, and programs that cannot be held remotely have been cancelled or postponed, and we will continuously evaluate later events and programs. During this time, we are not allowing any visitors to the BTI building. While the point at which our near-lockdown will be eased is still very much unknown, at this point we are still planning to hold our summer internship program on its normal schedule.

To stay up to date:
BTI’s COVID-19 message will be updated regularly and posted on this page. Employees, please monitor your inbox for BTI-L announcements and communications from your supervisors. For employee information about specific policies and procedures related to COVID-19, please visit the BTI Staff Hub intranet.

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