Survey Outlines Impact of COVID-19 on Researchers

The findings of the survey provide a hint of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the work, mental health and future career prospects of researchers.

The second round of a survey exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the activities of researchers has been published, providing a glimpse of how restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic have affected the professional and personal lives of researchers in the UK.

The survey was conducted by the Careers Research and Advisory Centre, who manage the Vitae programme, and funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The results relate to the second wave of the survey conducted in February-March 2021, and was answered solely of those who participated in the first wave of the survey in June 2020. While this means that the results are not fully representative of the UK research landscape as a whole, they do provide indicative data and hints of wider trends.

The vast majority of survey respondents were researchers and research staff in UK universities and research institutes. The survey found that while just over half had returned to pre-COVID working hours, over 80% of respondents felt that restrictions brought about by the pandemic had forced them to change the way they go about their research.

Other findings revealed by the report are as follows:

  • 61% of researchers reported lockdown or shielding had negatively impacted their time for research.
  • 58% reported that COVID-19 had made it impossible to do the research they planned.
  • More than half reported that COVID-19 restrictions impacted other work activities, including teaching and administrative activities which reduced their time for research.
  • 88% of respondents with child caring responsibilities reported that associated responsibilities had a negative impact on time for research. This was gender balanced.
  • 56% reported that less commuting and 43% that less work-related travel had positive impacts on their time for research.

Elsewhere, while just over one-in-four (27%) reported that COVID-19 had provided unexpected opportunities for their research, 60% of respondents predicted that COVID-19 restrictions would lead to a negative impact or a very negative impact on their career prospects, with 34% and 28% of postgraduate researchers and research staff respectively stating that it would have a ‘very negative’ impact.

The survey also hinted at the mental health effects of COVID-19 restrictions, with 11% of researchers reporting that they experienced bullying and harassment over the previous year, with two thirds stating that this was higher than before COVID-19 restrictions. Additionally, 76% of researchers reported that they had probable or possible depression, although the reasons for this are out of scope of this survey.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said:

‘The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for the research and innovation community with profound impacts on institutions and businesses, and on the people working in them.

‘The community has responded superbly, but at great personal cost to many, who have been working under very difficult circumstances.

‘We would like to thank those who have responded to this survey and talked to us about their experiences. This is invaluable as we continue to work to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and to address the inequalities in the system, which the pandemic has amplified.’

The full results of the survey can be accessed on the Vitae website.

(This report was the subject of a ResearchConnect Newsflash.)