Go back

UKRI-funded survey to show impact of virus on researchers

More than 1,000 responses received in first two days reveal anxieties over pay and timelines

A survey funded by UK Research and Innovation is aiming to develop a national picture of how doctoral students and research staff have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey is organised by Vitae, the careers organisation for higher education, in partnership with the Student Mental Health Research Network.

“We were very conscious of the stressors and risk factors of doctoral study—one of which is isolation,” Janet Metcalfe, head of Vitae, told Research Professional News.

Regarding doctoral students, she said: “Going into a lockdown situation with all the uncertainties around their funding could have an impact on their wellbeing and mental health. So we were very keen that we should get information about what’s happening to them in terms of their personal circumstances, how they are coping with the lockdown, what’s working and what’s not working for them in terms of their research activity.”

Research staff, she added, were in a similar position, “particularly those on fixed-term contracts who may be concerned about their current funding”.

“We want to get some information that would be useful for institutions, funders and government in terms of how they can consider supporting their researchers during this time.”

More than 1,000 researchers responded to the survey within the first two days, with over 90 per cent providing comments about the difficulties they were facing. Half of the respondents also talked about some of the benefits of the lockdown.

“I think people are coping in very different ways,” said Metcalfe.

The majority of responses so far are from doctoral researchers, but Vitae is keen to encourage more research staff to respond. Of the research staff who have responded so far, almost a fifth have contracts that are ending within the next five months, with a third on contracts that are ending in the next year.

“They are worried not just about their funding coming to an end but that they won’t have the time to finish their research projects,” said Metcalfe. “They are concerned that this will have an impact on both their short-term outcomes and their long-term career prospects.”

Encouragingly, she said, 65 per cent of respondents said their supervisors and line managers had done all they could to support them during the lockdown.

The survey closes on 3 May.