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‘Most researchers’ saw their work disrupted in second Covid wave


More than half of UK researchers found it “impossible” to do planned research, survey finds

UK-based researchers continued to experience significant disruption during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than half finding it impossible to do research they had planned, a new survey has suggested.

At the time of the survey—conducted by the Careers Research and Advisory Centre between February and March 2021—80 per cent of researchers said pandemic restrictions had forced them to change the way they do their research and had made it difficult to plan.

Of the 1,347 academics who responded, 58 per cent said they found it impossible to do the research they planned, with 40 per cent saying they were forced to change the direction of their research.

Postgraduate researchers were among the worst affected, with 73 per cent worried about missing work due to Covid-19 while 55 per cent did not believe their funder had done all that it could to support them.

Pandemic ‘amplified inequalities’

Ottoline Leyser, chief executive of the national research funder, UK Research and Innovation, which funded the survey, said the pandemic had 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.”

She described the survey as “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 survey shows that only half of researchers had returned to their pre-Covid hours spent on research, with high teaching load and caring responsibilities still taking a toll.

In particular, researchers with caring responsibilities were more likely to report an overall decrease in working hours—35 per cent—while just 43 per cent had returned to pre-Covid levels.

Impact on carers and mental health

Overall, 63 per cent reported that caring responsibilities had a negative impact on time for research, with the number rising to 88 per cent for researchers specifically with child-caring responsibilities.

The survey also showed additional negative impacts on researchers, with more than half reporting poor levels of wellbeing and mental health and 11 per cent reportedly experiencing bullying and harassment.

However, there were some benefits.

In total, 56 per cent of researchers reported that less commuting had a positive impact on their time for research, while 43 per cent said less work-related travel had been beneficial.

Meanwhile, 27 per cent agreed that Covid-19 had provided unexpected opportunities for their research.

Janet Metcalfe, principal of Vitae, said: “As we continue to feel the impact of Covid-19, it is even more important that we implement the principles of the Researcher Development Concordat and create a healthy, inclusive research environment so that researchers can flourish.”