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Call for action to mitigate disruption to biomedical careers


Covid-19 risks ‘exacerbating the inequalities in research careers’, says Academy of Medical Sciences

Immediate action is required to halt rising inequalities in research careers, which the Covid-19 crisis risks exacerbating, an influential group of scientists has warned.

According to a report published by the Academy of Medical Sciences, Covid-19 has caused “immense disruption to biomedical and clinical researchers in various forms, with many disproportionate and uneven impacts across careers stages and disciplines”.

These effects risk continuing for “months and years beyond the acute phase of the pandemic”, they warn.

While some impacts are novel and require targeted actions, others risk “widening the existing cracks and exacerbating the inequalities in research careers”, the report says.

Based on a virtual workshop which took place this summer, the report released on 19 November identifies a number of immediate and longer-term actions, including the need for funders to “demonstrate flexible approaches and processes for months and years beyond”.

“To support this, funders should integrate a ‘Covid-19 crisis memory’ into their practices, to account for individual circumstances and ensure the needs of the community remain central in decision-making,” the academy suggests.

While funders are already taking action to protect current and future grant awardees, the report says “improved communication with the community is required, to reassure cohorts that these issues are understood and will be taken into account wherever possible in future”.

‘Rebuilding research confidence’

It suggests that a cross-funder consensus statement that recognises the challenges across the landscape and commits to take action “could provide much value in rebuilding researcher confidence”.

Meanwhile, in recognition of the disproportionate impact on groups such as early career researchers, universities must “prioritise the distribution of funds from sustainability loans to support these individuals and protect the talent pipeline in the longer term”.

In the medium-longer term, the academy proposes an increased focus on developing the pipeline of talent.

“This must strike a balance between supporting individuals throughout their career trajectories; investing in training and development; and encouraging more multi-disciplinary approaches, to create a more agile and sustainable future workforce.”

Alongside this, greater efforts must be made to improve research culture and promote equality, diversity and inclusion, the report adds.

It also says increased cross-sector partnerships between charities and universities, as well as improved industry-academia links could provide “a number of positive outcomes for the sector in the longer-term”.

“Benefits will include improved sustainability of the sector as a whole, a better understanding between different parts of the sector, and leveraging of different sources of investment to drive innovation.”

The report follows a government-funded survey of 8,400 researchers, carried out by the higher education careers organisation Vitae, which revealed widespread anxieties over job security and funding in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.