The Pandemic Does Not Affect All Researchers Equally

The Pandemic Does Not Affect All Researchers Equally


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected scientific research. Scientists have less time to dedicate to research and fewer possibilities for lab- or fieldwork, e.g., due to lockdowns, facility closures, travel restrictions, and a lack of childcare options. These issues could have both short- and long-term effects on the careers of researchers. The pandemic could affect some groups of scientists disproportionately, based on gender, family status, or field of research, for example.

Kyle R. Myers, Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA, Dashun Wang, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA, and colleagues have conducted a survey of over 4,500 researchers working in the United States and Europe to investigate the effects of the pandemic on the work of scientists. The survey was sent out in April 2020 to researchers in different career stages across a wide range of fields and institutions. It contained questions about time spent on research, changes in working hours since the start of the pandemic, field of study, career stage, and demographic information.

The team found that working hours declined overall, from an average of 61 h/week before the pandemic to 54 h/week. 55 % of respondents reported fewer work hours, 27 % stated there was no change, and 18 % reported that work hours increased after the onset of the pandemic. Compared to other types of work (teaching, fundraising, etc.), research time declined the most, on average by 24 %. Across different research fields, there were large differences in the effects. Laboratory sciences, such as chemistry and biology, were affected the most, with a decline of research time in the range of 30–40 %. Researchers in fields such as computer science or mathematics reported much smaller changes.

The results also showed a disproportionate effect on female researchers and those with young children. With all other circumstances being equal, female scientists reported a 5 % larger drop in research time. Having at least one child five years old or younger led to a 17 % larger decrease in reported research time compared with similar childless scientists. Researchers with older children also reported less time spent on research, but were affected less harshly.

The researchers point out that while the survey is only a snapshot based on U.S. and European researchers, the pandemic has on-going effects on research worldwide. The resulting disparities between scientists and research fields need to be addressed by institutions and funders in their opinion.

Also of Interest

  • Collection: SARS-CoV-2 Virus
    What we know about the new coronavirus and COVID-19
  • LitCovid
    Curated literature hub for tracking up-to-date scientific information about COVID-19
  • Many publishers and other entities have signed a joint statement to ensure that COVID-19 research findings and data are shared rapidly and openly



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