Research in disruption


The pandemic continues to redirect research manpower, money and material to COVID-19, curtailing most academic, industry, and government basic science and clinical research. Clinical trials have been paused, continuing trials are now closed to new enrolment, research hiring has been curtailed, laboratory and fieldwork has been interrupted, infrastructure delayed, the list continues.

“The pandemic and resultant lockdowns and restrictions to travel meant I had to revise my research plans”, says Dr Aisha Abubakar, Researcher in the UDSU, Dept. of Architecture at Strathclyde University. “This means new remote working methods, extended work calendars, postponed field work and revised spending as is the case for many of my colleagues”. Like Dr Abubakar, most researchers, whether they are based in Germany or India, are grappling with how to run labs and lessons under extraordinary restrictions.


While universities around the world have reopened their premises welcoming students and researchers back on campus, this comes with unprecedented safety and social-distancing measures. “Even in labs that are open, research is restricted,” says Jamal Nasir, a human geneticist at the University of Northampton, UK, who is returning to his lab after six months.


Similarly, fieldwork is practically paralized. For a group of scientists working on the study of malaria transmission with essential travel plans to the Amazon rainforest, work is now on indefinite hold with newly imposed travel restrictions and bans. 


The pandemic and the resulting lockdown have highlighted the precarious employment position of early-career researchers. In a survey launched by SMaRteN and Vitae, it was found that researchers are experiencing a negative impact of the ongoing crisis on their ability to collect data, discuss ideas and findings with colleagues, and disseminate research findings. More than half also identified a negative impact on data analysis, writing, and working on grant or fellowship applications. In addition, almost a third of respondents identified that they had reduced or no access to the software that they needed for research, highlighting the importance for universities to provide better access to essential work resources. This decreased ability to work is creating stress: half of respondents reported being very stressed about their work, and two-thirds are very worried about their future plans.


‘The intense focus on pandemic research in my view has created an imbalance in the research projects arena, and we find many research projects when given the opportunity realigning their research focus to pandemic research. This has the potential to create a knowledge deficit in other relevant areas also’ says Dr Abubakar. 



Watch our webinar discussion on the future direction of research and innovation with Dr. Román Arjona Chief Economist, Directorate-General for Research & Innovation European Commission and Prof. David Bogle Pro-Vice-Provost Doctoral School Professor of Chemical Engineering University College London.