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NIH Surveys: Outcomes of COVID-19 Impact on Research

On March 25, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Extramural Research announced the findings from surveys issued in October 2020, which aimed to identify and document the impact of COVID-19 on extramural research and their researchers. The two surveys assessed the perspectives of (1) research administration leaders and (2) individual researchers at extramural institutions regarding ongoing and anticipated issues in research productivity as affected by the pandemic. Here is the link to the infographic released by the NIH.

The surveys found that 66 percent of the research administration participants across various institution types were “very/extremely concerned with their institution’s financial status” and reported “moderate/major impacts in research productivity,” whereby top predictors include the transition to virtual interactions with trainees, mentors, or supervisors; decreased access to laboratory facilities, decreased ability to apply for grants, and increased caretaking responsibilities. In evaluating the institutions’ response to such issues, most of the administrations reported that their institutions had implemented COVID-19 monitoring measures (testing and vaccination programs), though few were reported to accommodate for the lack of support in childcare.

A majority of the researcher participants (61 percent) anticipated that the pandemic will harm their career trajectory, whereby top correlating factors include the ability to apply for grants and being at an early or mid -career stage. Over 66 percent of researchers also cited mental health and external stressors attributed to societal/political events and physical/social isolation, with caretaking responsibilities for young children factoring at higher rates for women and the early and mid -career subsets. Though all groups reported lower job productivity, women, Hispanics, and early-career scientists were reporting mental health and external stressors at comparatively higher rates. Less than half of researchers perceived that their institution was helping them to remain productive.

These outcomes highlight the need for certain avenues to facilitate research productivity to not just recover to the pre-pandemic state, but also mitigate the exacerbation of disparities reported by scientists. The NIH has begun preemptive measures to address these concerns by way of issuing a guide notice for the extension of Fellowship and Career Development awards for Early Career Scientists.

FABBS has previously signed on to a letter calling for Members of Congress to support the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act  to help researchers in the STEM fields whose careers have been jeopardized by disrupted grants and research schedules. In addition, FABBS endorsed legislation to support early career scholars through the National Science Foundation by means of an early career research fellowship pilot program.

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