Earlier this year, the Biochemical Society launched a community survey amongst its members and other key stakeholders to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on researchers in the molecular biosciences. These results have revealed principle concerns around the future of early career researchers (ECRs) and the funding landscape.
With immediate lockdowns placed in regions of many countries, 76% of researchers had no access to their laboratories during this time. This is anticipated to result in a decrease in research output in the medium to long-term (by 53% of respondents), with a disproportionate impact on those at the early stages in their careers who are more reliant on new experimental data collection for career progression.
Dominika Gruszka, Trustee, Chair of the Biochemical Society’s Early Career Advisory Panel, and Molecular Biophysicist at The Francis Crick Institute, says: “The lockdown of laboratories has been disastrous for everyone at a transition point in their career. Our survey shows 13% of respondents were concerned about career progression in the medium to long-term, with this increasing to 20% amongst ECRs. This pandemic has seriously impacted ECRs. A six-month delay on research is a long time for those individuals at the start of their career and can be significantly life-changing. In fact, 9% of ECRs in our survey indicated that they are considering moving away from research.”
At the time of this survey, respondents reported they were able to complete an average of only 50% of their usual work. There is also a concern amongst researchers for the future funding landscape both generally and challenges faced in relation to their current grants.
David Pye, Honorary Policy Officer, Chair of the Biochemical Society’s Policy Advisory Panel, and Head of Chemical Sciences at University of Salford, adds: “This survey has highlighted that researchers are genuinely worried about funding. Equally, at our recent Council meeting, Trustees have also raised concerns related to the impact of an inequity in approach to funding extensions on the ability of ECRs to plan effectively. Budgets everywhere are being squeezed, especially in research charities, and the molecular biosciences community needs reassurance that there is clarity and consistency in the allocations of funding.”
The survey results also identify several other medium to long-term impacts anticipated by researchers, many of which are likely to be explained by the decrease in research output. There is also an expectation that social distancing measures will change both laboratory and teaching settings and that there will be an increase in the use of virtual technologies for teaching and meetings in the future.
Daniel Rathbone, Assistant Director at the Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE), commented: “This survey by the Biochemical Society is a welcome addition to the growing body of evidence that CaSE and others across the sector have collated that highlights the damaging effects of COVID-19 on UK research. The UK’s research base is a rich ecosystem fuelled by partnerships between public, private and third sectors. The interfaces between these sectors are particularly vulnerable under current financial pressures and the research funded by these partnerships is under threat. CaSE has called on the UK Government to protect these partnerships in order to support the future sustainability of research funding in the UK.”