Press release The Young Academy

Report on impact of Covid-19 pandemic on researchers

30 November 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on the work and wellbeing of academics. Coping with the consequences will take leadership, money and a personalised approach.

The Young Academy and the Dutch Network of Women Professors, acting in cooperation with the Universities of the Netherlands (VSNU | UNL), have studied the impact of the first lockdown on the work and wellbeing of academics in the Netherlands and present various recommendations for how best to mitigate any adverse consequences.

Negative impact on research time

Academics in all job categories saw a significant reduction in the time they were able to spend on research during the first lockdown. Forty per cent of the survey respondents report having had less time for research. More than half of the PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and researchers in tenure track positions experienced Covid-19-related delays in their research; as a result of these delays, they do not expect to complete their projects on time or be able to meet tenure track requirements.

Disrupted work-life balance

Researchers with care responsibilities saw the biggest reduction in their time for research. Researchers with young children at home report losing twice as much time for research as those without children. Researchers with young children are much more likely to report a conflict between their work and family life during lockdown than those without child caring responsibilities at home. Early-career researchers with young children at home also had significantly fewer opportunities to apply for research grants.

Women in precarious positions

Female researchers with young children encountered the biggest problems trying to reconcile their work and child care responsibilities. They report higher stress levels than any other groups regarding their research progress and concern about their future in academia. Strikingly, these women are in more precarious positions than their male counterparts with young children; they tend to be at a slightly earlier stage in their careers and are more likely to have a temporary appointment.

High levels of stress and anxiety

A quarter of the respondents report experiencing high levels of stress and fatigue and having felt tired and exhausted in connection with their work during the first few months of the pandemic. Non-Dutch researchers and those at the start of their career have the highest stress scores. The latter also indicate that they are experiencing more stress about their future in research.

Leadership

Sixty-two per cent of academics in managerial positions say they found the associated tasks more difficult during the first lockdown. And although managers report that they received some guidance and support from their organisation in this respect, a sizeable group believes there is room for improvement.

Recommendations

Based on the survey outcomes and analyses performed within the context of this study, The Young Academy and the Dutch Network of Women Professors have a number of recommendations for how the sector can best limit the adverse consequences of the pandemic. The recommendations can be summarised as follows. 1. Prevent brain drain by investing in talent retention, especially among vulnerable groups; 2. Adapt criteria for promotion and career development and review them in line with the Recognition and Rewards programme. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach; instead, opt for personalised solutions and clear communication; 3. Support leadership development and promote leadership by recognising and rewarding it more explicitly as part of a researcher’s work; 4. Continue to monitor and study the consequences of the pandemic systematically and be aware of differences in the nature and impact of these consequences, particularly on vulnerable groups.

Conclusion

This study involved a survey of all academic staff working at Dutch universities. Almost 6000 academics completed the survey, making it the first sector-wide study of the impact of the pandemic. The results of the study concern the first lockdown (March - June 2020). The pandemic is far from over, however. The Young Academy and the Dutch Network of Women Professors will continue to draw attention to these results in the coming months. They are also pushing for follow-up studies whose results will be made public, allowing all relevant stakeholders to work together to limit the adverse consequences of the pandemic for academia and researchers and to address the inequalities that have been exacerbated by it.

Meeting on the impact of Covid-19

The report The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic during the first lockdown on the work and wellbeing of academics in the Netherlands will be presented on 2 December during the Academy (KNAW) expert meeting ‘The impact of Covid-19 on researchers’. The meeting is one in a series of four and can be attended free of charge online. For more information on the expert meetings and to register, please visit the website.

About The Young Academy

The Young Academy is a dynamic and innovative platform of fifty researchers active in a range of disciplines who have outspoken views about science, science policy and science communication. It organises its activities along four different tracks: interdisciplinarity, science, science policy and science communication. The Young Academy is an independent organisation within the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).         

About the Dutch Network of Women Professors 

The Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) is a network, expert and lobby organisation with more than 1500 affiliated female associate and full professors. LNVH aims to promote equal representation of women in academia, works towards the betterment of the position of women of all backgrounds and pushes for an inclusive and safe academic community. For more information, visit www.LNVH.nl.