The impact of COVID-19 on biomedical research careers

A new report exploring the challenges and opportunities for the biomedical research workforce in overcoming disruption and mitigating the impact of the pandemic is published by the Academy of Medical Sciences today [Thursday 19 November 2020].

It highlights that some groups of researchers across the life sciences have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and that there is a risk of these effects continuing for months and years beyond the acute phases of the pandemic. The report summarises the discussions from a workshop in July 2020 which brought together academics across career stages, with industry, funders and employers to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on medical research careers in the medium and longer term.

As the second wave of COVID-19 brings further disruption, these impacts remain highly relevant reinforcing the importance of collective action to support researchers. In particular, the second wave has shone a light on the issue of geographical disparities as the pandemic plays out differently across parts of the UK.

Workshop participants identified mitigating actions that the sector should take in the near future as well as ways that support for biomedical researchers might be re-imagined to protect careers in the longer-term:

  • A ‘COVID-19 crisis memory’ and increased flexibility in funding policies, so that all circumstances and situations are fairly taken into account
  • Clear communication to alleviate worry and confusion, and to demonstrate that funders understand and will address the issues faced
  • Support which prioritises those who have been most affected
  • Increased mentoring and development opportunities
  • Improving Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and improved data collection to enable effective support measures and actions
  • Utilising the opportunities brought by the UK R&D Roadmap and increased investment in the sector
  • Collaboration and partnerships to strengthen and protect future funding mechanisms, generate positive and productive relationships for future research and promote sustainability and longevity across the workforce
  • Inspiring and supporting future talent, led by improvements in research culture, to present a compelling and inspiring vision of the opportunities of a career in research

Professor Paul Stewart FMedSci, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds, and Chair of the workshop, added:

"I’m delighted to have chaired this constructive workshop that brought researchers across career stages together with employers, funders and other stakeholders, to discuss the potential lasting effects of COVID-19 on research careers. The disruption caused by the pandemic – including the pausing of research activity during the first wave, large numbers of clinical academics returning to NHS duties, and funding delays and cuts, amongst others - has impacted differently across different researchers, undoubtedly widening all of the cracks in our journey for greater equality, diversity and inclusivity.

“This workshop brought the possible longer-term effects of disruption into stark relief, only exacerbated by the progress of the pandemic and the second wave we are currently experiencing.

It is critical that we act collectively to protect our researchers against these impacts. We must rise to the challenge of prioritising our most vulnerable cohorts; building a COVID-19 memory that recognises and mitigates against the impact of this disruption; creating more opportunities for networking, mentoring and developing the pipeline of talent; and putting renewed energy towards promoting equality, diversity and inclusion, and improving the overall culture of research.

“Despite the challenges, many of our early career researchers have been at the core of the collective research effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic; the future is bright with the Government’s commitment to R&D investment, particularly via the R&D Roadmap and awaited People and Culture Strategy. We need to work together as a sector to seize these opportunities and inspire talent to ensure biomedical research remains an attractive career choice. This in turn will sustain a stronger UK research base in future.”

The full report of this workshop is available on the right hand side of this page.

For more information on our work to support researchers during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit our Career Support Space.

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