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Nature Postdoc survey hints at long-term impact of pandemic on the development of science

Data from Nature’s first-ever international postdoctoral survey illustrates the devastating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, on the longer-term development of scientific research, the career paths and mental well-being of postdoctoral researchers.

In an early analysis of the survey’s COVID-19 specific questions, four key areas were highlighted as having been directly and negatively impacted by the pandemic: Career development – job prospects and mental well-being; Lab practice – experiments and collation of research; Peer on peer relationships and those with supervisors; and Funding and the completion of research.

Of the 7670 postdoctoral researchers surveyed around the world, over half (61%) of respondents indicated that the pandemic has negatively impacted their career prospects. This was particularly widespread in South America (70%), North/Central America (68%) and Australasia (68%), where the respective percentage of respondents said their careers had already suffered with some participants unable to obtain grants or jobs. Perceived impacts, however, did vary by area of study with Chemistry (68%), Ecology and Evolution (67%) and Biomedicine (60%), being reported as the most highly impacted areas of research.

Beyond career impact, the survey also illustrated the detrimental impact on the ability to be able to conduct and share research. Eight out of 10 postdoctoral researchers indicated that the pandemic has hampered their ability to conduct experiments. 59% of respondents reported trouble discussing ideas with peers, and 57% indicated that the pandemic had made it harder to share research findings. Added to the 61% who said that their funding had not been extended and the 19% who have said that it is still uncertain whether theirs will be, the survey paints a challenging picture for the future development, support and collaboration within the lab and across research output.

According to David Payne, Managing Editor Careers and Supplements, the results of this survey throw a sharp focus on the impact that COVID-19 has had not only on the ability to be able to conduct and collaborate on research, but also the risks that it continues to pose for funding and support. With the very real threat to postdoctoral career paths, and the wider impact on the long-term development of academic and lab outputs, a challenging picture for future science is emerging at a time when the value of research and global collaboration has become only too apparent.

The survey, however, also goes some way to demonstrate the versatility of postdoctoral scientists and research. The stats make a strong case for the need to continue to advance open science and data as a way to continue international academic development at a time when peer to peer engagement and physical collaboration in labs is restricted.

The survey, created in concert with Shift Learning, a market-research company based in London, was advertised on nature.com, in Springer Nature digital products and through email campaigns. It was offered in English, Chinese, Spanish, French and Portuguese. The data set relating to the COVID-19 responses is available at 10.6084/m9.figshare.1290625. The full results are currently being analysed and will be released in November.

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