Early career researchers progress halted by COVID-19 pandemic

By Michael Woodhead

17 Apr 2020

Early and mid-career researchers are being hit hard by the shutdowns and social distancing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are also opportunities in a crisis, according to two Victorian scientists.

Younger researchers will be particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic disruption to laboratory and clinical cardiovascular research, according to Dr Rachel Climie, a sports cardiology researcher at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, and Dr Francine Marques of the Monash University Hypertension Research Laboratory.

Writing in Circulation, they say the barriers to collecting data and attend scientific meetings will hit researchers at a time when they would normally be establishing a reputation within the scientific community, building a team and attracting research funding.

“Furthermore, women may be particularly disadvantaged, especially those with primary carer responsibilities, who are now trying to balance home-schooling with working from home,” they write.

Other key impacts on researchers will include:

  • Missing out on training and peer-learning;
  • Delayed publication of original research;
  • Fewer opportunities for networking;
  • Unable to present research at conferences and talks;
  • Not able to qualify for awards;
  • Difficulties with team recruitment and development.

The researchers call on professional societies and institutions to take the lead and promote novel and flexible approaches to support early and mid career cardiovascular researchers.

These might include holding virtual scientific meetings so that researcher still have the opportunity to present their work, give invited talks and win awards. Online chat groups, journal clubs and research forums could also help in team building and overcoming social isolation, they suggest.

Research supervisors and managers may help by offering online learning, peer-buddy and mentoring,  they add.

And with lab and clinic shutdowns preventing experiments and data collection researchers should look to alternative activities to be productive and not lose momentum

These might include analysing existing data or writing review papers and meta-analyses, they propose.

‘[Researchers] could also participate in peer-review, and plan data collection for when nonCOVID-19 research is able to proceed,” they write.

“For example, those involved in clinical trials can complete ethics applications or plan for recruitment of participants while laboratory based researchers can prepare new protocols, present ideas to the team and order reagents.”

They suggest that researchers see the COVID-19 “crisis” as also offering opportunities to develop new online models of working that will in future offer ways to reach new audiences and target groups such as rural communities.

“In times of uncertainty, there is one certainty … researchers can continue to engage, collaborate, innovate and find solutions for some of the most complex medical problems of our times.’

“Danger to impeding career progression is only half of the crisis, there is also opportunity. A unified, collaborative sector will continue to succeed.”

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