4 Feb 2021

Mapping the impacts of the COVID -19 pandemic on the medical research workforce

The 2020 CCS GEDI committee authored the survey to assess
the pandemic's impacts on medical researchers. See CCS intranet
“We are all in this together” was the rallying call of our political leaders regarding the effects of the pandemic and our responses to it. The Central Clinical School's Gender Equity Diversity and Inclusion (CCS GEDI) committee teased out the specifics with a survey to map the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on CCS's  medical research workforce. They discovered both positive and negative impacts on medical researchers, some immediate and some with a much longer tail.

The CCS GEDI committee members took into account numerous considerations for medical research leaders working to support and protect their workforce from the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To ensure the pandemic response from the CCS was as inclusive as possible, the GEDI committee collaborated with Women in Science Parkville Precinct (WiSPP) and Equity in Medical Research Alliance (EMRA) to survey CCS research, educational and professional staff in the 2-week period from 15 May 2020 to enable the analysis of the major risks and opportunities presented by the pandemic, and suggest a framework of key mitigation strategies. 

The survey had 133 respondents, including 50 men, 81 women and 2 who didn't identify their gender. Of the total, 30% were early career researchers and 40% were middle career. 53% were categorised as 'established'. Of the total, 43% had dependants.

Results indicated that respondents felt that there were both positive and negative outcomes.

Negative outcomes

  • Experimental research significantly delayed
  • Reduced networking and professional interactions with colleagues
  • Increased work pressures due to remote learning for those with carer’s responsibilities

“Homeschooling while working full-time is ridiculous”

Positive outcomes

  • Zoom meetings promote connectivity and inclusion
  • Flexibility of working from home

“Less commute time – more efficient with working hours”
”Working from home has cut my commute time and increased my mental wellbeing’

We concluded that female researchers were at risk during this time of being disproportionately restricted in their capacity to undertake paid work due to carer responsibilities and in Universities women represent a greater proportion of short-term and causal contracts, positions identified as being at risk to become unemployed or redeployed. 

With respect to female researchers at CCS, the COVID-19 pandemic could therefore negatively impact on their capacity to obtain funding for research projects and succeed in promotions both in the immediate term and with a cumulative effect over years as their track records were impacted. Beyond the immediate negative impacts, it is possible that the situation could bring some residual positive outcomes on social norms that could contribute to greater equality. Throughout the crisis, the medical research sector has widely adopted flexible work arrangements. Through this experience we now know that this model of working, which allows for greater balancing of work and care responsibilities, is possible.

Our recommendations to mitigate the impact of COVID on CCS researchers are:

  • Design and implementation (Sep 2020) of the GEDI Affirmative Action Checklist to ensure
    ongoing potential for zoom access at all CCS events
  • Design and implementation (Feb 2021) of the GEDI Award Seminar Series to help researchers
    promote and disseminate their work and promote networking opportunities
  • Present the Executive with data indicating the benefits of the ongoing capacity to facilitate flexible work arrangements to benefit productivity of work

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