We Asked 3,000+ Academics How They’re Coping with Covid-19: This Is What We found

A survey conducted by De Gruyter's Insights Team has found that the Coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown has left academics with less time for research and busier than ever - with women most severely affected.

Conducted online over May 2020, the survey results contain responses from more than 3,200 De Gruyter journal and book authors from over 100 countries.

The survey paints a picture of a global academic community facing significant challenges under lockdown: anxious about the pandemic, uncertain about their future prospects, under pressure to adopt new digital teaching methods and struggling to balance teaching and research with family responsibilities.

Busier Than Before

Over half of the authors surveyed say they are busier now than before the Coronavirus outbreak began and before universities started to close their doors to researchers and students alike – with female scholars being more likely to be busier than men.

Around 50% of respondents also say they now have ‘no time at all’ or ‘less time’ for research and writing than they had before lockdown with female scholars again, reporting greater time pressures than their male colleagues.

Whilst research is continuing during the global lockdown, academics are experiencing new limitations and obstacles that restrict and prevent them from conducting research. However, these restrictions and obstacles are experienced differently – gender plays a role.

Digital Distractions

The transition towards online teaching caused by Covid-19 is proving to be an unwelcome distraction for academics keen to progress their writing and research during this time.

Nearly 70% of researchers surveyed say that online teaching is leaving them with less time for research with social science scholars left particularly time poor. Organising online lessons and supervising students digitally are both posing big obstacles to writing and publishing productivity.

Researchers say:

• I have no time for research because I now need to teach all my modules online.

• More time necessary for online teaching, MUCH less time for research.

• My main distraction is online teaching and student supervision – that and simultaneously having to look after my kids during their distance schooling.

Domestically Challenged

Whilst unfamiliar online teaching systems might be increasing scholarly workloads, arguably more damaging problems are being caused because of where researchers must now teach online classes from – namely, their homes.

Teaching from home is particularly trying for those academics who are also caring for others or those who are sheltering with school-age children.

Female scholars wishing to conduct research from home are more likely than men to be limited by caring responsibilities and say that family responsibilities and home schooling are their main obstacles to productivity.

This gender divide suggests that women are bearing the brunt of domestic duties during the pandemic – hampering research productivity and impacting career success.

Researchers say:

• I live in a small flat with no dedicated office space and three other family members, including school-going children at home. It’s hard.

• I can’t possibly stress how hard it is to conduct research with young children around.

• If nurseries don’t reopen soon, I’ll struggle to teach and do research from home.

• The schools are closed, so I have to teach my kids myself (aged 6 and 7).
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Locked Out

Lack of access to academic resources and university facilities is having a dramatic impact across the board but the types of challenges authors experience are often related to their discipline or field of research.

Nearly half of all respondents cite no access or reduced access to research facilities as a major obstacle to their research and writing.

STM scholars are severely inconvenienced by being unable to access labs or testing facilities – plus, their time is particularly impacted if they have clinical duties.

In order to support faculty and students affected by library closures, De Gruyter & our Publisher Partners are offering libraries free access to 75,000 eBooks on our website until June 30th. Librarians can register here.

Humanities scholars are badly impacted as they are unable to access essential resource libraries, older books, archives or physical collections. Face-to-face interviews, group work, data-collection and fieldwork is also being severely curtailed by new social distancing rules and travel restrictions.

Researchers say:

• I need to travel to museums to see objects.

• Most of the books I need are not available digitally.

• I’m a wildlife researcher, I have to travel to a forest.

• My research is primarily ethnographic, I’m limited to what I can do online.

• Limited personal communication that makes arrangements of laboratory and field work more demanding.

Home Office Obstacles

Many authors have inadequate home-work environments, either because of the disruptions caused by busy domestic situations or because they’re not appropriate for academic endeavour. In short, many scholars aren’t getting the headspace they need.

Researchers report being hampered by internal and external blockers: slow internet speeds, anxious thoughts and feelings, poor access to essential resources and a general frustration with having to work in a home environment that isn’t fit for purpose.

Researchers say:

• I now have to work on a private computer and private web connection, both are much slower, older and limited than at my university office.

• I have no space for creativity, free thinking, reading, developing new research questions and ideas. I can’t concentrate at home.

• I need the physical space to research: a big table on which to lay out my books, and quiet time to work. You can’t do that with kids around.

• Being at home all the time makes me anxious and my worries about the pandemic can spiral.

Silver Lining?

Whilst most academic authors report that the global pandemic has left them with far less time to dedicate to their research, not everyone is struggling to be productive at home.

Around a quarter of authors now find it easier to find time to write with the vast majority citing the lack of faculty, management and student meetings as the reason. Although most of these scholars are men.

27% of male scholars say they now have more time to research and write compared to 18% of female academics. Nearly a third of STM academics have more time – possibly due to the closure of laboratories and facilities.

Researchers say:

• Working from home gives me more time because I don’t need to travel to campus.

• Fewer organisational/bureaucratic meetings is saving me 12 hours a week.

• At home I can lock the door and work freely. At work I can’t do this.

What Publishers Can Do to Help

Overwhelmingly, authors are looking to publishers to give them access to the resources and research they need to continue working effectively from home during the Coronavirus crisis.

They want us to take a more flexible approach in terms of providing free access to assist their own research plus they want increased access for their students to ease the difficulties caused by online teaching.

Researchers want:

• The main thing for me is to be able to access sources for research.

• Access to content would also help my students and reduce my teaching.

• I need more flexibility on my deadlines.

• Give us free access to research content – especially older materials.

• Please look after my kid 🙂

In Conclusion

Coronavirus has had a global impact and has affected us all in different ways. This questionnaire has helped us explore the impact on our sector – universities, researchers and authors.

Whilst a lucky few are able to use the crisis as an opportunity to focus on their research and writing, many more cannot.

They’re overloaded with teaching work, they struggle with new domestic situations and they find access to research-critical resources hard.

Understanding these limitations is important for us because it will shape how we can help and support the research community now – and into the future.

Download a PDF of the most important findings here.

In order to support faculty and students affected by library closures, De Gruyter & our Publisher Partners are offering libraries free access to 75,000 eBooks on our website until July 31, 2020. Librarians can register here.

Deirdre Watchorn and Esther Heckendorf

Deirdre Watchorn (Senior Manager) and Esther Heckendorf (Manager) work in De Gruyter's Insights & Analysis team.

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