Paper Summary

Extensive research has documented the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists (
e.g., Nature Human Behaviour), yet it remains unclear if and how such impacts have shifted over time.

Two surveys of principal investigators conducted between April 2020 and January 2021 reveal several insights in the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists.

While scientists seem to be recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic’s initial impacts on their research time, there has been a substantial decline in the rate of initiating new projects. Specifically, except for the small fraction of scientists who directly engaged in COVID-related research, most scientists started significantly fewer new research projects in 2020.

This decline is most pronounced amongst the same demographic groups of scientists who reported the largest initial disruptions: female scientists and those with young children. Yet, in sharp contrast to the earlier phase of the pandemic, when there were large disparities across scientific fields, this loss of new projects appears rather homogeneous across fields.

Analyses of large-scale publication data reveal a global decline in the rate of new coauthorships, especially in non-COVID related preprints, which is consistent with the survey reported decline in new projects. Meanwhile, preliminary evidence reveals country-level heterogeneity, where low-income countries may have been more negatively affected.

These findings suggest that the pandemic's unequal impact on the scientific workforce may be enduring, which may have broad implications for understanding the pandemic's long-lasting effects on science.

Data & Code

To answer the question about how has the pandemic’s impact on scientists evolved, we distributed a survey in January 2021 by randomly sampling US- and Europe-based scientists across a wide range of scientific fields. Importantly, we adopted the same sampling strategy as a previous survey we conducted in April 2020 (see the paper in Nature Human Behaviour), which allowed us to directly compare the results of the two surveys.

We asked scientists many of the same questions from the April 2020 survey, including professional and demographic features. We also added new questions that compare their overall research activity and output in 2020 with 2019, for example, the number of new research projects they started each year. Furthermore, we asked scientists whether or not they conducted any COVID-19 related research in 2020. In total, we used data from 6,982 respondents who self-identified as faculty or principal investigators in the two surveys. 

To supplement our survey findings, we conducted a series of analyses using a large-scale publication dataset, the Dimensions database, which captures both articles and preprints published up to the beginning of 2021.

Because of the sensitive nature of some variables collected by the surveys, the IRB-approved protocol does not permit individual-level data to be made unrestricted and publicly available. Researchers interested in obtaining restricted, anonymized versions of this individual-level data should contact the authors to inquire about obtaining an IRB-approved institutional data sharing agreement. This work also uses data sourced from Web of Science and Researchers who wish to access raw data should contact the data sources directly.

The code necessary to reproduce all plots and statistical analyses in this paper is freely available for download.

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