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UBCO researchers examine the impact of COVID-19-induced restrictions on university research

A woman looking stressed while trying to use the phone and carry a baby

A new study by UBC Okanagan suggests women and raced faculty members have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the usual buzz of collaboration and creativity in research rooms at Canadian universities suddenly fell silent.

COVID-19 was on the rise in Canada – and researchers were forced to halt all in-person research activities in the interests of public health.

While most would agree that all members of the university communities have been affected in some way by the pandemic, a new study by UBC Okanagan suggests that women and racialized faculty members have been hardest hit.

dr Jennifer Davis, a Canadian research chair in applied health economics and lead author of a study recently published in the journal gender, work and organization. dr Davis, an assistant professor in the School of Management, shares her research and insights into how to promote equity in science.

How did this research come about?

During the COVID-19 outbreak, several important changes were quickly felt by those working in academia. These included the closure of research labs, the cessation of studies, the transition to virtual classrooms, and restrictions on resource use.

As all of this was happening, I began to wonder what changes were being felt across faculty and institutions, and how these might impact the health, wellbeing, and productivity of faculty members in Canada.

What kind of information were you hoping to uncover and what did you find?

I wanted to find out who was most affected by these research cuts and whether or not some groups were disproportionately affected.

My team and I conducted a survey of public academic institutions in Canada after the initial lockdown to assess the impact. The data we collected showed that women and racialized faculty members reported experiencing higher levels of stress, social isolation, and lower well-being.

Fewer women felt supported in their health and well-being, and an example of this was that they had increased caregiving burdens at home that hampered their research productivity.

These effects were most exacerbated among advanced faculties.

What did you find most interesting about your results and how will they influence future research?

While our study focused on people in academia, it is interesting to note that other studies have had similar findings, particularly regarding women and increased caregiving responsibilities due to COVID-19.

This shows that these problems were not limited to people working in academia as they were also reported in other sectors. In this study, we make some recommendations for further action that I hope will bring about positive change and prevent further widening of systemic inequalities.

What do you propose to prevent these injustices from worsening?

One of our key recommendations is to increase the use of narration and storytelling to share faculty members’ experiences. We propose exploring ways to collect and understand stories about individual impacts of the pandemic on faculty members conducting research.

Our research supports the idea that sharing individual experiences of the aftermath of COVID-19 will foster better understanding in academia and hopefully support a sense of community among women and racialized faculty.

I would like to think that our work can also provide a way for senior administrators or managers in other sectors to connect directly with the experiences of marginalized faculty members or staff and engage with differences to create more inclusive work environments.

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