Challenges and opportunities for international researchers during COVID-19

Eva Lantsoght
Author
Eva Lantsoght
Published
4 Feb '21

As we are 11 months into a global pandemic, we can reflect on the challenges and opportunities COVID-19 has brought us. In today’s post, I focus on challenges and opportunities valid for all researchers. In addition, I have led an international group of scholars in an analysis of the challenges and opportunities for academic parents during COVID-19. Once our paper is out, I’ll make sure to further comment on this topic as well.

One of the things that I have learned during this pandemic, is that the same situation may be a challenge for one researcher and an opportunity for another researcher. For that reason, I have selected five topics to discuss today – and I will show both sides of the medal for these topics:

1. Funding
The funding landscape has changed a lot during COVID-19, and that has resulted in challenges and opportunities for researchers. First of all, the main opportunities are the following: there is more funding for research directly related to COVID-19 available, some deadlines have been extended to allow for researchers to catch up and submit their proposals, and some funding bodies do not require preliminary test results anymore, which can be an an opportunity for early career researchers. On the other hand, budget restrictions have reduced available funding, sources of funding have been cut, some funds are not available anymore – and for some researchers that means the funding to sustain their position is gone. This situation is extremely difficult – and in an era where we need to rely on science to guide us the way out of a crisis such as a global pandemic – a very short-sighted measure, in my opinion. We now need continued, strong funding for research – more than ever.

2. Teaching
The pandemic has uprooted teaching. I went from teaching with a marker and whiteboard to teaching using technological tools. I’ve experienced this as a challenge – it takes so much time to prepare online lectures, and it is difficult to assess in advance what will work and what won’t work with students. On the other hand, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about teaching in a blended flexible format, to use edpuzzles, quizziz, polls, mentimeters and more online tools for active learning exercises, and I’ve learned to get a clearer view on what is really aligned with my learning objectives, and what can be left out.
 

3. Conferences
In terms of challenges and opportunities, conferences are certainly a double-edged sword during a pandemic. Conferences have gone virtual, and the advantage of this situation, is that it is easier and cheaper to attend conferences. It takes away the childcare conundrum, it takes away the large cost associate with international conference travel, and it takes away the time lost in travel. At the same time, it is more difficult to reach good engagement during an online conference, and you miss the time away from home and the classroom to feel an adult, as well as the time to catch up with colleagues and grab a drink together.

4. International collaborations
Following the challenges and opportunities on conferences and funding, it’s been both more difficult and easier to initiate international collaborations. The collaborations that come from conversations in the hallways of conferences are gone. At the same time, the need for global teams to tackle the pandemic has sprouted a whole new set of international collaborations, of colleagues who may only know eachother from videocalls.

5. Flexible schedules
The pandemic has made our schedules more flexible than ever, now that we almost all work from home – and this has been both a blessing and a curse. The challenge with a flexible schedule when working from home, is that the entire day has some form of work in it, and that the boundaries between our personal time and work time are gone. The advantage, at the same time is that now we can better organize our day schedule around other activities. I for example now take a walk during my morning break, and use my afternoon break for a quick workout – things I would never consider doing in my office.

About Eva Lantsoght

Eva started writing about doing a PhD while studying concrete structures at TU Delft and since then blogs about the non-scientific skills you need during a PhD and life as a PhD.