Lockdown led to ‘more polarised’ working hours for UK researchers

Many early career researchers saw their working hours fall, but one in nine scientists worked 60 hours a week, says Vitae study

十月 13, 2020
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The coronavirus lockdown led to more “polarised” working hours among UK researchers, with many seeing their hours cut substantially, while others worked substantially more, a new study says.

According to a survey of 8,416 UK-based researchers by Vitae, which represents the UK researcher community, some 40 per cent of respondents reported a decrease in their working hours during the coronavirus lockdown, while 20 per cent experienced an increase.

Four in 10 researchers had reduced research capacity due to their caring responsibilities while over three in 10 had reduced research capacity because they had an increased teaching load, says the report, which was published on 12 October.

Overall, UK researchers worked 40 hours a week during lockdown if they held a full-time position – some four hours a week less than they did prior to lockdown, says the study, which was supported by UK Research and Innovation and Universities UK, and commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 

However, the working week varied considerably among the researcher community: the proportion working more than 60 hours a week increased from 7 per cent to 12 per cent. But the proportion working between 41 and 50 hours a week fell from 37 per cent to 21 per cent.

Early career researchers were most likely to work fewer hours during the lockdown, according to the survey, which was undertaken in late May and early June.

The majority of researchers predicted their research levels would return to pre-lockdown levels after restrictions were lifted but 7 per cent predicted that their hours would not.

If six more months of social distancing was required, 70 per cent anticipated a reduced capacity for research due to caring responsibilities, with a similar proportion expecting an adverse effect on publications.

Research group leaders estimated that without costed extensions to research funding, 25 per cent of their team could have their employment ended, while more than half anticipated the loss of fixed term researchers from their groups.

Respondents from research intensive universities, and from medical and scientific disciplines, predicted higher levels of furlough and employment ending for their team. If social distancing continues, women, part-time workers and those on fixed-term contracts were most concerned about their employment ending. 

Over half of respondents agreed that their employer had supported them through lockdown, though this was lower for those with disabilities.

Janet Metcalfe, head of Vitae, said that Covid-19 had led to a “significant impact on research activities, not least for early career researchers”.

“This impact has also been disproportionally felt by researchers with caring responsibilities,” said Dr Metcalfe, who added that “in adapting to this new research environment we need ensure that all researchers can thrive irrespective of their personal circumstances.”

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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