Digital collaboration alienating junior scholars, warns professor

Young researchers forced to interact online ‘do not feel part of a team’ and may leave sector, educationalist tells summit

June 22, 2021
a Zoom screen
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Many early career researchers are considering quitting academia as they feel cut adrift from colleagues following the switch to online interactions during the pandemic, a conference has heard.

Maria Yudkevich, vice-rector of the HSE University in Moscow, told Times Higher Education’s Young Universities Summit that while many researchers had embraced the shift to online conferences and Zoom conferences with collaborators, the new era of digital collaboration did not suit all university staff.

“Our surveys show young people are experiencing a lot of problems, particularly around things like PhD support,” said Professor Yudkevich, who is head of HSE’s Center for Institutional Studies and a leading researcher on higher education.

“They do not feel part of a research team, which is a huge problem,” she added, saying this loss of engagement with junior scientists and researchers threatened to derail efforts to “bring in the best and brightest into academia”.

The situation was particularly acute for postgraduate and PhD students who may be considering a career in academia, Professor Yudkevich told the online event hosted in partnership with HSE, which is also known as the Higher School of Economics.

“In the longer term, the biggest challenge is how to bring them into universities and provide them with real experiences of research,” said Professor Yudkevich, whose research focuses on the economics and sociology of higher education.

That said, the embrace of digital interactions had opened up new opportunities for early career research, including PhD students, who had been able to sign up dozens of participants for research seminars held online, she added.

“We have geographers holding research seminars who say the biggest problem is now how to include everyone,” said Professor Yudkevich.

The session also heard from Marek Kwiek, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences and Humanities at Poland’s Adam Mickiewicz University, who described the rise of international online collaboration during the pandemic as an “opportunity of a lifetime” for researchers.

Prior to the pandemic, staff would “travel for two days for a two-hour meeting to see 20 people – now we can meet with 100 people almost instantly”, he said, adding: “This is real globalisation.”

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Reader's comments (1)

Perhaps the pandemic has highlighted what many universities are most concerned about: student fees and "metrics". Overworked staff does not seem to interest many university leaders that much.