Researchers with children were impacted most severely, because they were busy home-schooling their children when the schools closed. Women at the start of their careers were particularly likely to run into problems. International researchers were the most likely to be socially isolated. These are some of the conclusions drawn in a report published on Tuesday.

When researchers fall behind in their research projects, the consequences are particularly disadvantageous to PhD students and junior scientists. They tend to be on temporary contracts, so falling behind means they may not be able to complete their research projects. For the time being, employers and granting agencies should take these facts into account, says the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The Academy recommends that the Cabinet help these junior scientists out by allocating some of its budget to them.

Pub quiz

But the pandemic didn’t only bring misery. The KNAW also found that the crisis brought out the best in people. People came up with all sorts of ideas to encourage each other, such as virtual coffee breaks, online pub quizzes and walks. This showed how important it is that academia be a community, says the KNAW.

Under the motto ‘never waste a good crisis’, the academy of elite scientists seeks to use the coronavirus pandemic to improve science. “We should not wish to return to the old normal”, the report states. “Rather we should reflect on what we, academics, have learned during the pandemic, and implement this.”

During the pandemic, researchers shared the results of their studies faster than ever. They easily established collaborative partnerships and were quick to receive grants. The KNAW recommends keeping things that way.

Ecological footprint

Moreover, many researchers found that they were quite able to collaborate online. So why should academics fly to all sorts of conferences around the globe when they can meet online? The ecological footprint of science can be reduced.

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The report also states that the crisis acted as a magnifying glass of sorts, showing the cracks in academia. This was a reference to things such as scientists receiving threats, with women and researchers of colour receiving the brunt of the threats.

“It is important not just that scientists be protected from threats”, the KNAW said in its recommendations. “They must also be given the opportunity to make themselves vulnerable, to admit when they made a mistake, and to be transparent about how science works.” All junior scientists should be taught how to communicate science.


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Not naive

“At the same time, we should not be naive about this”, the report also states. After all, opinions differ, even in science, and better communication does not necessarily protect people from targeted attacks that are politically or financially motivated.