Impact of COVID-19 on Research and Scholarship: Spring 2021 Town Halls

The impacts of COVID-19 on the research and scholarly activities of the UBC community continue to be felt acutely by many. This is true whether these activities have restarted, refocused or remain largely curtailed. It is also likely that many research areas will be dealing with impacts of the pandemic for some time to come.

To better understand the ongoing challenges and concerns of UBC scholars and researchers, the Vice-President Research and Innovation (VPRI) held a series of town halls to identify how to help both internally and by working with appropriate external bodies, such as funding agencies.

The town halls were open to faculty members at our two campuses and our affiliated health research institutes. They were organized around Tri-agency areas as a way to hear from sections of our research community that may be facing similar challenges. These town halls were not intended to address specifics of the planning process for an increase in on-campus activity in September.

Six town halls were held from April 27 to May 10, 2021. Anyone unable to attend was invited to share their thoughts via email. We welcome any further comments by email to research.innovation@ubc.ca.


What we Heard

Discussions at each of the town halls covered many areas, but certain themes emerged consistently across these sessions. These themes included:

  • The safety of everyone returning to campus must be the top priority
  • The pandemic has had an unequal impact that must be recognized by the University and by funding agencies:
    • Women faculty and faculty of colour have been affected more negatively
    • Different academic disciplines will take varying lengths of time to fully recover
    • Many early-career researchers have been more negatively affected and there is significant concern about the time it will take this group to recover due to gaps in productivity and funding. 
    • Programs relying on off-campus and international travel for field work, archival or human participant research have been severely impacted. Restrictions on international travel may remain for some time. 
  • There is concern about how peer review panels will consider gaps in productivity due to the pandemic.  Advocacy is needed to encourage panels to apply transparent and fair criteria during peer review.Gaps in productivity may persist after the pandemic is over.
  • There is a concern about the impact of the pandemic, and in particular the fact that teams have not been able to work in-personhas resulted in a loss of opportunity to share learnings among team members, and loss of opportunities for mentorship.
  • The University should consider surveys, focus-groups or both to understand what type of bridge funding would help faculty members, particularly early-career researchers, recover from the impact of the pandemic.
  • VPRI should look at internal processes to ensure these do not contribute to further delays in productivity.
  • There are significant issues and delays with international graduate students obtaining visas to work in Canada.
  • The University should enable international graduate students to engage in their programs from afar, if they are unable to travel to Canada, and to get actively involved in their programs once in Canada.
  • There needs to be clarity around mechanisms for ensuring adherence to public health orders on our campuses.

VPRI Commitments

Moving forward the Office of the VP, Research and Innovation is committed to advancing the following topics.

Funding Agency Engagement

The VPRI commits to pursuing the following issues with funding agencies:

  • Raise the need for recognition of how the pandemic has had an unequal impact on different disciplines and different groups of researchers and scholars
  • Consider at-cost extensions as an important element of any recovery
  • Work to ensure a consistent, fair, and transparent approach to peer review to ensure that the impact of the pandemic does not adversely or unequally influence competition results
  • Enable closer alignment among the agencies of definitions for different career stages, particularly for early career researchers

COLLABORATION

During the Town Halls, we heard a number of concerns that require the collaboration of a number of different units at the University. VPRI will ensure that these issues are raised with the appropriate teams. 

Specifically, we will raise what we heard about the need for bridge supports for faculty members, particularly early career researchers, with the Provosts Offices, the Deans, and with colleagues in Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies and the College of Graduate Studies.  A series of focus groups will be convened in the coming months to discuss options for bridge support in more detail. 

We heard about challenges for international graduate students to get to Canada to begin or continue their programs.  We will collaborate with the International Office and with the College of Graduate Studies and the Faculty of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies on this issue. Information on the Student Direct Stream expedited study permit processing program: Vancouver | Okanagan.

VPRI PORTFIOLO

  • Many asked about how to frame COVID-19 impact statements in grant applications and reports. To help inform these impacts, the SPARC office will collect and make available a library of ‘COVID-19 Impact’ statements to researchers and scholars.
  • If you experience any issues in accessing VPRI services in a timely manner, please contact research.innovation@ubc.ca for follow-up.