NIH Releases Survey Results on the Impact of COVID-19 on Extramural Science

On March 25, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released the results of two online surveys,  conducted in October 2020, which examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its Extramural Science programs. One survey assessed the perspectives of researchers, while the second reflected the perspectives of research administration leaders at extramural institutions.

The surveys were developed and conducted by former NIH Chief Officer of Scientific Workforce Diversity, Dr. Hannah A. Valantine, in close collaboration with the Office of Extramural Research and several other NIH offices.

The findings of both surveys were clear — they show that the scientific workforce and its research activities have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. The majority of the respondents to both surveys noted concerns about research functions, research productivity, and financial status.

For the Extramural Researchers Survey, the eRA Commons system —the Web site that researchers use to manage their grants —was used to generate a list that included individual researchers at domestic institutions who logged into eRA Commons within two years prior to the survey and who identified as having a scientific role (e.g., principal investigators, trainees, sponsors, undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, scientists, and project personnel). There were 45,348 participants out of 234,254 invitees, reflecting a response rate of 19 percent.

This survey found that the NIH-funded community of extramural researchers has experienced inequities in several domains, with early-career researchers and those with caregiving responsibilities most affected. Early-career scientists and Asians were most likely to report concerns about career trajectory. The vast majority of nearly all groups reported lower job productivity. Women, Hispanics, and early-career scientists were most likely to report concerns about mental health and external stressors. Almost half of respondents reported that caretaking responsibilities made it substantially more difficult to be productive. Finally, less than half of respondents felt that their organization was supportive in helping them to remain productive.

For the Extramural Institutions Survey, a research administration leader (Vice President for Research or equivalent position) was identified from each of the following types of institutions:

  • The 1,000 top-funded domestic institutions based on Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 NIH awards
  • Schools that are part of the Association of American Medical Colleges
  • Minority-serving institutions that received grant awards in FY2019

This survey engaged 224 participants out of 705 invitees, reflecting a response rate of 32 percent.

In September 2020 and as part of its Sixth Annual Emerging Vision Scientists (EVS) Day on Capitol Hill, AEVR released a 30-minute video discussion entitled Impact of COVID-19 Lab Closures on the Next Generation of Vision Scientists. The 22 participating EVSs discussed how the pandemic has impacted patient engagement, animal colonies and cell cultures, collaborations, training, and career pathways. The data from the NIH surveys generally aligns with the views that the EVSs expressed in AEVR’s conversation.

To watch that video, click into the following link: