Summary of discussions within the Research Committee:
Opportunity to provide feedback on the impacts of COVID-19 on research at the Faculty of Social Sciences
The Office of the Vice-President of Research (OVPR) has established a COVID-19 uOttawa Research Restart Taskforce, chaired by the Associate Vice-President, Research Support and Infrastructure and comprised of Vice-Deans of Research representing the arts, social sciences and humanities, as well as pure and applied sciences.
In order to adequately represent the needs and challenges faced by Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) researchers, the Vice-Dean of Research invited colleagues from the Research Committee to meet on May 27, 2020. This special meeting featured the following guests who led the discussion about research under COVID-19: Margarida Garcia (Vice-Dean, Research and Communications, Faculty of Law - Civil Law Section), Caroline Hyslop (Associate Librarian, Research Services) and Marc Dubé (Vice-Dean, Research, Faculty of Engineering).
Committee members were asked to reflect on and answer the following questions, prepared by the Research Restart Taskforce:
- How is the current situation affecting your research (negative and/or positive impacts)?
- What are specific actions that could help us deal with these impacts?
- How do you envision the roles of the University, the Office of the Vice-President, Research and the Faculty for a "research relaunch” when we return to campus?
- Aside from existing programs related to COVID-19, what opportunities might you see for changes in the way we conduct research on campus?
- To what extent has the closure of the library affected your research activities?
- Have you faced any barriers specifically related to your personal situation, either because you belong to a designated group in Canada (women, Indigenous, persons with disabilities and persons in a visible minority group as defined by the Employment Equity Act), or because you have significant family responsibilities?
The following is a summary of the responses that emerged from the discussion.
Negative Impacts of the Pandemic on Research
Forced interruption of research
- Much of social science research is done in person, in community settings and internationally. The closure of borders and the ban on travel for field research have halted ongoing projects. All the planning needs to be rethought, reviewed, and shifted in time, but when can we start again?
- Banning face-to-face interactions requires a massive and difficult methodological shift for the social sciences and humanities; adapting studies for online research does not have the same reach and many studies require a bond of trust that is impossible to create virtually. Online recruitment is difficult.
- How to deal with unexpected costs that were not in project budgets: specialized software for online data collection, significant increases in the cost of flights travel resumes?
- Existing research programs must be entirely reoriented, as it is impossible to continue as before the pandemic - in some cases the original concept must be completely abandoned.
- A lot of mourning over thesis projects that must be abandoned.
- For some research, data cannot be collected, or existing databases are not accessible, which results in a loss of research momentum.
- The closure of the laboratories and the Research Data Centre has halted ongoing projects.
- The closure of the library has had a significant impact on the advancement of research, particularly for research in French, as there are fewer French books available online than there are English books. Recent titles are also not found online.
- The shift to research on COVID-19 may be happening too quickly; how sustainable is it? What about ethics?
- Access to some research tools (in off-campus labs or physical spaces) is not managed by uOttawa.
- Significant impact on women's careers.
- Complete cessation of research due to family obligations, significant reduction in working hours and/or unreasonable work schedules (e.g., 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., to catch up).
- Colleagues need to prioritize some responsibilities and therefore drop others, such as teaching and supervising graduate students trying to complete their studies.
- Colleagues withdrawing from research or publication projects because of family obligations; projects must be rethought or abandoned.
- The assumption that we're going to go back to work full-time in September is inaccurate.
- Reconsidering applying to large research projects.
Transition to distance teaching
- Huge amounts of work to transition quickly to online teaching at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Research has therefore been set aside.
- Additional preparation required for the Fall semester - writing or research work usually done over the summer will now be spent on course preparation.
- Administrators do not seem to understand the amount of work required to prepare online courses (4x more time).
- Lack of support in setting up online courses (financial, technical, tools).
Promotion and tenure
- The current situation has a significant impact on promotion and tenure files, and the institution must take this into account when evaluating files.
- Repercussions of the current situation will be felt for a long time, not just this year.
- Fear of future repercussions for low publication rate.
- Should 2020 be considered a blank page?
- SSHRC does not allow more than one principal researcher per project.
Slow administrative processes
- The slow pace of the finance department (payments, reimbursements) affects the operation of research projects.
- Obstacles at the Office of Ethics: long delays, a cumbersome process, does not consider approvals from other universities.
Lack of institutional leadership
- The institution does not have a global vision of research nor a clear understanding of the issues at stake for research in the social sciences and humanities.
- The institution should be proactive in regard to requesting extensions for all research projects from the major granting agencies, not just those with an end date this year.
- The university's expectations are unrealistic: research excellence, a multitude of quality courses AND good mental health?
- Difficulty finding answers to questions about rules and prohibitions (e.g., travel).
- Several decisions being made based on a return to physical space in September, without knowing what will happen.
- The unknown causes a lot of stress - some people are already exhausted; how will they get through the summer?
Positive impacts of the pandemic on research
- Time to do deeper analysis of previously collected data.
- (For those with no obligations) more writing time.
- Learning new tools and adapting to new technologies.
- Excellent service from librarians to students for training on new tools.
- Relaunching research implies going back to the way things were before - why not use this crisis to adopt a new way of working, new practices: quality rather than quantity, more deliberate pace and deeper reflections.
Possible solutions and support
- Listen to researchers to find out their needs.
- Researchers will determine when and how to re-launch their research - the institution must support them.
- Avoid prioritizing hard sciences.
- Provide clear and easy-to-understand procedures for a return to in-person work - distancing, cleaning, personal protective equipment, etc.
- Extend the end date for all research projects (tri-council, internal funding, contracts, etc.).
- Reserve uOttawa summer camp spots for the children of staff members.
- Earmark internal funds for research on COVID-19 - we have a social responsibility to document what is happening.
- Create a venue for interdisciplinary research in connection with COVID-19.
- Rethink Faculty funding and release from teaching competitions with a focus on those who have experienced a significant slowdown in their research (women/caregivers).
- Provide research assistantships for women/caregivers to enable them to continue their research and writing.
- Organize virtual Faculty activities to break isolation and allow for exchanges between colleagues.
- Offer workshops on how to organize online conferences.
- Provide more direct access to resources (e.g. IT - direct link to a technician instead of the online application form).
- Provide technical support for research being done virtually
- Reduced teaching load.
- Suspend prize competitions.
- Communicate clear and reassuring messages to researchers.
- Invest in more research coordinators to facilitate scholarly output.
- Allowing more flexibility and collaboration for teachers to balance their course load (e.g., agreeing to teach 4 courses/semester each to free up one semester to devote to research).
- Provide financial support for equipment needed to work from home.
- Open wetlabs as soon as possible.
- Allow access to software outside the laboratories and give priority access to students who need to complete their thesis.
- Provide ongoing technical support for future webinars and virtual conferences, such as what would be offered during a face-to-face conference.
- Develop a guide to research technologies.
- Increase communications capacity in the Office of the Vice-Dean.
- Develop a policy regarding working remotely, during the pandemic and in the future.
- Adapt existing equipment to facilitate working remotely.
- Better management of paper correspondence (mail).