COVID-19 Impacts to the Geoscience Workforce: February to mid-June 2020

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In this data brief we examine changes in the workforce sta­tus and impacts to workplace activities between February and June 2020 based on initial responses from the Geosci­ence COVID-19 study. Most study participants were actively working during this period, with 71% working as geoscience employees, academic faculty, post-doctoral fellows, or as K-12 faculty. Students comprised 17% of survey participants, and retirees comprised 9% of survey participants.

Data Brief 2020-008 chart 01: Survey participants by category, February 2020 (credit: AGI; data derived from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

Employed Geoscientists

Of those working full time in February 2020, 98% were still working full-time in June. Geoscientists working part-time in February 2020 also stayed employed, but 10% reported being shifted to contract work by June and 5% were furloughed. In February 2020, 92% of those working reported that their primary work location was at their employer’s office and 7% reported they primarily worked from home. Of those work­ing in their employer’s office in February, 90% were working from home by mid-June and 9% were still working in their employer’s office.

Unemployed Geoscientists

By June 2020, 4% of survey participants reported they were not employed, up from 2% of participants in February 2020. This increase was driven by students who graduated during this period and had not yet found employment and a few individuals who were employed in February and became unemployed by mid-June. Of survey participants who were not employed in February 2020, one-quarter found work within the geosciences by June 2020.

Nearly all survey participants who were not employed in Feb­ruary 2020, were actively seeking employment within the geo­sciences, and just under half were also seeking employment in non-geoscience occupations. Reasons for seeking work outside of the geoscience included a lack of job opportunities within the geosciences, better opportunities in another field, and an inability to change location to take a geoscience job. Those who only sought work outside of the geosciences also mentioned not having adequate training or skills nor educa­tional pre-requisites for available geoscience jobs.

Geoscience Students

Eighty-eight percent of those enrolled full-time in February reported the same enrollment status by mid-June. Those who changed their enrollment status reported that they had graduated, were unemployed, were not enrolled, or had tran­sitioned to part-time enrollment.

In terms of degree completion impacts from COVID-19, 64% of students reported no impacts, while 17% reported that their graduation had been deferred. While 12% of students reported that their thesis, dissertation, or senior thesis / capstone project defense was deferred, 11% reported that they defended their thesis or dissertation online. Multiple impacts to degree completion were reported by 15% of students, including those impacts mentioned above as well as impacts to qualifying exams.

Data Brief 2020-008 chart 02: Degree completion impacts (credit: AGI; data derived from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

Fifty-seven percent of students reported that they intended to enroll as full-time students in the Fall. An additional 17% of students reported their intention to return as full-time students as long as certain conditions were in place – 10% intended to return full-time only if courses would be on-cam­pus, and 7% reported they would return full-time only if safety measures were in place. 15% of students reported that they had graduated and were not returning while 5% reported that they graduated and were enrolling in a new degree program in the Fall.

Data Brief 2020-008 chart 03: Enrollment intention of geoscience students for Fall 2020 (credit: AGI; data derived from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

Retired geoscientists

Between February and June 2020, there was a 25% increase in retirees who were active professionally or with volunteer­ing. Although retirees became more active with research, project work and consulting activities as well as with pro­fessional society activities, the largest increase occurred with retirees doing non-geoscience volunteering activities.

We will continue to provide current snapshots on the impacts of COVID-19 on the geoscience enterprise throughout the year. For more information, and to participate in the study, please visit:

Funding for this project is provided by the National Science Foundation (Award #2029570). The results and interpretation of the survey are the views of the American Geosciences Institute and not those of the National Science Foundation.

Date updated: 2020-06-19
Data Brief 2020-008
Written and compiled by Leila Gonzales and Christopher Keane, AGI, June 2020

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