COVID-19 work and research activities and restrictions: Non-academic geoscientists

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Literature review, writing and online research continue to be the primary work and research mode for non-academic geoscientists. Fieldwork and computational research activi­ties were reported by 30% to 40% of respondents since June 2020, with some declines in fieldwork activities during late fall and winter. The percentage of respondents performing lab-based activities increased from 12% to 22% between June 2020 and February 2021.

DB_2021-008 chart 01: Work and research activities of non-academic geoscientists (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

Access restrictions and limited staffing at facilities continue to be the most common COVID-19 related facility restriction reported by non-academic geoscientists. Since June 2020, an increasing percentage of respondents reported restrictions related to facility access, reduced staffing at facilities, and deferral of lab activities. The percentage of respondents reporting deferral of field activities has remained near 20%, with the exception of July and August 2020. The percentage of respondents reporting no COVID-19 related facility restric­tions declined from 17% in July 2020 to 10% in February 2021.

DB_2021-008 chart 02: COVID-19 related facility restrictions for non-academic geoscientists (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

The use of face masks inside buildings and social distancing continues to be the most common COVID-19 related health and safety protocols reported by non-academic geoscientists. Since June 2020, an increasing percentage of respondents have reported COVID-19 related health and safety restrictions related to the use of face mask both indoors and outdoors.

Since July 2020, the percentage of respondents reporting the use of social distancing has remained near 90%, and the use of temperature checks near 35%. The percentage of respondents reporting the use of personal protective equipment has decreased from 74% in June 2020 to 66% in February 2021, and the percentage of respondents reporting increased health and safety protocols decreased slightly over the same period. The percentage of respondents reporting no COVID-19 related health and safety restrictions declined from 9% in July 2020 to 5% in February 2021.

DB_2021-008 chart 03: COVID-19 related health and safety restrictions for non-academic geoscientists (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

Virtual meetings continue to be the most common COVID-19 related meeting and travel restriction reported by non-aca­demic geoscientists. Since June 2020, restrictions prevent­ing travel have eased slightly, while restrictions related to not allowing outside visitors into facilities has edged up slightly. The percentage of respondents reporting isolation policies before and after travelling increased from July 2020 to February 2021 (4% to 7% and 12% to 19%, respectively). The percentage of respondents reporting no COVID-19 related meeting and travel restrictions declined from 10% in July 2020 to 6% in February 2021.

DB_2021-008 chart 04: COVID-19 related meeting and travel restrictions for non-academic geoscientists (Credit: AGI; data from AGI's Geoscience COVID-19 Survey)

Fifteen percent of non-academic geoscientists reported that there had been a change to their work or research due to the pandemic. Of those reporting changes to their work or research, most reported that the change was limitations or cessation of in-person activities (i.e., lab work, fieldwork, and other in-person activities) and a re-focusing of efforts on tasks and projects that could be completed remotely, such as project planning, training, online committee work, virtual outreach, writing up research results, and conducting online research. Some respondents mentioned shifting their focus to take care of routine tasks that were usually performed during downtime, such as organizing and maintenance of equipment and projects.

Just over one-fifth of non-academic geoscientists reported that the pandemic had provided them the opportunity to explore new areas of work or research. Comments included having the time to develop additional technical skills, spending time conducting more in-depth research for existing projects, pursuing new projects and employment opportunities, and doing more virtual outreach, networking and collaboration.

Challenges related to work and research activities centered on the lack of in-person interactions and informal discus­sions, difficulties with collaborating and communicating with others, technology issues and suboptimal work-from-home environments, COVID-related restrictions on facility access, field activities, and travel. Other challenges included decreased productivity and issues with work-life balance, less business which impacted revenue and staffing, research impacts due to restrictions and delays, project delays, and supply chain disruptions.

Respondents also commented on benefits to their new work and research situation. Positives included the lack of needing to commute to the office thus providing more time for research and writing as well as for a better work-life balance. Respondents also commented on being allowed to work remotely, which for some was a challenge during pre-pandemic times when employers were less inclined to allow employees to work from home. Respondents also commented on increased productivity, flexible hours, lack of office politics, and less interruptions when working from home as well as improved collaboration with colleagues. Other benefits included the increased availability of online presentations and activities which allowed for greater access to information and professional development opportunities.

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: www.americangeosciences.org/workforce/covid19

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.

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