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The Impact of COVID-19 on the Research Community

In October of 2020, 45,348 researchers at domestic, NIH-funded institutions and 224 research leaders from the top 1,000 NIH-funded domestic institutions responded to an NIH COVID-19 Impact on Extramural Research Survey, which aimed to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on the research community. At a high-level, survey findings emphasized the impact of COVID-19 on the career trajectory, mental health, and research productivity of extramural researchers: 
  • 55% of respondents said the pandemic will have a negative impact on their career trajectory
  • 68% of respondents said societal/political events negatively affected their mental health, more than other factor
  • 78% of respondents reported lower levels of productivity since the pandemic began 

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CAREER Trajectory

  • 61% of lab-based researchers agreed that the pandemic will harm their career trajectory
  • Asian respondents were more likely than other groups to anticipate a negative career trajectory (65%), with a decline in research activities and lab-based research driving opinions
  • Black or African American respondents were least likely to anticipate a negative career trajectory (39%), with relatively fewer lab researchers and more public health researchers driving a more optimistic outlook 

A Closer Look

  • The strongest predictor of a negative career trajectory perception is researchers’ ability to apply for grants 

Top career stages that anticipate negatively impacted career trajectories due to COVID-19:

  • Postdoctoral Fellow/ Resident
  • Faculty (0-6 Years)
  • Faculty (7-14 Years) 


  • 42%of respondents said their mental/physical health had a substantially negative impact on productivity.
  • Women and respondents identifying as “other” genders were consistently more negatively impacted than men across top factors affecting mental health
  • Early career investigators were consistently more negatively impacted across top factors affecting mental health
  • Asian researchers cited visa considerations as negatively affecting their mental health at twice the rate than the average 

Top factors that negatively impacted researchers’ mental health include:

  • Societal and/or political events
  • Physical and/or social isolation
  • Disruption of promotion/ tenure timeline 

Did You Know?

  • Survey findings indicated mental and physical health is the #1 factor negatively impacting the productivity of early career investigators, Hispanics, and African American respondents 

RESEARCH Productivity

  • Early-(80%) and mid-career investigators (81%) reported lower levels of productivity due to COVID-19, with faculty members reporting a more negative impact than non-faculty researchers
  • 53%of Hispanics indicated their mental/physical health has negatively impacted research productivity since the pandemic began 

The Bottom Line:

  • The less institutional support provided to researchers leads to a greater impact on productivity 

Top factors that negatively impacted researchers’ overall productivity include:

  • 53% Virtual instead of in-person interactions with trainees, mentors, or supervisors
  • 50% Cancellation of in-person regional, national, and/or international conferences
  • 49% Changes in laboratory and/or animal facility access 


  • 83% of respondents indicated that COVID-19 had a moderate or major impact on overall research productivity at their institution
  • 41% of respondents said it is likely the financial repercussions of COVID-19 will jeopardize their institution’s ability to maintain research functions
  • 2 in 3 respondents were very or extremely concerned about the pandemic’s impact on the financial status of their institution
  • 77% of Doctorate-granting universities reported as very or extremely concerned
  • 33% of Independent research institutions reported as very or extremely concerned