U of T’s Academic Board met on January 27 to discuss the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on researchers and research productivity. Research compiled and presented by Vice-Provost, Faculty & Academic Life Heather Boon and Associate Vice-President and Vice-Provost, Strategic Initiatives Christine Allen found that the productivity of women researchers, Black researchers, and researchers with young dependents was more significantly impacted by the pandemic than that of their peers.

The Academic Board also detailed the support offered to faculty and staff during the pandemic for their research, and noted that requesting delays for research had become normal practice.

Impact of pandemic

The board informed its discussion through research published by Nature Human Behavior, a scientific journal that publishes research on individual and collective human behaviour. 

The research indicated that 55 per cent of researchers reported a decline in their working hours during the pandemic, 27 per cent reported no change, and 18 per cent reported an increase. There was a particularly significant impact on “fields that rely on physical laboratories” such as biochemistry, as opposed to disciplines like mathematics. 

The research also showed that women and Black researchers were significantly impacted, as well as scientists with young dependents. While 68.7 per cent of men reported submitting research as planned, only 49.8 per cent of women were able to do so. For Black women, that number decreases to 47.3 per cent, and for Black men, it was at 63.2 per cent. 

Recommendations and initiatives

The presentation also included a series of recommendations for the university, such as providing targeted support groups for researchers affected by the pandemic, reassessing grant fund applications, and collaborating more with agencies and researchers. 

The board discussed approaches that U of T has taken to ensure that support is available for faculty members. The main goal for these support initiatives was to “recommend flexibility and the provision of specific supports that are tailored to the individual context and need.” 

The university handles workload assignments on a case-by-case basis, and faculty members and librarians are able to make delay requests. While U of T used to get 12 to 15 delay requests in a given year, that number has jumped to around 100 per year during the pandemic. 

Boon and Allen also expanded on specific supports available for faculty members. These supports include reducing course teaching load by 0.5 credits for the instructors who are teaching more than 1,000 students, or who had six half courses transitioned online; offering delays for tenure review; educating faculty and review committees about the wide range of ways to demonstrate excellence in research; and providing advice on how instructors can adapt to the challenges of COVID-19.