Panellists in Discussion
UiA Rector Sunniva Whittaker, Klara Øverland from Norsk Psykologforening, Nils Korsvoll from The Young Academy of Norway, Yannik Schneider from The Association of Dsctoral Organisationa (SiN), and Jon Iddeng from Forskerforbundet.
Acting as host and moderator Sinziana Rasca, communication link Mareike Brehmer, and Saga Pardede as notetaker.
On the 17th of March 2021 UiAdoc hosted a Panel Discussion event on the topic “The Pandemic's effect on PhDs and Postdocs and potential solutions”. The aim of this event was to provide PhDs and Postdocs at UiA and beyond with direct information about opinions and positions promoted by Norwegian institutions, syndicates, and representative bodies in relation to the views, measures, and solutions taken in Norway to relieve the effect of the pandemic on this academic employee group.
The discussion highlighted some concerns regarding how PhDs and Postdocs can finish on time. International studies have shown that international PhDs may suffer more because of the pandemic due to loneliness and mental health issues (https://www.ugent.be/en/news-events/loneliness-among-international-staff-members.htm). Moreover, the panelists and audience brought up the issue of not enough help from employers for PhDs and Postdocs who needed to maintain teaching and other work assignments directly affected by the pandemic in detriment to work on their own project. It was also noted that the pandemic fostered a sense of exclusion from the academic community and brought a negative impact on professional networking and exchange research opportunities for the PhDs and Postdocs based on a survey conducted by Forskerforbundet.
The survey conducted by Forskerforbundet indicated that the main issues faced by the PhDs were: delay in their work from collecting data and travel, mental health and wellbeing, a sense of loneliness and fatigue. A meeting between Forskerforbundet and the PhDs and Postdocs also revealed issues on lacking information in English on how and when to apply for extensions.
UiA was vocal towards providing priority to the PhDs and Postdocs due to living conditions and needed use of laboratory. The university as an organisation was conflicted with several problems (e.g., ensuring health and safety for students and personnel, maintaining teaching), but needed to wait for national signals in order to implement an extension application procedure. The ministry of higher education was involved “hands-on” in this topic, and the university leadership needed to wait for decisions to be taken by them.
Norsk Psykologforening accentuated that they have worked to lift-up the debate on loneliness and the problem of mental health with which the PhDs and Postdocs are struggling. Issues with a lack of personal meetings and the constant practice of zoom meetings seems to become a burden. Their conclusion was that PhDs and Postdocs need to have connections and reasons for social “enjoyment”, like coffee break talks with their colleagues as part of their work. The representative of Norsk Psykologforening said that their organisation is concerned to see the difference in statistics between the pandemic period and the years before the pandemic related to how many PhDs are failing to finish their project in the given time frame. It seems that the current pandemic situation has a strong negative effect on these numbers.
The discussion concluded that tailor made actions are difficult in the current situation, and that there seems to be an issue with prioritising. Yannik Schneider from The Association of doctoral Organisation (SiN) stated that the main issue for PhDs is the temporary position with a deliverable thesis and more workload e.g., teaching this is a lot of pressure and time consuming. With pandemic this causes difficulties in data collection. He feels PhDs and Postdocs are most affected or disturbed in response to the pandemic compare to other workers.
The UiA Rector mentioned that she has not personally been much involved in “details of actions”, but that strategic contingency meetings are organised by the team in charge when it is appropriate. A lot of these issues have been brought to the deans and departments in every faculty at UiA and several meetings with the international employees have been organised. UiA has tried to do its best and it is always open for ideas and best practice, because in such a situation it is important to learn from each other.
The questions and comments from the audience highlighted the fact that there are serious concerns from PhDs and Postdocs related to finishing late on their projects. Furthermore, Nils Korsvoll from The Young Academy of Norway also expressed a similar position as Yannik Schneider from The Association of doctoral Organisation (SiN) in reference to the pandemic situation. UiAdoc research has also shown a discrepancy between national and international treatments, and Nils would like to address the level of pressure asking “are we losing the generation of researchers when it comes to these conditions e.g., pandemic and similar condition?”.
A simple question yet one that carries such gravity to us all as researchers.
Comments & questions from audience
“From my perspective, what worked well in UiA is having access to our offices. We were given access, and this was solved on the lowest level.”
“Can we expect extension to be applied for the period after August as well? Is it possible to reapply?”
“The maximum extension is 2 months, but the pandemic is still ongoing. I was wondering what the rules for these extensions in other universities are and how are we going to do the evaluations for more extension?”
“There is so much with this entire situation that is unprecedented, and then meanwhile it feels like we are being asked to quantify the hours missed across so many different areas, to fit them into some excel sheet and calculate how much time left there is for us to finish our work.”
UiAdoc would like to say many thanks to all those involved!