NIH COVID-19 Extramural Surveys
Two central goals of the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) at the NIH are to diversify the scientific workforce and expand recruitment and retention. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the existing challenges faced by this diverse workforce and created new ones. To assess the impact of the pandemic on the research workforce and research institutions and identify the potential implications on these underrepresented groups in the scientific workforce, COSWD developed and fielded the NIH COVID-19 Impact on Extramural Researchers Survey and the NIH COVID-19 Impact on Extramural Institutions Survey in October 2020. The NIH COVID-19 Impact on Extramural Researchers Survey was taken by 45,348 of the 234,254 researchers invited to participate for a 19% response rate, and responses were collected from October 14 through November 13. The NIH COVID-19 Impact on Extramural Institutions Survey was taken by 224 of the 705 research leaders at top NIH-funded institutions for a 32% response rate, and responses were collected from October 7 through November 6.
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Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how much of the world lives and works, and the scientific workforce is no exception. Researchers have since transitioned to virtual workspaces, taken on caretaking responsibilities in addition to their work responsibilities, and dealt with social distancing restrictions in laboratories, among other disruptions. There is also evidence that these changes have disproportionately affected groups underrepresented in the U.S. scientific workforce. The findings from both surveys have implications for biomedical research writ large and the investigators and institutions that produce and support it.
We know that there are deleterious effects from the COVID-19 pandemic on the research community. Disruptions in research based on the type of research, caregiver status, stage of career, and other factors are significant for some groups. For instance, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic endangered the engagement, experience, and retention of women in academic settings and may even roll back some of the achievement gains made to date. The 1NIH COVID-19 Impact on Extramural Researchers Survey and the NIH COVID-19 Impact on Extramural Institutions Survey aimed to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on the extramural research community, both in the short- and long-term. In addition, survey findings about how and to what extent the pandemic has affected those groups designated as underrepresented in the U.S. biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences, per the 2019 Notice of NIH’s Interest in Diversity, as well as other vulnerable groups due to the pandemic, such as early-career investigators, Asian researchers, and researchers with caretaking responsibilities inform our understanding of strategies to mitigate its impact.
The surveys were conducted by an independent outside entity (Deloitte), and data are being maintained in a de-identified manner. COSWD helped obtain a sample for each survey. A census approach was used for both surveys, meaning that the whole population within set parameters were invited to participate. All participants were informed that they would be de-identified and that they could withdraw participation at any point during the study and provided informed consent. Participation in the survey was voluntary, and all questions did not require answers. Personal demographic questions were aimed to help us identify vulnerable, diverse groups in need of additional support. These questions were optional. NIH is not able to associate respondent names with the de-identified data provided by Deloitte.
NIH Workforce COVID-19 Impact Survey
The NIH Workforce COVID-19 Impact Survey was conducted by the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD), in conjunction with various NIH offices, to assess impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the NIH workforce. The 15-20-minute survey was administered between July 14-28 and sought staff input on their workplace experiences since NIH moved to maximum telework on March 16. Nearly 17,000 NIH staff members (51%) responded to the survey. The survey was administered by an independent outside entity (Deloitte), and data is being maintained in a de-identified manner. The survey results were made available to NIH staff via an executive summary on November 19, 2020. NIH leadership will use the responses to increase understanding of the current workplace environment during the COVID-19 pandemic and inform strategies to address COVID-19 related inequities within the NIH workforce.
The central objective for COSWD is to expand the diversity of the scientific workforce. To that end, COSWD surveyed the NIH workforce to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the workforce overall and on vulnerable populations. We administered the survey to all NIH federal staff, students and trainees, postdocs, volunteers, and contractors who were given permission to participate by their employer. The survey was only administered to individuals with email accounts at NIH.
We know these are difficult and unprecedented times and that responses to this survey will help us ensure we understand the impact of the pandemic on all staff working at NIH. We learned from the NIH Workplace Climate and Harassment Survey (completed last year) that there are particularly vulnerable groups in the NIH community who experience bullying and harassment such as women, trainees, younger staff (age 18-24), and those who identify as sexual and gender minorities. We also know there are unique stresses associated with COVID-19 that are disproportionately impacting underrepresented groups, including African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaskan Natives from a public health perspective and therefore, it may be impacting other aspects of work and family life. Recent studies show a higher impact on women in the workforce during COVID-19 who must also manage childcare and elderly care. We developed the survey with these insights in mind to inform helpful strategies addressing inequities or problems in the NIH workforce.
The survey was conducted by an independent outside entity (Deloitte) and data are being maintained in a de-identified manner. It was administered via a unique email link and was sent to NIH federal staff, students and trainees, postdocs, volunteers, and contractors who were given permission to participate by their employers. The survey was only administered to individuals with email accounts at NIH and was not available in a hardcopy format. Participation in the survey was voluntary, and all questions did not require answers. Personal demographic questions were aimed to help us identify vulnerable, diverse groups at NIH in need of additional support. These questions were optional. NIH is not able to associate respondent names with the de-identified data provided by Deloitte.
1National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Impact of COVID-19 on the Careers of Women in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26061.