How are we coping with the Pandemic?

 

With so much happening in the world, it might seem like the Pandemic is ‘over’ as far as the news cycle is concerned – but even with the lifting of restrictions in Denmark and abroad, the impacts of the pandemic can still be acutely felt by PhD students. 

The data from the survey shows that more than half of PhD students have had their project delayed by the pandemic, but only a significantly smaller amount has received an extension.

But beyond the numbers of the survey, there are many critical factors that are more difficult to count: how the uncertainties caused by the pandemic have affected and still affect the scheduling of research stays and teaching; the lingering effects of long-term isolation on the well-being of the students; the lack of opportunities for professional networking; the pedagogical difficulties of starting a teaching career online… 

We urge Universities to take all these lingering effects into account when dealing with PhD students and, even if more extensions are not possible, consider different ways to support them.

Considering that the lenght of a PhD contract is usually around 3 years, a pandemic that has lasted more than 2 years has had a profound impact in the majority of current PhD’s projects – all first year PhDs who took the survey, for example, have started the PhD during the pandemic.

 

Whereas a fifth of PhD students have not have their project delayed because of the pandemic, the vast majority of PhDs have, to different degrees of severity, felt that the pandemic has affected their project. Here we can include factors like delays or even the impossibility of data collection, being unable to access facilities such as laboratories due to lockdowns, childcare and homeschooling duties affecting work time…

However, in face of all the perceived delays, there was only a relatively small number of students who have applied for extensions. Of those who applied, the majority has been granted. Considering the amount of students who reported delays, why did so few apply? 

While the quantitative data does not hold the answer for this particular question, PAND’s experience in advocating for PhD students during the pandemic has shown that there were large inconsistencies in how Universities have handled extensions, with different departments in the same university having different postures regarding their students. While some departments were supportive and encouraged PhD students to apply, others were not as forthcoming in divulging information about the extensions, or urged students to apply only if they felt like their situation was especially dire. In this sense, the posture of the individual departments and universities might have influenced whether PhD students felt confident that they would be able to get an extension if they applied.

Among those who got extensions, there was also great variation in how much they felt that the amount of extra time covered the delays actually caused in their research. When taking into account the total number of PhD students, this means that there is only a very limited amount of students who have had their perceived delays completely covered – the large majority, then, feels that there has been a loss with the pandemic that has not been recovered or addressed by extensions.

While we are aware that universities have funding constraints, and further extensions might be difficult to arrange, we would like to reiterate how important it is to support PhD students in other ways – through flexibility regarding requirements of research stays abroad or teaching; with extra career support; special attention to their well-being in the transition back to the office, among other initiatives. The effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt for quite a while, and if we don’t want the research quality of Denmark to suffer, Universities need to be aware of the medium- and long-term impacts that the pandemic has on PhD students.

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