When the Labs Closed: Graduate Students' and Postdoctoral Fellows' Experiences of Disrupted Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Physical distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in widespread laboratory closures. This study aimed to examine the impact of this disruption on graduate students and postdoctoral fellows completing laboratory-based research in Canada. We used an anonymous online survey and semi-structured interviews to document the experiences of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows during laboratory closures and following the transition to working from home. We employed
... We employed mixed-method analysis of survey and interview data to identify shared experiences, feelings, concerns, and supports.Respondents' emotions reported from different points during the COVID-19 laboratory closures align with previously described Kübler-Ross model of grief following change. Respondents describe closure processes as chaotic and confusing, primarily due to inconsistent communication between graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, supervisors, and administration. Respondents reported increased anxiety during closures, however, those who experienced uniform laboratory closures also developed a sense of solidarity and safety while those with staggered shutdowns did not. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows reported increased indications of distress while working from home. Four key barriers to working from home were described; technical issues, domestic distractions, decreased motivation, and poor mental health. Five key supports while working at home were also identified, including financial security, social connections, establishing and maintaining routines, mental health support, and support from supervisors and administration. Respondents had concerns of how COVID-19 might impact them, including decreasing competitiveness applicants while limiting future employment opportunities. Finally, we outline five types of supports which can be implemented by supervisors and administrators to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to return to the laboratory, including; personal protective equipment and protocols, understanding and empathy, guidance and direction, timeline support, and financial support. Overall, we document shared experiences of respondents during the COVID-19 laboratory shutdown and identify areas of improvement in the event widespread laboratory closures occur in the future.