Disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on marginalized and minoritized early-career academic scientists

Douglas et al. / PLOS One / September 2022

Early research on the impact of COVID-19 on academic scientists suggests that disruptions to research, teaching, and daily work life are not experienced equally. However, this work has overwhelmingly focused on experiences of women and parents, with limited attention to the disproportionate impact on academic work by race, disability status, sexual identity, first-generation status, and academic career stage. Using a stratified random survey sample of early-career academics in four science disciplines (N = 3,277), the authors investigated socio-demographic and career stage differences in the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic along seven work outcomes: changes in four work areas (research progress, workload, concern about career advancement, support from mentors) and work disruptions due to three COVID-19 related life challenges (physical health, mental health, and caretaking). Their analyses examined patterns across career stages as well as separately for doctoral students and for postdocs/assistant professors. Overall, their results indicate that scientists from marginalized (i.e., devalued) and minoritized (i.e., underrepresented) groups across early career stages reported more negative work outcomes as a result of COVID-19. However, there were notable patterns of differences depending on the socio-demographic identities examined. Those with a physical or mental disability were negatively impacted on all seven work outcomes. Women, primary caregivers, underrepresented racial minorities, sexual minorities, and first-generation scholars reported more negative experiences across several outcomes such as increased disruptions due to physical health symptoms and additional caretaking compared to more privileged counterparts. Doctoral students reported more work disruptions from life challenges than other early-career scholars, especially those related to health problems, while assistant professors reported more negative changes in areas such as decreased research progress and increased workload. These findings suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately harmed work outcomes for minoritized and marginalized early-career scholars. Institutional interventions are required to address these inequalities in an effort to retain diverse cohorts in academic science.