The impact of the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK for doctoral and early career researchers

Patricia C. Jackman, Rebecca Sanderson, Tandy J. Haughey, Caroline E. Brett, Naomi White, Amy Zile, Katie Tyrrell, Nicola C. Byrom

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32 Citations (Scopus)
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Doctoral researchers and early career researchers (ECRs) are crucial to producing scientific advancements and represent the future of academic leadership. Their research endeavours were changed radically by lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of this study was to explore the perceived benefits and challenges of the national lockdown in the UK from the perspective of doctoral researchers and ECRs. We present analysis of qualitative survey data from 1,142 doctoral researchers and ECRs on their experiences of the first UK lockdown collected from April 16, 2020–May 14, 2020. Our findings suggest considerable heterogeneity in how the pandemic impacted this key group of academic workers. Challenges arising from the lockdown largely cohered around a poor work environment, limited access to resources, perceptions of pressure, and negative psychological outcomes. Conversely, respondents also highlighted several benefits in the early stages of the pandemic, with the change to working from home creating more time, resulting in greater productivity and a better work-life balance. Collectively, findings indicate the importance of considering the personal circumstances and needs of individual researchers. We discuss the implications for support these researchers require to rebuild their careers in the wake of the initial disruption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalHigher Education
Early online date14 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 14 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Nicola Byrom is supported by an ESRC grant (ES/S00324X/1).

Funding Information:
The study was registered with the King's College London ethics board; MRA—19/20 – 18,347. During a 4-week period (16th of April, 2020–14th of May, 2020) in the first national UK lockdown, doctoral researchers and ECRs in the UK were invited to complete an online survey. Invitations were disseminated through social media and communication channels supported by SMaRteN (Student Mental Health Research Network), the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-funded student mental health research network, and Vitae, a non-profit programme working with universities to support the professional development of researchers. Invitations to complete the survey were also circulated by funding councils and universities. The invites contained a hyperlink that directed prospective participants to an online survey hosted on Qualtrics.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Mental Health
  • Isolation
  • Pandemic
  • Psychological wellbeing
  • University
  • Mental health


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