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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Covid-19 Poses New Challenges for Social Scientists, Survey Finds

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Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, agrees that “the pandemic has prevented researchers from field research and in-person interviews, which are very basic elements in such kinds of research.”

In a telephone interview with Al-Fanar Media he pointed out that even “teaching social sciences is affected as it is based on analysis, linking ideas and analyzing concepts, which takes place through interaction with students and conducting discussions with them—unlike issues of mathematics, for example.”

Forced to Cut Travel for Research

The survey was conducted online with 616 scholars in social sciences and humanities, of whom 59 percent were males and 40 percent were females, while half a dozen respondents preferred not to give their gender. It targeted holders of a master’s degree or higher and covered nine main topics, including working hours, teaching, research and field work, professional development, and work and life before and after the epidemic.

About 46 percent of the respondents were forced to postpone travel for research purposes. Research websites and materials were no longer available for a third of the scientists participating in the survey, while 14 percent had problems related to funding, and 6 percent faced problems with their contracts. (See a related article, “Health and Economic Crises Threaten Arab Funding for Research.”)

Anthropologists seem to be among those most affected, with around 72 percent reporting a decline in their ability to progress in their research due to the unique nature of their research, compared to other sciences. Moreover, about 77 percent of the respondents were unable to attend workshops or conferences that were supposed to be held in March 2020.

Only 15 percent of respondents said they were able to switch from in-person data collection to the phone or the Internet, and 23 percent of those said the switch slowed down the research process. About 18 percent faced problems related to the quality of interviews conducted this way.

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The pandemic also limited researchers’ ability to publish their work. About 48 percent reported they did not publish at their usual rate, while 27 percent were able to publish at the same rate. However, 25 percent of them managed to increase their ability to publish. (See a related article, “Research Results Are Increasingly Available for Free.”)

Some Positive Signs

Nevertheless, the report shows some positive signs.

The shift towards greater reliance on the Internet has provided new opportunities for professional development, and the adoption of the digital format has increased the access of some scientists to events. For example, 43 percent of respondents attended online workshops and 71 percent of them attended webinars.

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