The COVID-19 pandemic and associated disruptions have had a major impact on the US academic research enterprise. This report provides a landscape review of what is known about these impacts, from March through mid-October 2020, with an aim of identifying gaps that should be addressed. Our focus is on externally funded research, and therefore we emphasise STEM fields almost exclusively. As a result, we also focus on the largest research universities, which conduct an outsized share of this research and which are themselves quite reliant on the intellectual activity and revenues associated with it.

Key findings:

  • The federal government provided substantial flexibility to universities in utilising research funding at the beginning of the pandemic. In addition, there is little reason to anticipate substantial budget reductions among most major research funders. As a result of these factors, while universities face substantial declines to some revenue sources and risks to most others, externally funded scientific research is likely to be relatively stable. That said, the ways in which the academic research enterprise is interwoven with, and in some cases cross-subsidised by, instructional activities pose some risk to research support. There are substantial unanswered questions about how negative impacts to the business models of research universities will affect scientific research.
  • Many traditional research activities were largely suspended in the spring into summer, other than COVID-19-related and other essential research. With federal flexibilities ending, universities scrambled to put in place necessary protections to allow laboratories and other research groups to safely resume their activities. Many but not all research activities have successfully restarted, even if not all are at full capacity. In parallel, the COVID-19 emergency led to substantial innovation in research collaboration and scholarly communication. It also demonstrated the limits of collaboration and communication infrastructure and services in the face of widespread attention to scientific progress and its politicisation. There are substantial unanswered questions about the resiliency of the research enterprise and the permanence of the many adaptations to collaboration and scholarly communication that we have seen.
  • The human impacts of the disruptions are vast. These include limitations and impediments facing international students and disruptions to researchers that differ by gender, caregiver status, and career level. There are substantial unanswered questions about international talent flows, the development of early career researchers, and setbacks in achieving gender equity.
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