Apr 18, 2021

Survey: Nearly 90% of PhDs Feel Pandemic Has Affected Their Research

The survey was carried out by the TCD Postgraduate Workers Alliance.

Sárán FogartyNews Editor
Ruby Smyth for The University Times

A survey has found that nearly 90 per cent of Trinity’s PhD students feel their research has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Among issues affecting research, 16.7 per cent identified lack of access to library materials, 23.6 per cent identified lack of access to TCD resources, 20.4 per cent identified lack of a suitable space to work from home, 19.6 per cent identified lack of access to supervisors and meetings and 19.7 per cent identified lack of access to key resources and data.

Nearly 20 per cent of respondents indicated that their mental health had significantly worsened, nearly 30 per cent indicated that their mental health had moderately worsened while over 30 per cent indicated their mental health had slightly worsened.


The TCD Postgraduate Workers Alliance – formerly known as the TCD PhD Workers’ Rights Group – released the results of the survey on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on PhD students in Trinity – designed by the Alliance and carried out by the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) – this week.

The survey was created by Shaakya Anand-Vembar and Thomas Dineen, both third-year PhD candidates in the Department of Psychiatry.

In an email statement to The University Times, Trinity media relations officer Catherine O’Mahony said: “We are acutely aware that research activities across the university were impacted by the pandemic, and in many cases significantly so. A number of mitigations were put in place.”

“These included”, she said, “lobbying government to ensure research was identified as a priority activity, to allow access to campus for those students who needed to be in labs or clinical settings to engage in their research, ensuring that safety procedures were implemented, [and] lobbying for funding extensions to support students on PhD programmes”.

“A blanket extension of six months on submission dates was extended to all students in their final year, free of fees. This extension is held on the record for all students who were on the register in March 2020, so that they can avail of it if needed when they are in their final year. We are currently processing the second stage requests for students who now require additional extensions free of fees.”

The survey received 510 responses in total, with 39.9 per cent of respondents in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) faculty, 43.4 per cent in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) faculty and 16.6 per cent in the Health Sciences (HS) faculty.

When asked if they would need an extension on their PhD due to the pandemic, over 30 per cent of respondents indicated they would need an extension of less than six months, over 20 per cent indicated they would need an extension of over six months and over 30 per cent were unsure if they would need an extension, while over 10 per cent said they would not need an extension.

O’Mahony pointed to many of the initiatives introduced by College to help students during the pandemic, including keeping the libraries open on reduced hours, raising awareness of the Higher Education Authority’s costed extension fund scheme and making funding available for students who were not previously on funded stipend.

Some 30 per cent of respondents indicated that their motivation to do their PhD had significantly reduced, under 30 per cent indicated that their motivation had moderately reduced and 20 per cent indicated that their motivation had slightly reduced.

Some 17.5 per cent of the respondents are parents and of this cohort 63.2 per cent reported loss of support and services due to the pandemic. Some 11.5 per cent of respondents indicated that they have a disability and of this group 37.9 per cent indicated a loss of support and services because of the pandemic.

O’Mahony also said: “It is unquestionably the case that the impact of the pandemic has been unequally distributed across the population. Across the board, parents with childcare demands or carers with older relatives have been particularly affected, but of all groups, those with disabilities have been most significantly impacted. The university community is no exception.”

“While additional resources have been put into student support services, including student health, student counselling and the postgraduate advisory support services, even these additional resources are insufficient to meet the needs of all students. Again, these factors are well recognised and certainly are persuasive in terms of decisions about granting extensions for PGR and PGT students who are trying against all the odds to progress their research.”

Some 58.6 per cent of respondents are currently renting accommodation, 22 per cent are resident in family owned accommodation and 14.8 per cent own their own home. Some 82.2 per cent of respondents said that they have certainty of accommodation while 10.3 per cent said they did not.

Some 35.6 per cent of respondents have lost income due to the pandemic, with 43.7 per cent of this group saying that this reduction came from Trinity and 19.2 per cent saying that the reduction came from a mix of Trinity and an external source. Some 49.7 per cent of those who had lost income were unable to claim the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP).

O’Mahony said: “Support allocated from the Postgraduate Advisory Service’s (PAS) Student Assistance Fund more than doubled through the first year of the pandemic to almost €240,000. This fund assists with living and study expenses for postgraduates who find themselves in emergency financial situations—many of which since March 2020 are pandemic-related. PAS was able to provide emergency housing for students who found themselves on the verge of homelessness as well as to cover rent, travel, medical or childcare costs for many applicants.”

In December, GSU President Gisèle Scanlon released results from a survey after months of conflict between the two groups over the sharing of the data.

Scanlon released the results to Anand-Vembar and also said that she had a 27-page legal ruling asking that the data be destroyed.

Scanlon said in a tweet that since Anand-Vembar had created the questions, it was “maybe the safest way forward for us all to protect the participants”. Scanlon said that she was now a “joint data controller”.

Scanlon said in a tweet that she was “looking forward to publishing the report so we highlight the truth about our research community”.

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