CORONA CRISIS: RESOURCES & DISCUSSION
The first PRYME Gathering:
Pandemic Response for Young Mathematicians in Europe
took place in April 2022, sponsored by the Corona Working Group of the European Women in Mathematics (EWM).
We are all exhausted by the ongoing pandemic but there are continued and, indeed, increasingly important questions about the effects of the pandemic on junior mathematicians and the ways that we in academia can best respond to these issues in the upcoming months and years.
How have the research and teaching landscapes been affected by the pandemic?
How can universities help address the challenges of junior colleagues with caregiver responsibilities?
How should hiring committees assess “promise” in candidates with and without caregiver responsibilities during/after (?) the pandemic?
Related but different: How should applicants present their profiles?
Let’s keep the conversations going. And send us your news & stories!
- Pandemic related barriers… a framework for action (Nature, Feb, 2022)
- COVID-19 affected female and early career researchers more (Wash. Post, Jan, 2022)
- Words of Women in Mathematics in the Time of Corona (WWMTC2021, May, 2021)
- Continued inequality (Verlag Barbara Budrich, April, 2021)
- Disproportionate impact (Ithaka S+R, March, 2021)
- Pandemic hit academic mothers especially (Science, Feb, 2021)
- Disproportionate disruptions (NBER, Jan, 2021)
- Standing for Gender Equality in Science in times of Covid-19
- Academic productivity differences (Nov, 2020)
- Career hopes of postdocs (Nov, 2020)
- The usual backup plan: mothers (NYT, Nov, 2020)
- Women face special burden (NYT, Nov, 2020)
- Will universities help? (NYT, Oct, 2020)
- Pandemic imperils promotions for women (NYT, Sept, 2020)
- Career cost to female researchers (July, 2020)
- A study on gender, race, and parenthood (July, 2020)
- Pandemic’s toll on women: Melinda Gates article(July, 2020)
- Getting less research done (May, 2020)
- Women’s research plummets Guardian article (May, 2020)
- Listen to what students are saying (May, 2020)
- Research productivity: Inside Higher Ed article (April, 2020)
- Uneven impact of quarantine (April, 2020)
Proactive measures to lead the recovery in academia. Click to see descriptions. Have another example? Let us know!
Simons Foundation COVID-19 Recovery Initiative
The Mathematics and Physical Sciences division of the Simons Foundation has created two COVID-19 Recovery Programs to stimulate the hiring of postdoctoral fellows and new junior faculty starting in 2021.
MSRI Offsite Postdoctoral Program
Oberwolfach Research Fellows
In order to react to the current crisis the MFO offers the possibility to apply for an Oberwolfach Research Fellowship. Single researchers or groups up to four people can apply for a stay between two weeks and three months.
LMS: Research Reboot
The London Mathematical Society is offering a new ‘Research Reboot’ Grant Scheme, which aims to help (UK based) mathematicians restart their research activities following the intense disruption and upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This scheme offers funding for accommodation and caring costs for applicants so that they can leave their usual environment to focus entirely on research for a period from two days to a week.
Recovery effort: University of Bielefeld
Childcare, contract extensions, financial support for teaching relief, guidance for hiring and promotion committees; see policy description
Recovery effort: Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg
The university has emailed young academics (and their supervisors) to ask about specific problems during the pandemic and what might help. This led to a report about the responses, an article, and an interview to raise attention for this issue. Early in 2022 it was possible to ask for specific financial support, with a simple application process and mainly to pay student helpers for lab work or teaching support or to buy hardware or software that makes the work life and switching between in-person teaching and meetings and virtual formats easier. Financial resources have been found by reallocating funds from different sources that usually support young women doctoral and postdoctoral researchers when they travel and which therefore have not been needed as much as usually.
Departmental Corona Fund, RWTH Aachen University
In order to react to the current crisis and its impact on caregivers, the Department of Mathematics at RWTH Aachen University has established a Corona Fund for doctoral students and junior colleagues. Applicants can request mini-grants to hire an undergraduate assistant to help with teaching duties and hence free up time for research. Applications are short (1/2-1 page) and explain the need, the requested measure, and the cost.
Zero-cost networking and support measures
- forming an e-learning room or hosting an online meeting to discuss pandemic-related issues
- planning a weekly or monthly lunch by zoom or similar to keep up contact or discuss specific topics
- using Discord or gather.town or wonder.me to network among doctoral students at a given university or (inter)nationally within a research topic
- inviting doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers to give research talks
I want to become active on this issue; where do I start?
Who in your research group or department has faced setbacks in their research because of the pandemic? What would help them most? (Ask, don’t assume.)
Is there a person in your department or faculty responsible for gender balance? Do they know about the problems?
Who else in the university might care about the well-being of the people who work there?
Are you in touch with people from other departments (e.g. in committees) with whom you can talk about your experiences?
How are they dealing with the situation?
No one knows how to handle this situation best; we’re all trying to figure it out. It’s helpful for morale and good ideas to be in touch with other individuals with similar goals.
If you’ve tried to do something and got stuck, feel free to contact us as well.
Here are some questions we’ve discussed and an attempt to sketch the consensus. Feedback is welcome via the google form above!
Shouldn't men receive support?
Of course! We suggest that men who are involved in caregiving for their children and people who have been involved in eldercare for their parents be eligible for support upon application. We suggest application-free support for women with minor children because of the statistical likelihood that they are involved in caregiving.
Is it fair to favor women?
Women have been underrepresented in Mathematics for hundreds of years and gender bias persists today. Of course we believe in fairness, but gender-blind measures of support do not level the playing field. Giving particular consideration to women seems justified.
I'm caring for my elderly mother; doesn't that count?
Of course! We suggest that people who have been involved in eldercare for their parents be eligible for support upon application.
Is ''stopping the clock'' on one's academic age a good idea?
This is a controversial topic and whether to ”stop the clock” is a personal choice. Some women want to stop the clock so that one’s academic age reflect the amount of time one has had to focus on research. Other women find it unfair that they should end up behind peers (in career status or salary). We believe that women should have the option to take time off of their academic age for the pandemic and should make a decision based on their individual circumstances. We hope that hiring and tenure committees will consider this issue in a fair and sensitive way (see also “How should hiring committees be sensitive towards the corona impact,” below), but each individual should make the best strategic choice for her/himself.
Should the corona period be indicated on the CV?
This is open to debate. Ultimately it is a personal judgment call whether this is more likely to help or hurt your portfolio, and it might depend on where the CV is used (grant application, job application, promotion). See also “stopping the clock,” above.
Should we just trust the system?
Why does advocacy get turned into a trust question? Why would it be better not to discuss the fallout of the global pandemic? It is true that finding time for your research is critical to advancing your academic career. It is also true that these are unprecedented times and giving some thought to optimizing our current circumstances can be productive. Unfortunately, the system has not managed to resolve many inequalities so far and there is still a lot of imbalance when it comes to gender, social background, and race, just to name a few.
I don't have kids, but I've been struggling too. What can I do?
So many things that we count on have changed in the past months! The effects are rippling across academia in ways that we will only be able to understand in hindsight. If you need more contact with your advisor, try to respectfully request time to meet. Look critically at your CV and consider how you can develop your portfolio despite current restrictions. If discussing with peers is important to you, try to find digital or socially distant ways to connect. Consider organizing an online discussion session before or after online seminars (“digital coffee”). If current restrictions allow, see whether you can organize in-person discussion sessions with masks and distance. If you are an EWM member, consider joining the mentoring network; perhaps you will find useful suggestions in that context. Please do not hesitate to ask for support or advice—we are all in this together and some of us have given a lot of thought to how we can help support each other. If you’ve been struggling with mental health issues, call a counselor or doctor today.
How should hiring committees be sensitive towards the corona impact?
Many of us know both sides of the hiring process. It is easy to get hung up on statistics (number of publications, citations, impact factors, grant money) and to forget that we are talking about people. Next time we are part of a hiring process, let us be mindful about the whole person. What was their life like during the pandemic? What does the CV tell us? Is there an obvious gap in research activities that stems from a heavy teaching load or care responsibilities? Were there fewer proposals, talks, new projects? Is it reasonable to expect an increase in productivity as the crisis resolves?
During this time, it is more important than ever to give candidates the benefit of the doubt, to have a look at their actual work (not just citation numbers) and to re-think the common notion of what it means to choose the “best person for the job.” This phrase is not as objective as it seems. Sometimes the best person means a strong researcher who also complements existing strengths, adds a new perspective, helps correct a blind spot.
What does/can networking mean during these times? How can we nurture our professional development?
If you have recently submitted an arXiv preprint or had an article appear, consider sending it out to those who may be interested. Attend some online lectures and join the discussion before or after the talk. If there is no such discussion planned, consider asking the organizers if they would be open to having one. See which kind of online events are being planned by institutes and organizations with similar interests as yours. Make sure your webpage is up to date! This can be a good time to add a research description and update your job materials, or to subscribe to mailing lists for newsletters, job advertisements, or information about online workshops and conferences. Ask your advisor(s) and mentors for input! If you are on the job market, send a brief email to senior mathematicians whom you know to advertise this fact. Are your peers interested in organizing an online or physically distant discussion group? Practicing online interviews/job-talks with each other? Do you have other ideas about how to connect? Think about what you need as well as about what you can contribute. Take a seat at the table—even if it’s an online table for now.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of EWM.