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Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on research: NEW guidelines for NSERCís community

NSERC recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting researchers’ and students’ capacity to conduct their regular research and training activities. NSERC also recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to exacerbate inequities in the natural sciences and engineering research community. Certain identity factors are associated with greater impacts for some members of the research community (e.g., gender, race, Indigenous identity, geographic location, rurality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, career stage, family responsibilities, etc.). With this in mind, NSERC has developed general guidelines for the consideration of COVID-19-related impacts on research aiming to provide direction on how to describe these impacts in an application and information on how to consider these impacts when reviewing contributions to research and training and/or research and training plans. You are encouraged to reach out to the appropriate program contact with questions relating to the specific funding opportunity to which you are applying. NSERC will continue to monitor the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic and may adapt its guidelines in future years.

Contributions to research and training

Considerations for preparing an application

You are asked to briefly describe circumstances that have affected your research and training activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic dating back to March 1, 2020, and are asked to focus on describing the impact of these circumstances on your research and training activities. Information that must be included in any description is the duration of the circumstances affecting your research and/or training activities and, if applicable, a percentage of reduction in time devoted to regular research and training activities during the specified time period. Examples of other type of information that can be used to describe the impact include: types of research contributions that have been affected (e.g., data collection, publications, conference presentations, outreach, etc.), impacts on contributions to the training of highly qualified personnel (HQP) (e.g., impacts on internships, difficulties with recruitment, delays in graduation, etc.) and impacts on partnered research (loss of funds, loss of personnel, reduced access to sites, etc.).

Note: This is not an exhaustive list. There may be other items you wish to include to describe the impact.

For personal circumstances, stating the nature of the circumstances (e.g., medical, bereavement, family responsibilities, special, etc.) is sufficient. No further detail regarding these types of circumstances is expected. For example, no detail related to an individual or family member’s illness should be included in the application. Stating that you were unable to work or worked at a reduced capacity during a specified period of time due to medical reasons is sufficient for the impact of the circumstances to be taken into consideration. It is equally important not to disclose personal circumstances affecting HQP.

The specific location where this information should be included will vary by program. It should usually be included in the same location as any other information on delays or interruptions of research activity. For programs using the Canadian Common CV (CCV), such as Discovery Grants, impacts on research and training activities would be reported under the section Employment Ė Leaves of absence and impact on research. Impacts on research and training activities that are not associated with a period of leave or reduction in time devoted to research and training activities should still be reported in this section of the CCV. More than one entry in the CCV can be added for COVID-19-related impacts on research and training activities to account for the extent and variability in time of these circumstances. For doctoral and postdoctoral programs, impacts on studies and research activities should be reported in the Special circumstances section of the application. The information provided will be shared with members of the review committees and taken into account in the assessment of your application.

Considerations for reviewing an application

You are required to recognize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on research and training activities and to take it into consideration in your assessment. Delays in research activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic are an eligible delay in research. Factors to consider include:

  • The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on research productivity and training are not equal for all members of the research community. Certain identity factors are associated with greater impacts for some individuals (e.g., gender, race, Indigenous identity, geographic location, rurality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, career stage, family responsibilities, etc.). In most cases, this personal information is not provided in an application; this is why your assessment should be informed by the description of the impacts on research and/or training activities provided in the application.
  • The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are not equal across all fields of research. Some fields of research may be more affected than others (e.g., research involving field work, research involving animals, research conducted in wet labs, etc.).
  • Impacts may differ for various types of research and/or training activities. For example, a researcher may be unable to collect new data, but still be able to write and publish manuscripts.
  • Impacts might be felt at different time points and may be more relevant for certain selection criteria. For example, you may see in an application that data collection was postponed due to a lab closure. This type of impact might not affect recent contributions to research, but could affect future research and training plans.
  • You should not make assumptions on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on contributions to research and training, but should take into consideration the impacts based on the description provided in the application.
  • You are reminded that NSERC does not ask for personal details about circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic that have affected research and/or training activities. All personal reasons and circumstances for impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic are valid. It is sufficient to state the nature of the circumstances (e.g., medical, bereavement, family responsibilities, special, etc.) for the impact to be taken into account. Considerations should be made based on the description of the impact on research and/or training activities.††
  • As always, you are reminded that the assessment must not be based solely on the number of research contributions or on the number of individuals supervised, but rather on the quality and impact of all research contributions and the quality and impact of training.

Research and training plans

Considerations for preparing or reviewing an application

NSERC recognizes the uncertainty involved in planning research and training activities at this time. When developing your application, you are encouraged to prepare research and training plans based on information available at the time of application. For example, if your research plan involves field work that requires travel, you may describe an alternative plan in the event that travel restrictions are in place. While members of review committees will assess the feasibility of research and training plans as part of their evaluation, they are also aware that the context surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is continuously evolving. Certain programs may have more information regarding expectations for research and training plans. Please read the full application instructions for the funding opportunity to which you are applying and reach out to the appropriate program contact should you have questions.