The future of research at Concordia looks different in the post-pandemic era

A new working group is learning from the challenges of the past couple of years and building on some positive developments
June 1, 2022
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Two women wearing glasses and white lab coats working in a lab

This is the sixth in a series of articles profiling the different working groups that make up Future Concordia. Want to know how you can contribute? Send your questions, comments and suggestions to future@concordia.ca.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many researchers have been forced to adapt to restrictions. With limitations placed on travel, resources and lab access, the face of fieldwork changed completely, both positively and negatively. This required researchers to learn to use new digital tools and techniques.

Doing research from a distance may appear to be a hindrance — and it was for many who dealt with pandemic-era obstacles and inequities. Yet members of the Future Concordia working group on research and impact are determined to learn from the bad and embrace the good.

“I think Future Concordia is a really serious project that aims to look at how we’ve done things in the past and how we might do them differently,” says MJ Thompson, associate dean of research and graduate studies in the Faculty of Fine Arts. “Part of that process is to look at how research happens at Concordia and to imagine best practices and ways going forward.”

Thompson is co-leading the working group with Mamoun Medraj, associate dean of recruitment and awards for the School of Graduate Studies.

Over the course of the pandemic, many Concordia researchers across disciplines faced delays, a lack of resources and many other factors that had a negative consequences on their progress.

“Some folks got it done and kept going with their work, no problem,” Thompson says. “Others had total slowdowns, some of which were about disciplinary needs or home pressures that escalated during COVID, such as homeschooling their kids or taking care of sick parents. There was real inequity or a real spectrum of experience to what happened.”

According to the co-leads, some researchers were even forced to abandon projects completely and move on to new ventures.

“Some completely held off their activities at the beginning because of their reliance on experimental research, which requires sophisticated equipment unavailable except in certain settings,” Medraj says. “Graduate students — who are key players in research and universities — lost, in some of the disciplines, a year of their work.”

‘An opportunity to learn’

Since January, the research and impact working group members have been focused on determining just how the university can learn from this exceptional time. So far, they have met with associate deans of research, visited all of the faculty research committees in the different faculties and they have been checking in with research directors and research institutes, a variety of different stakeholders in research administration and the Equity Office.

“It’s been an opportunity to learn about the needs of various research fields and how they were impacted,” Medraj reports.

“In certain fields, some researchers said that during the pandemic they had the opportunity to write more, such as those who work in the humanities and some social sciences. On the other hand, we came across a supervisor who had to change the project for his students so that they could do more computational and theoretical work than experimental. ”

Medraj adds that without this working group’s input they would not have been able to reach the same level of understanding of the struggles faced by researchers across the different faculties, nor convey the array of their realities to the university administration.

“We hope to come up with some meaningful suggestions for the university, not only so that we will be more resilient if something like this happens in the future, but also to support and increase the impact of our research outcomes.”

 

Man with glasses and a pink shirt standing in front of lab equipment. Mamoun Medraj: “It’s been an opportunity to learn about the needs of various research fields and how they were impacted.”

‘Supporting the divergent needs of the research community’

The working group members also intend to build on the benefits they learned about. One of the main positives of digital or distance research is accessibility. The pandemic has allowed for a new level of international collaboration, including global seminars connecting with potential colleagues from around the world.

It has also opened opportunities previously unavailable or underused such as access to labs with specialized equipment, digital training modules and new methodologies like automated experiments or collaborative writing projects.

Until June, the group will be considering how to take full advantage of a hybrid model by identifying innovative research activities and approaches that facilitate collaborations, connecting and attracting talent that would otherwise be inaccessible and brainstorming opportunities that could be made available with the creation of virtual teams, among other themes.

Going forward, members will continue to discuss how to make it easier to do research, disseminate it and connect it to the communities and people who can benefit from it.

“I see it as distilling the reflections that we’ve had on what we do and how we do it,” Thompson says. She adds that the group admires the ingenuity observed but also recognizes the escalation in workloads for those who had to pivot and be online.

“We’re thinking about how to support the divergent needs of the research community and how to support the ones most impacted in negative ways by COVID going forward.”
 

Learn more about Future Concordia.



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