AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine Testifies Before House Science Committee on the Impact of COVID-19 on Early Career Scholars and Doctoral Students
AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine Testifies Before House Science Committee on the Impact of COVID-19 on Early Career Scholars and Doctoral Students

February  2021

On February 25, AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine provided testimony in front of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in a hearing titled “Building Back the U.S. Research Enterprise: COVID Impacts and Recovery.” Her testimony highlighted findings from the recent focus groups report by AERA and the Spencer Foundation, Voices from the Field: The Impact of COVID-19 on Early Career Scholars and Doctoral Students, and selected preliminary results from a national survey concluded by AERA and Spencer in January.

“As we reach the one-year mark of COVID-19 hitting the United States with full force, the disruptions to the lives of early career scholars and doctoral students in higher education institutions have proven to be drastic, persistent, and far-reaching,” Levine stated in her opening remarks to the committee. “The harsh realities of the pandemic and its impact on social institutions like school, work, and the family have created challenging conditions that are taking their toll on research progress, researchers, and academic careers. These conditions have also exacerbated gender and racial inequities that may have lasting effects on future generations of researchers and the production of research.”

Levine provided a high-level summary of the findings from the AERA-Spencer report, including the impact that COVID-19 has had in derailing and delaying research, the emergence of a dual pandemic after the killing of George Floyd and its subsequent pressures on scholars of color, the increased childcare and family responsibilities faced by women scholars, and the sense of isolation and lack of collaboration that early career scholars and graduate students are facing.

Levine called for action to pass the Research Investment to Spark the Economy Act (RISE) and the Supporting Early Career Researchers Act. The RISE Act would provide $25 billion in emergency funding for research agencies­­— including $200 million for the Institute of Education Sciences and $3 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF)—to account for COVID-19 impacts on research grants and data collection. The Supporting Early Career Scholars Act would establish a two-year pilot fellowship program to support early career scholars.

Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and ranking member Frank Lucas (R-OK) emphasized the need to support the research enterprise and the impact that the pandemic has had on researchers. They noted the lack of funding for research relief in the COVID-19 stimulus and relief packages, and called for Congress to enact the RISE Act and Supporting Early Career Researchers Act.  

Several committee members, including Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), asked Levine about the specific impacts that the pandemic has had on women and women scholars.

“Scholars, especially women, face uncertainties and barriers to research productivity while juggling family and home,” said Levine. “This theme was dominant in both our focus groups and survey: 70 percent of female doctoral students and 74 percent of female scholars with childcare responsibilities reported a significant increase due to COVID.”

Responding to the question of “what could be done,” Levine said the committee could do a lot. She emphasized the need for broad and flexible funding mechanisms and wrap-around supports that would in particular help woman address research loss (e.g., childcare support, additional assistants, release time, counseling). She indicated that this was one of the basic recommendations in the AERA-Spencer report and cited as an example the NSF Career-Life Balance (CLB) Supplemental Funding Requests.

Levine concluded her formal remarks by noting, “Interpersonally, organizationally, or systemically, institutions, leaders, senior scholars, and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels are at a pivotal time to support the next generation of researchers and thereby the very research enterprise that relies on them. The risks to their futures and to the country that benefits from their insights and innovation are far too great to lose this opportunity.”

Additional witnesses in the hearing included Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Christopher Keane, Vice President for Research, Washington State University; and Thomas Quaadman, Executive Vice President, Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Each of the witnesses provided insight in the impact that COVID-19 has had on the enterprise, and highlighted the need for the RISE Act to account for delayed research and limited access to carry out scientific research during the pandemic.