AERA and Spencer Foundation Release Focus Group Findings on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Early Career Scholars and Doctoral Students
AERA and Spencer Foundation Release Focus Group Findings on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Early Career Scholars and Doctoral Students

For Immediate Release: January 28, 2021

Tony Pals,
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Emily Krone Phillips,
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AERA and Spencer Foundation Release Focus Group Findings on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Early Career Scholars and Doctoral Students

Washington and Chicago, January 28, 2021—The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the Spencer Foundation have released a report, Voices from the Field: The Impact of COVID-19 on Early Career Scholars and Doctoral Students, that shares findings from focus groups conducted in spring 2020. The report, available on the AERA and Spencer websites, is part of an ongoing initiative by the two organizations to assess the pressing needs facing scholars and doctoral students during the pandemic and ways to address these needs.

“The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing impact on social institutions like school, work, and the family have created challenging conditions that are taking their toll on research and academic careers,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine, who served as co-principal investigator of the study. “Such conditions also exacerbate the inequities that can have lasting effects on future generations of education researchers and the production of education research.”

“It is critical to learn from those with the most at stake in order to identify and provide opportunities for institutions and leaders to support this generation of researchers who will have gone through an experience unprecedented in recent time,” said Spencer Foundation President and AERA President-elect Na'ilah Suad Nasir, study co-principal investigator. “While the findings and recommendations we present in the report are suggestive, and not conclusive, they provide important lessons.”

Findings from the focus groups centered on seven themes: (1) Research Impact: Disruptions, Delays, and Adaptations; (2) Impact on Teaching: The Need to Be Inventive, Inclusive, and Intentional; (3) Balancing Acts: Negotiating Family, Home, Community, and Professional Life; (4) The Emergence of a Dual Pandemic and Confronting Racism; (5) Employment Trajectories, Uncertainties, and Deferments; (6) Institutional (In)Capacity to Respond and Support; and (7) Emerging and Lost Connections, Communities, and Communication.

For each theme, the report presents findings drawing upon the voices of focus group participants. The report concludes with recommendations to institutions and the field that can address the circumstances faced by early career scholars and doctoral students as a consequence of COVID-19 and more broadly encourage changes that can lead to more equitable and enriching places for them to work and thrive.   

Along with Levine and Nasir, study authors included Cecilia Rios-Aguilar (University of California, Los Angeles), Ryan E. Gildersleeve (University of Denver), Katherine J. Rosich (AERA), Megan Bang (Spencer Foundation, Northwestern University), Nathan E. Bell (AERA), and Matthew Holsapple (iMentor).

AERA and Spencer plan to release a second report later in 2021 that focuses on findings from a major national survey on the experiences and concerns of early career scholars and doctoral students in education research. The two organizations will hold a forum on this work at the AERA 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting, which will be held April 8-12.


About AERA
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

About The Spencer Foundation 
The Spencer Foundation has been a leading funder of education research since 1971 and is the only national foundation focused exclusively on supporting education research. Spencer believes education research is integral to improving education, making education systems more equitable, and increasing opportunities to learn across the lifespan. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter at @Spencer_Fdn.