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Learning how we can support researchers during COVID-19

We know that your daily routines have probably changed due to COVID-19. Whether you’re keeping more distance between yourself and others, working from home more often, or feeling isolated by larger-scale shutdowns, it may take awhile for things to go back to normal.

During this time of uncertainty, we want you to know: we are here to support you.

Without knowing at this point what the long-term impact will be of interrupted research projects, conferences, and teaching schedules, we’re trying to find out more about you and your unique situation so that we can provide you with the information you most want. Last week, we launched a survey for researchers to let us know how their work has changed in recent weeks and we wanted to share some of the preliminary results with you as we dig in deeper.

First, a couple of caveats.

This survey data comes from an informal marketing poll surfaced through email and on our site beginning on March 27. The survey links are still available and we’re collecting new responses every day but the summary below is based off of responses received between March 27 and April 3 only.  

We also posted a simplified version on our Twitter account to take the pulse from a broader community. Those data are not included in this summary but we saw very similar trends.

Survey Structure

While the initial question was the same for each researcher who entered the survey, the second-tier question was tailored to their response from Question 1. Partial responses (results where researchers answered the first question only) are included in the breakdown below.

What’s the scale of the impact?

Most researchers said their work was interrupted  in some way, either by restricted access to their labs, or a need to take personal time off. Only 7.2% of respondents reported that their lab was open and operating normally. Another 4.3% reported that their work is directly relevant to the outbreak and are actively investigating. 

Of those few whose labs were operating normally, 33.3% were “very” concerned that they would see steeper closures in the next few days.

Response breakdown to Question #1. Total Responses: 54, 749

In what ways are researchers able to continue their work?

For those whose labs or institutions have been closed, many researchers have found a way to continue their work remotely (36.2%). Of those, 58.6% reported that their research, or elements of it, could be done without a lab, although 34.8% said they had to shift to something like protocol design or new analysis that would not require a lab. 

For the researchers who’ve had to change their focus (26%) or cancel fieldwork entirely (18%), writing and training have become the major focus.

Response breakdown for Question 2 for those who said they needed to cancel or shift the focus of their existing work

As researchers’ needs change, so should the way we support them

Serving authors on the front lines

For those respondents who have told us they are actively investigating research related to the coronavirus, speed matters more than anything else. At PLOS, we are fast-tracking all research related to COVID-19, the first studies of which we have already published and made available in our COVID-19 collection which surfaces research from across all PLOS Journals along with other relevant content. 

Redefining priorities for career advancement

A number of organizations have come together to support researchers during this time. For example,  the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) released a statement  earlier this week,calling on research institutions and universities to evaluate their hiring, promotion, and funding decisions within the context of the broad-scale interruptions researchers are facing in their daily work. The statement specifically asks institutions to:

  • Redefine their expectations for productivity in the wake of the present pandemic.
  • Communicate clearly to academics and researchers how they will modify research evaluation procedures for hiring, promotion, and tenure.

PLOS fully supports this appeal and urges all institutions and funders to join those who have already taken action and consider similar policies to let researchers know that their careers will not grind to a halt due to the impact of the pandemic. 

If COVID-19 has impacted your ability to continue reviewing, editing, or revising manuscripts in process at PLOS, we encourage you to reach out to the journal for an extension so that you can take the time you need to focus on other concerns.  

If there is another way we can help support the communication and discovery of research as your publishing needs change, please consider sharing your thoughts by emailing us at or by responding to the survey itself. 

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