Blog post by Clare Shelley-Egan, Senior Researcher at the Work Research Institute, Oslo Metropolitan University
With multiple partners all over Europe, GoNano is one of the many EU-funded projects that depends on international travel for networking, conferences and consortium meetings. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, GoNano is seeking new ways to stay connected. This includes important decisions about our final conference; should we reschedule to a later point in time or move the event entirely online? However, it is not only international projects that need to adapt to this new mode of communication and dissemination. GoNano partner Clare Shelley-Egan, Senior Researcher at the Work Research Institute, Oslo Metropolitan University, has written a short blog about the effects of COVID-19 on mobility and travel in the research system more broadly.
Mobility is a distinctive feature of academic life, and key to networking, international collaboration and dissemination of the latest research. Indeed, travel and co-presence are accepted as being essential to career progression and promotion in the research world. The COVID-19 crisis has given us a new, unprecedented impetus for thinking about the imperative of mobility in research and for engaging with new ways of communicating research.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, universities have been shut and researchers, students and staff required to work from home. Virtual communication technologies that have gathered dust or not been used to their full potential are now a regular staple in everyday academic work routines. With thousands of flights cancelled and borders closed, researchers have been grounded and a slew of planned conferences and meetings have been rescheduled or moved entirely online. Conference organisers are hustling to reconfigure their events in virtual mode.
While there are certainly challenges in navigating this new mode of ‘being’ a researcher and generating knowledge, there are also opportunities to capitalise on ongoing changes. We already see, for example, huge changes in air pollution levels as a positive consequence of the grounding of hypermobile travellers such as researchers. In addition to environmental impact, there are other impacts of the demand for mobility such as unequal opportunity due to gender, career stage, caring responsibilities, disabilities, lack of resources and geography. Addressing obligations of co-presence in an immobile world allows us to think concretely – and empathetically- about how to improve and extend virtual networking opportunities to those who have been marginalised with respect to research mobility.
Thus along with the significant disruption and hardship this public health crisis has wrought on our everyday lives, it also offers incentives for the research community to reassess its modus operandi for a more sustainable and equitable research system.