COVID-19 Impacts on Research

Build your own research infrastructure

1/ The COVID-19 pandemic is having a multi-million dollar impact on university research. The loss of international student funding means that research roles will no longer be cross-subsidised.

2/ In the short-term, this will mean the loss of casual research contracts and the non-renewal of fixed term research contracts.

3/ Higher education unions will try to save casual contracts and will likely fail. Vice-Chancellors and Boards will have greater decision-making power. They will shape what negotiators call the “zone of possible agreement.”

4/ This will stratify researchers into two cohorts: (1) Centre and Institute affiliated researchers and teams who can attract external funding; and (2) individual researchers who have more episodic and sporadic research projects that are not scalable.

5/ This stratification will enforce Robert C. Merton’s Matthew Effect: success to the successful, or winner-take-all markets. Research administrators already look for this in Google Scholar h-indexes.

6/ What is to be done? This is a liminal time of challenges and change.

7/ The first step is to understand the reality of contemporary research. It is performance-based - like financial market trading or sports athletics. Your track record is like a trader’s PnL - generate losses and you are gone.

8/ The second step is to have what the strategist Thomas Schelling calls a focal point: a 3-to-5 year research program with clear research questions, hypotheses, target journals for publication, and funding landscapes.

9/ The third step is to begin to build your own research infrastructure. The cost structure of doing research has fallen over the past decade as austerity budgets have become the new norm. A Kindle library can be more up to date than a university library in your chosen topic area.

10/ The long-term goal in doing this is to be able to progress your individual research program without having a dependency relationship on your host institution.