Support early-career field researchers

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Science  15 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6492, pp. 724-725
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc1261

Pandemic-induced restrictions on research are now ubiquitous. We urge administrators and policy-makers to recognize that field researchers—especially those early in their careers—face unique challenges, even if restrictions last only a month or two. Bans on travel, hiring, and facility use are forcing many researchers to abandon the entire field season, losing a full year of irreplaceable data and research-training opportunities.

The loss of data is most damaging for multi-year projects, which are common in the case of field research. For example, a lost year in a demographic study renders multiple years of data uninterpretable because data on growth and survival between years are required for analysis. Similarly, in any system with lagging effects, the loss of a single season can have multi-year consequences on analyses. For long-term studies, the loss of a single year may seem less damaging, but increasing climate variance means that each season brings new insights.

The impact of lost research is most severe for scientists at early career stages. Institutions and agencies should focus on protecting graduate students and postdocs, as the loss of a year's data can affect their ability to complete dissertations or acquire jobs. We call on policy-makers and institutions to provide funding opportunities for early-career researchers to recover from such disruptions; support for salary, stipends, and tuition will be most critical. Although scientists conducting field research may be most vulnerable, these funding opportunities would certainly benefit laboratory-based scientists as well.

No one institution or agency has the resources to prevent impacts of lost research on field science or science in general. However, modest targeted funding for the most vulnerable research projects and researchers would help to preserve the quality of research and the pipeline of research training that we depend on for our next generation of scientists.

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