Research students need support to tackle the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic


Many research students will be uncertain about what the future holds, not least in their capacity to complete projects, and may need support

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COVID-19 continues to have significant impact worldwide, resulting in social isolation, healthcare delivery and community interaction restrictions and affecting personal lives, work and study. There has been growing recognition of the effect on university students (Dewart et al 2020, Savitsky et al 2020), but less discussion around research students.

All doctoral candidates are likely to be feeling the effect of the pandemic, not least in their capacity to complete projects. The impact will vary depending on the students’ stage of candidature. Those starting out may need to consider planning projects that maximise remote data collection or avoid additional burden on stretched health services or vulnerable participant groups. If data collection cannot commence as scheduled, alternative tasks might take priority to ensure time is used wisely.

Re-evaluation of research plans might be needed

Candidates in the middle of data collection may need to a re-evaluate their research plans. Some may be able to temporarily stop, or transition to remote data collection, to resume as restrictions ease. Others may need to cease their project and work out what can be salvaged from the data collected. They might need to develop an alternative plan with sufficient depth for doctoral study, recognising the limitations of a smaller recorded dataset, or consider a small sub-study on a topic that links to the previous work. Universities need to provide guidance around expectations and thesis examiners need to be sympathetic to the unprecedented challenges faced.

Candidates who have collected their data and are in the writing up phase may be in a more fortunate position. However, the challenges of working from home and combining study and family responsibilities may impair their concentration and writing capacity. Consideration should be given to how these students can be supported to develop strategies to remain connected, work effectively and manage their mental health.

All doctoral students are currently faced with the dual stresses of research studies and the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic. They must be supported to get the most out of their research training experience and emerge inspired to lead nursing and healthcare research, scholarship and practice.


Elizabeth HalcombElizabeth Halcomb, @LizHalcomb, is professor of primary healthcare nursing, School of Nursing, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia and editor of Nurse Researcher