COVID-19 disrupts research

Two professors share their perspectives

As most Canadian universities have shifted to online instruction, much of the media focus has been on how instructors and students have adapted to online classrooms. 

Research, a fundamental aspect of universities, has also been rapidly affected by the pandemic. Professors and researchers at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) face numerous challenges.

Among them is Dr. Jeff Martin, a professor of physics, who says COVID-19 has hugely disrupted his research, including preventing him from taking a trip to a particle accelerator facility in Japan this past summer.

“It’s mostly been negative,” he says, though Martin notes that the pandemic has made his teams of colleagues quite robust.

“Team members who would not normally meet with each other are getting together on these digital platforms globally, much more regularly than we normally would have,” he says.

According to the U of W website, Martin is a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in fundamental symmetries in subatomic physics and “the Canadian leader of a major experiment searching for the neutron’s electric dipole moment, which is being conducted at TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics)” in Vancouver.

“Usually, I would go to Vancouver about once a month, but now I haven’t gone at all,” Martin says.

“We have been allowed to restart (in-person) research, as long as we’re able to physically distance,” he says, referring to his lab at the U of W campus.

Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, an assistant professor of criminal justice, has also encountered challenges facing researchers.

“The act of writing up research results takes a particular kind of focus and energy, and I found it really difficult in the context of uncertainty and anxiety around my elderly parents, my kid and my family abroad,” she says.

“Because I research policing, the pandemic context has been a wild one,” Dobchuk-Land says.

According to the U of W website, her current research includes “an analysis of community-police partnerships in the context of the Winnipeg Service’s Smart Policing Initiative.”

“The type of research that I do strives to be community-based, so it’s often interview-based and rooted in public education workshops and engagement with activist movements,” Dobchuk-Land says.

“Some of the interview research that I have been doing before just had to stop.”

Dobchuk-Land says she’s still in the process of trying to get her research back on track.

“We’re going to see the effects of a big gap in the productivity of scholars,” she says.

“On the other hand, these times have revealed all sorts of important information about social structures and the social world, people, institutions, systems and social change.

“There’s a richness in the material we have to work with, but, of course, that material is mostly human suffering.”

Published in Volume 75, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 8, 2020)

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