Support for psychology researchers during the pandemic

Covid-19 research hub.

We would like to ask for the help of readers of The Psychologist in an enterprise aimed at supporting all researchers in psychology during the current pandemic.

A meeting of the BPS Research Board in May this year discussed ways in which the restrictions imposed on interpersonal contact by the Covid-19 lockdown and national/regional restrictions were impacting on psychological research at all levels, especially in terms of live data collection. During that discussion, Board members noted that they were aware of various creative solutions that individual researchers had developed in response to the resulting problems.

It was agreed that the BPS should develop a research resources hub as part of its Covid-19 provision, in order to promote the sharing of such solutions as widely as possible. The aim was to set up an exchange system that would support researchers in getting their research re-started, or beginning new research during the ongoing pandemic. Following that meeting, a working group was established to take this initiative forward, comprising ourselves as well as Victoria Simms, Ailsa Niven, Andrew Dunn, Michael Pilling and Duncan Guest.

Our initial activity highlighted the timeliness of this idea during the live pandemic and the prolonged timeline of the pandemic impacts has further underlined its importance. Members of the Developmental Psychology Section had already held an online forum on Covid-related research challenges and potential responses to these, recognising that designing new paradigms and methods takes time, cannot always address the same research questions, and is especially challenging for doctoral students faced with completion deadlines. It was clear that the challenges of Covid were impacting developmental psychologists in conducting research at all levels. This had resulted in publication of a set of articles by twelve such students, edited by Ellen Ridley (BPS Developmental Section PG Rep), outlining the approaches they had taken. Lindsay O’Dell at the Open University was working on a guide for doctoral students based there. Staff undertaking qualitative research in health psychology at Manchester had held discussion sessions on the challenges posed by Covid and strategies for overcoming these, and Vicky Woof was producing digests from these meetings for circulation through the Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin and its web pages. Bonamy Oliver at UCL Institute of Education was developing a library, hosted by the Center for Open Science, for researchers to share freely available and validated methods for remote collection of data from children and families.

This and other activity illustrated how proactive psychologists from across the discipline were being in attempting to address Covid restrictions on their research endeavours – but also underscored the need for a hub to bring it all together, so that they could build on each other’s work and avoid duplication of effort. A subsequent BPS survey of academic staff in psychology departments on the impact of Covid-19 highlighted the value of the development of such a hub with 76.8 per cent of respondents indicating that it would be useful to them.

The working group agreed that this hub should focus on providing a coordinated digest of issues, potential solutions, supporting resources, and guidance regarding best practice. In particular, it would:

  • Signpost already available creative solutions, such as those outlined above, with an emphasis on approaches that preserve research quality; and provide links to these and to emerging departmentalguidance, including lab protocols and standard operating procedures
  • Address gaps in currently available support and how solutions from practitioner psychologists might be applied in best practice guidance i.e. the lessons that might be learned from how sessions with clients were being conducted and how this could be applied to face to face testing
  • Provide a blog-style narrative highlighting the impact of Covid-19 on psychological research and especially the differential impacts on parts of the discipline and cohorts of researchers
  • Dedicate space to addressing the risk of whole cohorts of undergraduate and postgraduate students obtaining poorer quality experience of empirical research, and ways in which departments were trying to mitigate this risk

In order to populate the initial iteration of the hub, an email requesting input on these different strands was sent to Heads of Psychology Departments and to BPS Member Networks. Relevant links and other contributions have now been uploaded to a research resources section on the Covid-19 area of the BPS website, and this page is now live.

In its current form, it contains sections on practical guidance regarding ethical issues, doctoral research, and conducting systematic reviews; templates for current departmental protocols; advice on researcher wellbeing; tools to support decision-making on research resources; and a range of links to such resources, including dedicated support for research with children or vulnerable groups, where contact poses particular challenges.

We are keen to emphasise that this is a first version of a live resource, and that it is intended to grow over time, especially given the continuing uncertainties over when something resembling normal life might be restored. We would therefore like to invite readers of The Psychologist to visit the hub site, and make or suggest additional contributions to any of the strands we outline – or indeed other strands that might be included and which we have missed so far. Our primary goal is to help build a genuine community-based resource to support all psychologists in conducting high quality research under the current constraints – and one that will have a positive and lasting impact on how we conduct research in the future.

Find out more.

- Andy Tolmie, UCL Institute of Education

- Debbie Riby, Durham University

- Lisa Morrison Coulthard, BPS

Illustration: Tim Sanders 

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