Research in times of the coronavirus pandemic

Carlos Hervés, professor at the University of Vigo and coordinator of the ECOBAS Strategic Group, analyzes the consequences of the crisis caused by Covid-19 in the field of university research in economics areas.

90% of the projects in which ECOBAS members are working will not be affected by the current crisis

In contrast with what happens in other scientific fields, the group director highlights that most of the researchs carried out at ECOBAS does not require large infrastructure or specific materials. In general, researchers can carry out their work outside the university, due to the fact that most of them only need bibliographic references, computer media and economic-business data that can be accessed through the network. However, there may be isolated projects that focus their study on very specific topics such as consumption that require an empirical part (surveys or interviews). In this case, if it wasn’t carried out before lockdown, it could delay the investigation. “Essentially, Covid19 pandemic would not affect the projects, unless they were waiting for some stage prior to their kick off, and even in these cases they could be carried out online”, explains the professor.

Postgraduate academic activity has not been interrupted either

Master’s degrees and doctorate programs promoted by ECOBAS did not undergo drastic changes due to the pandemic either. In the case of the Master in Economics, classes were already online before this happened, as it is an interuniversity program shared by the Universities of Vigo, Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña. The current situation only affects the exams, although they were telematic, they had the supervision of a teacher in each center. “This will not be possible in this term, but each of these three universities have protocols to carry out online evaluations, so the incidence of Covid-19 is minimal.”

The students of the Interuniversity Doctorate Program in Economic Analysis and Business Strategy also continue their activity from lockdown. “Most of the doctoral work is individual, only students with pre-doctoral scholarships from the University of Vigo, Xunta de Galicia or the Ministry are required to carry out their research on-site at the center. These students can work from home, so excepting some exceptional cases, lockdown doesn’t represent any essential change. “The doctorate program has three face to face classes. Two of them have already been taught in the first semester. The last one, due to the current state of alarm, it’s being taught remotely.”

Is it important to note that all the doctoral thesis presentation procedures have been largely suspended. Some students had already deposited their thesis physically before the crisis, but when the state of alarm was declared, all procedures and deadlines were suspended. “When the situation returns to normal, the ten-day public exposure process can be completed and it will be decided whether the thesis are defended in person or electronically,” explains Professor Hervés, coordinator of the doctoral program and director of some of the thesis in process.

Stays abroad will be affected by the pandemic, but not pre-doctoral contracts

Doctoral students who had planned a research stay abroad in these months, (necessary to have an international mention), will not be able to do it at the moment. The upside is that administrative deadlines don’t run, and researchers can use the time to progress with their thesis and improve their CV without worrying about resources, as pre-doctoral contracts were automatically extended. When the situation is normalized and the administrative deadlines are resumed, they can carry out their stay with the corresponding financing.

“Contrary to what you might think, teaching activity in times of Covid requires much more time”

The group director highlights that the members of ECOBAS have to combine their research activity with teaching. Nevertheless, he underlines as a positive point of the situation the progress in the digitization of processes: “We all have improved our online communication skills and we have learned to use new teaching tools that will be very useful in the future.” The professor also highlights the fast adaptation of the University of Vigo and the students good acceptance. He recognizes this is a necessary change of model and it could take years to establish if it were not for the pandemic.

“Among the negative aspects, he stands out the suppression of scientific meetings, seminars and International Conferences”

The projects of ECOBAS research team, will not be affected. However, we have to regret the lack of research visits, cancellation of seminars that were already planned and also the postponement of international conferences organized with the collaboration of ECOBAS. Among others, the 9th Atlantic Workshop on Energy and Environmental Economics scheduled for June on the A Toxa island was postponed and it will be held in 2021; the XXV Workshop on Dynamical Macroeconomics scheduled for the first days of July at the Soutomaior Castle, has also been suspended until next year; and the 20th Biennial Conference of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade (IIFET), which would have to be held in late June has been postponed until the end of August.

Finally, Carlos Hervés underlines that the Covid-19 pandemic will leave some positive points for the whole society, since it’s usefully highlighting what is really important. It will also serve to deal with social problems latent since long time ago. From now on things are going to be different but they do not necessarily have to be worse. From the university perspective, when we get back to the classes, a “new normality” will be experienced. “Online classes will surely be alternate with face-to-face classes. In this lockdown we have learned how to use tools that allows us to establish a new model, aimed to facilitate an improve our teaching skills.”