In 2020, AGI was awarded a RAPID grant (#2029570) to conduct a one-year research project that captured the onset of pandemic-related changes within the geoscience workforce and academic programs through the end of June 2021. The aim of this longitudinal study was to understand how geoscience employers and educational institutions were changing their workplace and instructional environments in response to the pandemic, and also to discover which of these changes would remain in place after institutions and companies unrolled their adaptions to COVID-19 into what would become their permanent post-pandemic operational state. With the initial grant proposal, it was expected that businesses, educational institutions, and citizens would resume in-person interactions and be back to “normal” by Spring 2021.

We began the project by following five primary cohorts of study volunteers through the end of Spring 2021: geoscience employers, geoscience workers (as of start of the crisis), academic faculty, geoscience college and university students, and recent geoscience graduates from 2014- 2019. Study volunteers are asked to complete online surveys on a bi-monthly basis. Study volunteers who participated as workers, faculty, students, or recent graduates were asked to provide information about changes in workplace and instructional environments, their employment and enrollment status, geoscience-related activities, and other pandemic-related impacts. Study volunteers who led geoscience companies, organizations, or academic departments were asked to provide information about impacts to their organization’s work or instructional environment, business operations, and other pandemic-related impacts.

Because of the ongoing intensity of the pandemic driven by multiple waves of COVID-19 variants, we were granted a supplement to the project to continue the monitoring of impacts through March 2022 with the hopes that we would see a transition to post-pandemic conditions by the end of 2021. We expected to see faculty starting to incorporate instructional modes from the pandemic into their teaching and curriculum, using Fall 2021 term for testing the permanency of new instructional modes for in-person settings. We also expected to see employers making decisions about company policies such as hiring, use of contractors, and adoption of remote work or changes to their physical footprint. During this additional nine months we began to track if students and graduates were identifying skills or knowledge gaps resulting from the pandemic impacts to higher education. We also assessed impacts on student academic achievement, new graduate career trajectories, and strategies implemented by faculty, departments, and employers to help address any skills, knowledge, or achievement gaps.

Unfortunately, by Fall 2021 the nation was still dealing with the surge in infections from the Delta variant which was then followed by the sharp rise in infections from the Omicron variant starting in December 2021. By early 2022, COVID cases and hospitalizations began to decline yet pandemic-related impacts to higher education and workplaces persisted. Most geoscience academic departments continued to teach in-person with pandemic-related restrictions and offered hybrid and fully-online instructional methods. In addition, most departments expected that instruction for the next academic term would be a continuation of in-person instruction with pandemic-related restrictions. Pandemic-related impacts on geoscience employers also persisted, yet there were signs of recovery in terms of improved expectations for financial performance and diminishing staffing impacts. However, issues with excess workloads relative to staffing persisted, as did supply shortages. Employers meanwhile began re-evaluating how to incorporate remote work policies into their long-term strategies and how to manage virtual hiring and onboarding of new employees.

With the lifting of various restrictions and mandates in February 2022, we began to see the first evidence of a substantial change in pandemic response with a move from a regulatory posture driven by government rules and guidance to one that was organically driven by individual and organizational choices. As society unrolled restrictions and adopted its post-pandemic behaviors, we have witnessed the integration of changes brought about by the pandemic, as well as lasting imprints to the geoscience workforce and academic programs of pandemic-related impacts.