The prolonged duration of the COVID-19 pandemic led to significant and
unprecedented structural changes in social, economic, and educational
systems worldwide. Frequent surges in virus cases and the emergence of
new variants caused waves of disruptions and restarts in educational and
business sectors. To adapt, academic institutions and businesses
integrated virtual technologies, creating new working and learning
models that ensured continuity throughout this volatile period.
In May 2020, AGI initiated a research project to investigate the short-
and long-term effects of the pandemic on the geoscience workforce and
academic programs. The project's goal was to establish a comparison of
pre-pandemic and post-pandemic environments to assess the magnitude and
permanence of these changes. Initially planned as a 12-month study, the
project eventually expanded into a multi-year investigation that
concluded data collection in December 2022. Primary data were collected
through a multi-cohort longitudinal survey between May 2020 and December
2022, focusing on five primary cohorts: geoscience employers,
non-academic geoscientists, academic faculty, geoscience college and
university students, and recent geoscience graduates from 2014 through
2022. Additional insights were gained in 2022 through oral history
interviews and a three-part webinar series, gathering best practices
from various study cohorts on how they managed pandemic-related impacts.
The study aimed to identify the lasting changes to geoscience programs,
departments, employers, and workforce resulting from the pandemic. It
explored how research conduct evolved, including identifying new
opportunities that emerged from the pandemic, and closely examined
skills and knowledge gaps affecting post-2020 geoscience graduates.
Strategies employed by employers, academic departments, and graduates to
address these gaps were also investigated, along with an examination of
career trajectories for recent graduates to assess any variations from
Furthermore, the project sought to inform future areas of research,
including those related to new approaches in digital learning and
teaching. By providing insights into the short- and long-term effects of
this crisis that necessitated rapid structural workforce changes, the
study aimed to assist institutions, employers, and decision-makers in
improving response and recovery planning for future crises of a similar
The pandemic brought about widespread disruptions to the geoscience
profession, affecting various aspects of academia, employment, and
research. The results of this project highlight the common challenges
experienced by the study cohorts, the strategies they employed to
navigate those challenges, the new opportunities that arose as a result
of the pandemic, and the new ways of working and learning that have
emerged in the post-pandemic world.
Academic departments faced challenges such as budget cuts, staffing
issues, limitations on fieldwork and travel, and declines in student
enrollment. The rapid shift from in-person to remote instruction led to
significant changes in research methods, mainly towards virtual and
computational studies, and caused delays in degree completion due to
alterations in project tasks, course availability, and presentation
Geoscience employers struggled with financial and staffing impacts,
regulatory constraints, supply chain problems, and limitations on travel
and field activities. Hiring new talent proved difficult due to a lack
of available skilled people for open positions. In addition, onboarding
new employees into virtual working environments presented substantial
obstacles, as new hires had difficulty with assimilating into the
organization’s culture, and training also proved challenging as tasks
more easily done in person could not always be replicated in an online
The profession faced obstacles in fieldwork and laboratory activities,
impeded by restrictions and increased health protocols. The swift shift
to remote work affected families with increased caregiving
responsibilities and led to reduced productivity, imbalanced work/life
equilibrium, and supply shortages. Challenges with the lack of optimal
remote work environments, especially early in the pandemic, were due to
the lack of dedicated workspaces, internet connectivity, distractions,
and not having the necessary resources and equipment as one would have
at the office or on campus. In addition, the loss of in-person
communication had a huge impact for many, with online platforms not able
to fully replicate in-person hallway discussions.
For academic faculty, the lack of engagement with students in an online
setting was a top issue, causing declines in student learning.
Furthermore, the rapid shift to online and the push to maintain
educational continuity left faculty scrambling to learn new platforms
and convert as much as their course content as possible into online
platforms. Later in the pandemic, faculty also juggled both online and
in-person teaching modalities. This increased workloads and many faculty
did not have the time to fully re-design course content for online
learning which resulted in frequent comments about the diminished
quality of online instruction.
Underpinning many of the successful strategies employed during the
pandemic was a can-do attitude. With the restrictions on facility access
and travel, projects were re-focused on literature reviews and modeling
where possible, and others were redesigned to fit within
pandemic-related constraints. Other strategies revolved around being
resourceful, which included finding motivation and self-direction to
keep projects, work, and research moving forward. Resourcefulness also
was found within people's networks and communities, including finding
ways to connect, share ideas, and learn new skills.
Integration of technological platforms served as a bridge for
communication, collaboration, idea sharing, skill learning, and teamwork
on projects. Supportive actions by employers, departments, and faculty
were also vital, including providing equipment and financial assistance
for the transition to remote work, and allowing flexibility in deadlines
and work hours. These measures eased some challenges faced by employees
and students, particularly with project delays, supply chain
disruptions, and family care responsibilities. Other strategies included
upgrading remote workspaces to be more conducive for working and
studying, reducing distractions from others, increasing internet speed,
acquiring better furniture, and finding/creating dedicated workspaces.
Departments also adjusted promotion and tenure guidelines, with most
departments extending the promotion clock, and waiving student and
teacher evaluations during the first year of the pandemic. Departments
also supported students by adapting degree requirements, such as waiving
course requirements, allowing substitutions such as alternate courses or
independent study for courses that were cancelled, and giving students
who could not complete field courses prior to graduation the ability to
take the course once they were offered in-person. Many non-academic
employers implemented remote-first work policies to allow employees to
choose whether they wanted to work in the office or at home on any given
day, thus providing employees with the flexibility to adjust their
schedule to maintain productivity.
During the pandemic, new opportunities for research and collaborations
were reported by over a third of survey participants, including
collaborations between departments within an organization, as well as
collaborations with other organizations. Of those indicating new
opportunities, over half indicated that they were pursuing new work and
/ or research projects.
With the increased familiarity with virtual platforms, people leveraged
the ability to connect with others more easily. As a result, some
faculty developed collaborations with colleagues around the world to be
guest speakers in their courses, and departments did the same for their
colloquium series. Researchers connected with others using virtual
platforms to develop new projects and collaborate on existing research.
The pandemic provided the opportunity to rethink curriculum and
departmental / organizational culture around the topics of diversity,
equity, and inclusion. While virtual platforms were able to increase
accessibility by providing an alternative to in-person experiences,
there were caveats related to internet access. Furthermore, as faculty
gained experience with curriculum design and delivery across the
different in-person and online modalities, some incorporated virtual
resources developed during the pandemic into their curriculum to provide
more opportunities for learning for those unable to attend in person.
The pandemic also provided many with opportunities to learn new skills,
especially related to modeling and software programming. In part, new
skills development was driven by restrictions on facility access and
travel which resulted in employees, faculty, students, and researchers
pivoting their work to computational research activities.
The pandemic has brought about lasting transformations in the
geosciences, particularly with the incorporation of virtual technologies
into working and learning environments and brought to light the
criticality of frequent in-person interactions and the consequences of
isolation on social interactions and interpersonal communication. Beyond
the challenges it posed, the pandemic also enabled an increase in
technical proficiency across the geosciences, opening new opportunities
in virtual work and collaboration that many have seized.
Academic departments have embraced virtual instructional methods, using
them to enhance student learning or accommodate those who could not
attend in-person sessions. This has increased accessibility and content
retention for students and allowed faculty to use new skills and
instructional modalities learned during the pandemic. Primarily, virtual
components are being integrated as supplemental materials or as
preparatory or follow-up materials for in-person instruction.
Departments have also begun allowing hybrid and virtual options for
their students' defense / final capstone project presentations. In
addition, some departments are allowing course substitutions in degree
Employers have also adopted virtual technologies, leading to more
flexible work conditions, and allowing employees greater leeway in their
work location and hours. Concurrently, employees have upgraded their
home workspaces to be more conducive for remote work. The increased
flexibility has improved morale, as employees can more easily balance
personal and work commitments, and the reduction in commute time also
helps to increase work-life balance.
In addition, there has been an increase in employers hiring at the
doctoral level, whereas pre-pandemic, employers tended to hire primarily
at the bachelors and master’s level, while doctorates primarily tracked
into academic careers. Employers are now also expecting new hires to
have proficiency with virtual platforms for communication and
collaboration, database and data visualization skills, and project
The pandemic has left a lasting imprint on the geosciences, but also has
provided new opportunities for the geosciences in support of society,
shaping the future trajectory of the geosciences discipline. Integration
of virtual technologies has opened many doors for research advancements,
collaborations, and new ways of teaching and learning. The immense
challenges posed by the pandemic in terms of the limitations on
in-person activities, including lab and field work, has provided the
opportunity for geoscientists, employers, and academic departments to
think strategically about how to be more efficient in how they work and
learn going forward.
Resilience prevailed within the geoscience profession despite the
immense challenges from the pandemic.
Successful strategies for adaptation to changes in work and learning
were underpinned by a willingness to look for solutions to navigate
the challenges faced.
Supportive actions, such as adjusting project deadlines, assistance
with the set-up of remote workspaces, and changes to promotion and
tenure guidelines and degree program requirements were key for
easing stress and challenges for employees, faculty, and students.
The pandemic made clear the importance of having a home workspace
that was conducive for work and learning, including a dedicated
space with proper equipment, furniture, fast internet connection,
and one that was free of distractions.
The prolonged duration of restrictions on in-person activities
during the pandemic emphasized the criticality of in-person social
Virtual platforms enhanced curricular activities, increased
accessibility, and increased content retention as students could
review recorded lectures and course materials in addition to their
Virtual platforms broadened professional networks and increased
collaboration among researchers, faculty and employees.
The pandemic provided many with the opportunity to learn new skills,
especially related to computational research, programming, database
management, and other related technical skills.
In addition to integrating virtual components into instructional
activities, some academic departments are now allowing more
flexibility in the mode of students’ final research presentations
and providing some flexibility with respect to degree program
Employers have shifted to more flexible working environments,
allowing for flexibility in hours and work location.
Employers are increasingly hiring at the doctoral level and are also
expecting new hires to be proficient with virtual platforms for
communication and collaboration.