Changes in Time Allocation During the COVID-19 Pandemic for Full-Time Faculty in Physics and Astronomy

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Changes in Time Allocation During the COVID-19 Pandemic for Full-Time Faculty in Physics and Astronomy

December 2021
Courtney Walsh and John Tyler

Like many workers in the United States, physics and astronomy faculty members’ careers and work situations have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the spring semester of 2021, AIP’s Statistical Research Center surveyed a sample of faculty members regarding their experiences during the pandemic, and this Focus On outlines how faculty members have reallocated their time during compared to before the pandemic. The majority of full-time physics and astronomy faculty members indicated that they allocated more time to teaching and advising and less time to research and scholarship activities. Despite similarities across department types, faculty in bachelor’s and master’s degree-granting departments reported more changes in time allocation compared to faculty in PhD-granting departments.

In the spring of 2021, 1,793 physics and astronomy faculty members from a stratified cluster sample of 286 US physics and/or astronomy departments shared how the pandemic impacted their time allocation, teaching and lab adjustments, access to resources, quality of work, and well-being. In this Focus On, we report changes in time allocation during compared to before the pandemic for the 1,281 respondents who were employed as full-time, active faculty members in physics or astronomy when the survey was administered. We asked respondents, “Compared to your experiences prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, how has the time you spent in each of the following activities changed?” to which faculty members responded using a 5-point Likert scale from “A lot less time now” to “A lot more time,” with the option to select “Not applicable” for each activity we assessed.

In each type of department, regardless of highest degree granted, the majority of full-time physics and astronomy faculty members indicated that they spent more time teaching and advising compared to before the pandemic (Figure 1). On the other hand, the majority of faculty members in bachelor’s- and master’s-granting departments and nearly half of faculty in PhD-granting departments reported spending less time in research and scholarship. Trends were similar across all three department types, so we present the general trend in Figure 1. We also present changes in time allocation by highest degree granted in the department in the appendix.

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Figure 1

Changes in Time Allocation Compared to Before the COVID-19 Pandemic for Full-time Physics and Astronomy Faculty Members Across Department Types, Spring 2021

Click image to see larger version.

While there were some consistencies in faculty members’ time allocation across department types, according to multivariate regression analyses (see Survey Methodology for more details), changes in time allocation also varied based on the highest degree granted by the department. Specifically, although the majority of faculty in all three types of departments reported an increase in time allocated to teaching and advising, respondents employed in departments granting either bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees were more likely to report an increase in time allocated toward this responsibility compared to respondent in PhD-granting departments (Figure 2). Additionally, respondents employed in departments granting master’s degrees were more likely to report an increase in time allocated toward administrative and committee work compared to respondent in either bachelor’s degree- or PhD-granting departments.

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Figure 2

Percent of Full-time Physics and Astronomy Faculty Members Who Reported Allocating More Time Toward Each Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic by Highest Degree Granted, Spring 2021

Click image to see larger version.

On the other hand, although the majority of faculty in all three types of departments reported a decrease in time allocated to research and scholarship, respondents employed in departments granting either bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees were more likely to report a decrease in time allocated toward this responsibility as well as toward seeking funding compared to respondents in PhD-granting departments (Figure 3). Respondents employed in departments granting bachelor’s degrees were also more likely to report a decrease in time allocated toward service outside the institutions compared to respondents in PhD-granting departments.

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Figure 3

Percent of Full-time Physics and Astronomy Faculty Members Who Reported Allocating Less Time Toward Each Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic by Highest Degree Granted, Spring 2021

Click image to see larger version.

Conclusions

This Focus On reports data that show the ways in which time allocation has shifted in the spring of 2021 compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic for full-time, active faculty members in physics and astronomy. Regardless of the highest degree granted by the department, most faculty members reported reallocating their time in various ways. It is important to note that experiences varied across faculty members, even within department types. In future publications, we will dissect the trends presented here to determine how changes in time allocation differed across faculty members’ identities (e.g., gender and racial or ethnic identities) and positions within their department (e.g., current rank).

Although not presented here, we have found that the well-being of faculty members has deteriorated during the pandemic,[1] which may be related to the changes we described here, in addition to other challenges faculty members faced, such as reduced access to resources[2] and adjustments to their courses and labs. Additional analyses are needed to understand the connections among faculty member experiences, which we plan to explore.

Survey Methodology

The Faculty Member Survey is administered by the American Institute of Physics approximately every five years. The survey focuses on the demographics, training, and experiences of faculty members. In this cycle, the Statistical Research Center included a special section on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We asked 5,488 physics and astronomy faculty members across 315 US physics and/or astronomy departments to complete the Faculty Member Survey in the spring of 2021. The institutions were selected using stratified cluster sampling; we randomly selected 39% of all US departments that offered degrees in physics, astronomy, or both physics and astronomy from 4-year colleges or universities, including both public and private institutions and oversampling Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

From each sampled department, we collected all faculty members’ names and contact information from the department websites. All listed faculty members within those departments were emailed a link to complete the survey.

A total of 1,793 individuals from 286 departments responded to the questionnaire; however, a total of 1,281 respondents were included in this Focus On. Respondents who indicated they were not active faculty members or who were not currently working full-time at the institution from which we collected their contact information were removed from the sample. Nearly half of active faculty members included in this Focus On were full professors (49%), while fewer were associate professors (21%), assistant professors (19%), or in other faculty roles (11%).[1]

In order to test the associations between department type and changes in time allocation, we conducted a series of multivariate regression analyses. This allowed us to test the associations while accounting or controlling for other potentially confounding effects. In order to isolate the effects of department type, each regression analysis included the following characteristics in each model.

  • Gender identity
  • Citizenship and race or ethnicity
  • Marital status and child status
  • Other dependents status
  • Rank
  • Department field (i.e., physics, astronomy, or combined)
  • Institution type (i.e., public or private)
 

[1] These numbers are similar to those collected in AIP’s Academic Workforce survey, in which the chair from each physics and astronomy department in the US was asked to report the number and rank of all faculty members in the department. In the data used for this Focus On, there are more faculty in full, associate, and assistant positions and fewer in other faculty roles because we only included data from full-time faculty here.

Appendix

Bachelor’s Degree-Granting Departments


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Figure 4

Changes in Time Allocation Compared to Before the COVID-19 Pandemic for Full-time Physics and Astronomy Faculty Members in Bachelor's-Granting Departments, Spring 2021

Click image to see larger version.

Master’s Degree-Granting Departments


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Figure 5

Changes in Time Allocation Compared to Before the COVID-19 Pandemic for Full-time Physics and Astronomy Faculty Members in Master's-Granting Departments, Spring 2021

Click image to see larger version.

PhD-Granting Departments


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Figure 6

Changes in Time Allocation Compared to Before the COVID-19 Pandemic for Full-time Physics and Astronomy Faculty Members in PhD-Granting Departments, Spring 2021

Click image to see larger version.

References

[1] Walsh and Tyler (forthcoming). Physics and Astronomy Faculty Members’ Well-Being of During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

[2] Walsh and Tyler (forthcoming). Changes in Access to Resources During the COVID-19 Pandemic for Faculty Members in Physics and Astronomy.

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Changes in Time Allocation During the COVID-19 Pandemic for Faculty Members in Physics and Astronomy

By Courtney Walsh and John Tyler

Published: December 2021

A product of the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics

1 Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740

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