The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed our daily life but also our work as researchers. Interviews and conferences can only be held digitally, libraries have closed and working from home does not necessarily offer the quiet environment one needs to conduct research attentively. What is the best way for researchers to adapt to the new circumstances and how can we overcome the hurdles resulting from these? These were the questions addressed by the participants of the first workshop of the “Eurasia Lab & Fellowship Program” on 15 October 2020 on the topic “How the COVID-19 Pandemic Affects my Work as a Researcher in/on Eurasia — and What to do About it”.
The event was one of a total of three workshops in which the “Eurasia Lab & Fellowship Program” is dedicated to connecting researchers working in and on Eurasia. Especially in a time of increasing crises and political conflicts in Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia, the exchange of ideas, knowledge and information is more important than ever before.
In two short introductory statements, Kateryna Zarembo (New Europe Center, Kyiv) and Dr Serik Beimenbetov (German-Kazakh University, Almaty) addressed the challenge of combining research with working from home and parenthood and the difficulties of new administrative hurdles and restrictions. The contributions of the other researchers confirmed these challenges. Not only is the absence of a calm and quiet working environment an obstacle to productive research work, field research also suffers from travel restrictions and exclusively virtual formats of conducting interviews. Establishing interpersonal contact between the interviewer and interviewee solely through virtual means has proven challenging. Technological difficulties were also given emphasis in this context: in many countries of Central Asia, digitalization has progressed far enough to enable new formats of communication. However, the internet bandwidth is very weak and does not allow a stable network connection for a longer period of time.
Furthermore, the exchange between the researchers made it clear that it would make sense to switch to less complex and time-consuming research projects for the near future. Due to the lack of a vaccine against the virus, a normalization of the situation is not foreseeable for some time. Under these circumstances, flexibility and finding an individual strategy for conducting personal research projects are essential.
At the same time, the workshop revealed new perspectives and possibilities for researchers working in and on Eurasia during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that certain research topics can be approached from a different angle under these unforeseen circumstances is a unique opportunity. Paying attention to more current topics could thus be a sensible strategy. In addition, the virtual connection offers a quick and effective way, which is time- and money-saving and also reduces the impact on the climate, to participate in virtual conferences together with colleagues from various parts of the world. Moreover, the partly difficult access to databases is a chance to properly explore the sources that already are available online and learn how to use them more effectively.
In summary, the pandemic has generally constrained research, making it more complicated and less accessible. Nevertheless, the current circumstances offer an opportunity to rediscover research topics and methods and to establish contact with researchers worldwide in an unprecedented way. Although the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on research are a topic that affects us in our daily work, it has so far only been touched upon but never was the central aspect of a virtual event. Therefore, the participants had a strong need to exchange their experiences and perceived the workshop as very enriching. We have gathered the many helpful tips and tricks that came up during the workshop how to better cope with the difficulties for research work during the pandemic.