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First Workshop of the “Eurasia Lab & Fellowship Program”: “How the COVID-19 Pandemic Affects my Work as a Researcher in/on Eurasia – and What to do About it”

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. You can find the “Guide­lines to Conducting Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic” here.

The workshop took place within the framework of the “Eurasia Lab & Fellowship Program” which is supported by the Open Society Founda­tions (OSF). The opinions expressed by the project and its publi­ca­tions may not reflect OSF’s views.


Download Guide­lines to Conducting Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic