President's Corner: COVID-19 Impacts on Entomologists and Annual Meeting Planning

Alvin Simmons, Ph.D.

Alvin Simmons, Ph.D.

May 13, 2020

I hope you and those close to you are safe and well. Thank you very much for responding to the COVID-19 ESA Member Survey. This is a topic that ESA’s leadership has been actively monitoring and engaging on for much of the year. Based on the survey results, it is apparent that many of you are well and that was the best possible finding 

One of the objectives of this survey was to get a preliminary sense for how our members are currently feeling about the annual meeting. We are very carefully weighing concerns about health and safety at the meeting as well as concerns about travel and this was a helpful first step, though we plan to send another survey later this summer as this is an evolving situation for everyone. Although the pandemic is an inherently unpredictable situation, ESA will be holding Entomology 2020 in some form so that entomologists can share their science and connect with colleagues—more important now than ever. The Program Committee has been working since this situation began to emerge in early March to develop different options to allow ESA to be prepared for whatever environment faces us this fall, including a meeting that combines in-person and virtual content, or a fully virtual event. Anyone who wishes to cancel their registration for Entomology 2020 due to concerns about health or travel will receive a 100 percent refund, to give members and attendees peace of mind in planning travel in such an uncertain time.

The survey was also intended to gather more general information on how COVID is affecting entomologists and their work, to help ESA inform lawmakers about the needs of the research enterprise. As the survey was anonymous, we cannot respond to specific inquiries posed in the comment sections. However, please know we read your concerns and challenges, laughed with the humorous anecdotes and observations some of you shared, and empathize with the burdens others are bearing during this difficult time.

Below please find some trends that emerged from the survey by category:

  • Employment: Thankfully, only 1.2% of the respondents have been furloughed or laid off. However, 25% of postdocs are concerned about losing their positions, and about 20% of all respondents are concerned about losing their jobs. 
  • Research: Nearly 70% of people across academia, from undergraduates to senior faculty, are concerned about being able to conduct their research, and to publish and present their data. Many mentioned in the comments how challenging they are finding teaching on a virtual platform and serving administrative roles remotely. Some talked about their worries regarding the potential loss of the field season this summer and the impacts on data collection. Others shared that surveillance and other support for vector-borne disease (VBD) activities are being re-appropriated for COVID-19 response at state and local departments of health and raised concerns about the impact that this will have on VBD outbreaks this summer.
  • Caretaking responsibilities: Nearly 40% of the respondents are balancing caretaking responsibilities with trying to do their jobs full time. For many this involves caring for children, for others it involves caring for aging or sick parents. And for some of you that means developing a way to raise your model systems at home. Many spoke of the emotional toll this is taking, whether it’s being responsible for full-time caretaking in addition to working, or the impact of being isolated and alone. If you are feeling that way, know that you are not alone.
  • Personal safety: About 40% of all respondents are concerned about having to go back to their jobs or universities before it is safe to do so.
  • Concerns for disrupted timelines: Fifty-six percent of graduate students are concerned about not being able to graduate on time, and 30% of postdocs are concerned about finishing on their planned timeline; 36% of faculty are worried about these same things.
  • Job prospects: Around 25% of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc respondents have concerns about possessing the right skills and/or experience to get the job they want. To this point, ESA is developing new efforts around professional development and we will be surveying students, postdocs, and early career faculty later this summer to better understand needs in this area to identify how to best support our members. And note that while many universities are implementing hiring freezes, federal agencies are still hiring entomologists!
  • Impact on higher education: In the comments, many expressed concern about the impact this will have on the stability of higher education research and extension for public institutions in states where the budget has been badly injured by this crisis. Undergraduates shared that they are worried there won’t be as many opportunities for them to attend graduate school because of the impact on higher education and research grants.

In closing, I thank the membership for voting during the special election, and thanks to all three nominees for volunteering to serve our society. Congratulations to Jessica Ware for joining the presidential line. Congratulations to Andrew Short for joining the Governing Board to serve the remaining term as SysEB Section Representative. I invite all ESA members to consider nominating candidates for the summer election and awards. 

During May, let’s also celebrate “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.” As we respect the capacity of COVID-19, we also value the safety of our members. In concert with the theme “Entomology for All,” together we will move forward as a Society.  

Safe and well wishes,

Alvin M. Simmons, Ph.D., FRES
President, Entomological Society of America
Charleston, South Carolina

Read past editions of President's Corner.