The impact of COVID-19 on Australian research will be "massive", as the pipeline of external grants dries up and dollars are devoted to fighting the virus, possibly to the detriment of areas beyond medical sciences.
University of Newcastle Associate Professor Jess Harris said researchers were in an "incredibly precarious" position and were operating in a sector that's been estimated will lose 21,000 jobs and at least $3billion this year alone, and in which staff aren't receiving the federal government's JobKeeper payments.
"The effects of COVID-19 on research has been massive in terms of having to implement social distancing in data collection and not being able to travel to do any field research, so there are a number of projects that have either been postponed indefinitely or have just not been able to go ahead."
Associate Professor Harris said she hoped universities would be able to maintain their commitments to research, but there were question marks over the availability of competitive external grants.
"The pipeline has certainly been disrupted this year with industries being impacted and with the economic downturn, that tends to be something that does then have a flow on effect."
She said researchers were led by matters of national interest and benefit and were seeing an expected increased focus on the impact of the virus.
"It is of concern that there is some research that might go by the wayside when you're competing for a limited pool of funds," she said.
"If there is something that is really topical and important for the moment, that means that some of the longer term issues tend to lose their funding.
"I've certainly read that some of the research into MERS and SARS and developing vaccines lost funding at some point, because it was no longer deemed to be a priority issue. It's kind of an irony that funding that was withdrawn could have now been helpful."
She said the government needed to provide additional funding to universities and make JobKeeper available to staff.
She said universities also needed to provide contract researchers - anyone on a fixed term or casual contract, who are often funded by grants - support, plus help to find work.
She has interest in their experience, having co-authored, 'Making It' as a Contract Researcher - A Pragmatic Look at Precarious Work, published last month.
She said about 70 per cent of teaching staff and 80 per cent of research-only staff were on contract and faced more uncertainty than ongoing staff, who usually taught and did research.