The COVID-19 pandemic forced Principal Investigators (PIs) to make rapid and unprecedented decisions about ongoing research projects and research teams. Confronted with vague or shifting guidance from institutional administrators and public health officials, PIs nonetheless had to decide whether their projects were “essential,” who could conduct on-site “essential” research, how to continue research activities by remote means if possible, and how to safely and effectively manage personnel during the crisis. Based on both narrative comments from a federally sponsored survey of over a thousand NIH- and NSF-funded PIs and their personnel, as well as follow-up interviews with over 60 survey participants, this study examines various ways PI and institutional decisions raised issues of procedural and distributive fairness. These fairness issues include the challenge of treating research personnel fairly in light of their disparate personal circumstances and inconsistent enforcement of COVID-19-related directives. Our findings highlight aspects of fairness and equitability that all PIs and research administrators should keep in mind for when future research disruptions occur.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAccountability in Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Fairness
  • justice in research
  • qualitative research
  • research ethics
  • research labs


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