The many uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic have called attention to the importance of research across all disciplines. While medical professionals rapidly investigate the symptoms, distribution, and response to the virus, social scientists have uncovered the many changes on the individual and societal levels. The University of Michigan is one of many institutions dedicated to predicting and preparing for the impact of today’s constantly changing reality.
On March 11, the University of Michigan joined collegiate institutions across the world in transitioning to distance learning. Within a few days, many families reunited, as they embarked on a new way of working, learning, and living. Soon enough, applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facetime, and Microsoft Teams facilitated everything from new business pitches to virtual happy hours to class discussions. Given these new guidelines to physically distance, people ultimately found an alternative way to maintain and grow connections. Online communication quickly became an essential for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes to our modes of communication have serious implications beyond our ability to complete tasks or stay connected with friends. As many of the social sciences endeavor to explain, social interactions both shape and are structured by the institutions that orchestrate society. Factors that impact the process of socialization, therefore, challenge our larger systems of culture, economics, and politics. The emergence and prevalence of digital technologies perfectly exemplify this concept. Recent research suggests correlations between our dependence on technology and changes to methods of cultural production, market activity, and political campaigns. The surrounding world has adapted to our frequent use of online communication, proving the foundation of society heavily depends on the processes of human interaction. COVID-19 now presents an opportunity for accelerating the impact of our digital transformation. As physical distancing becomes a necessity in this new reality, our growing reliance on technology will expedite certain societal changes that have been in the making. With this being said, social and data scientists have an undeniable obligation to predict and prepare for these upcoming adjustments through extensive research. These studies and their consequent findings will ultimately inform the projection of our future world.
While these social implications have reinforced the importance of research, the virus’ more serious ramifications on our global economy, mental health, and physical wellbeing have also called attention to its powerful role across all disciplines. In the medical and pharmaceutical fields, research has uncovered identifiable symptoms, effective testing, and significant strides towards treatment and prevention mechanisms. Epidemiologists have rapidly analyzed newly available data and published statistics covering the virus’ distribution patterns, guiding the world’s response to the pandemic. Their understanding of this information is critical for survival during the uncertain climate. In a similar way, industries centered around retail and sales now more heavily rely on research to generate new business models. Business management, product development, and promotional marketing during COVID-19 requires a deep understanding of the virus’ numerous impacts on the previous structure of the business. Just as epidemiologists study the current situation to combat the pandemic, businesses use research as a mechanism to best adapt to the new reality.
As one of the top research institutions in the world, the University of Michigan is currently developing a series of studies to predict and prepare for the lasting impact of the global pandemic. The projects, led by an eclectic group of researchers, cover multiple disciplines, including epidemiology, social and behavioral development, and mental health. The studies concentrate on topics from addictive consumption behaviors to educational drawbacks to vaccinations in association with COVID-19. The findings will not only advance our understanding of the ensuing years, but also generate a new wave of questions and directions for exploration. As we move forward in these uncertain times, we must rely on research to provide some form of clarity.