Career Research: Challenges and Strategies in the Time of COVID

By Lia D. Falco, Carol Klose Smith, Brian Calhoun, and Debra Osborn

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in unprecedented ways. Across the world, people have experienced major disruptions to their lives and livelihoods including their health and well-being, education, and employment status. These disruptions are being felt now and will continue for the foreseeable future as the health and economic consequences of the pandemic unfold for years to come. Considering that aspects of mental health, identity, and work are inextricably linked, career development researchers, practitioners, and career counselor educators have recently turned their attention to understanding the implications of this once-in-a-lifetime event for individuals and societies.

Like the diversity statement from the professional association we most identify with, we must contextualize these implications by viewing them through the lens of intersectionality (Cooper, 2017). Understanding intersectionality is essential to understanding the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world of work for everyone and, especially, for the ways in which it has differentially impacted certain individuals or groups.

Forest Simon Zzotl6fspls Unsplash

Revealing Trends

The pandemic has revealed much about the nature of work and, as it continues to unfold, some clear trends are emerging. First, the burden of essential work has been borne unevenly across gender, racial, and socioeconomic lines (Bowleg, 2020). Women and minorities are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic—in the job types and industries affected as well as in the increased demands they face as primary caretakers at home, exacerbated by the current and not-fully-understood childcare crisis. The pandemic has also had a devastating impact on employment for workers who are low-income, young (age 18-24), or over the age of 50. Employees earning less than $20 per hour are more likely to be laid off, lack health insurance, and experience housing instability at significantly higher rates. Extended stretches of unemployment can have long-term adverse economic effects for low-income and young people, resulting in lower earnings and increased risk of unemployment later in life, which leads to further depreciation of labor market skills (Kalev, 2020). Even during strong labor markets, a large number of people are economically more vulnerable because they tend to work in seasonal, casual, temporary, or part-time jobs, often without paid leave and benefits.

Effects on Counselor Education

For individuals who are also working to continue their studies as professional counselors, not only have their work and personal lives been disrupted, their academic experience has changed considerably. Students have found themselves having to negotiate their employment, family, and academic life with disrupted routines, new course delivery methods, and employment stress. This has had the impact of creating unique challenges as students face many new uncertainties, such as: navigating technology issues, internet connectivity, clinical training disruptions, the slower accumulation of clinical hours and, for some, quickly transitioning into virtual learning or hybrid learning formats. And most significantly, for many, the lack of connection they feel with their friends, colleagues and faculty as we learn to do all of this at a social distance has been challenging.

For faculty, the transition into the new COVID-19 reality has been just as challenging. Faculty who had been teaching in-person transitioned very quickly into delivering content online during the spring. For those with young children, this left navigating their child’s educational needs alongside their students’ content knowledge and skill development. It meant developing new technological skills and retooling their classes for online education. As faculty moved into the fall semester, many institutions required in-person instruction while allowing student to also join virtually, both synchronously and asynchronously. This balancing act is the equivalent of providing a professional counseling course with three different platforms, in addition to working with and supporting stressed and anxious students. Many counselor educators are working more hours with no increases in compensation. This is a situation that could lead to exhaustion or burn out.

Research Methodology Challenges

Conducting research during the time of COVID-19 has presented multiple challenges. Stay-at-home mandates put many data collection efforts on hold, especially those involving field work with face-to-face work with human subjects, K12 schools, and other facilities. Some Institutional Review Boards (IRB) put a moratorium on existing research that involved human subjects. Researcher found themselves limited to conducting research through online venues, which presented a different set of challenges, such as internal validity of studies using crowdsourcing tools that might be conducted by bots, or limits on instruments that were not available or adaptable to online use. A key consideration for researchers is how COVID-19 might be impacting participants’ responses to questions. To what degree should results be seen as generalizable beyond the present, given they were obtained during time of a pandemic? On the flip side, COVID-19 has created several opportunities for researchers to consider new methods for data collection, finish up projects that have been back-burnered, or create new collaborative partnerships. Some strategies to consider would be to take some time for those things that we never have time to do, such as deeper dives into the literature, seeking out webinars on a different statistical approach, and preserving research and writing times. Finally, it’s important to create realistic goals, keep expectations for self and others in check, and celebrate the successes when they come.

Acknowledging the Complexity

For career professionals, the pandemic coincides around each of these issues. Changes to work and education have had a substantial negative effect on people’s mental health. New challenges exist for mental health providers who have also had to adapt and account for client privacy in a virtual therapeutic space. Staying creative, collaborative, and flexible will help everyone respond better to the issues that emerge in real-time for clients. The main takeaway from all of this is to acknowledge the complex and dynamic nature of the pandemic and, consequently, the complex and dynamic implications for career practice, counselor education, and research.



Bowleg, L. (2020). We’re not all in this together: On COVID-19, intersectionality, and structural inequality. American Journal of Public Health, 110(7), 917.

Cooper, Y. (2017). Intersectionality. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/139052/_self/CC_layout_details/true

Kalev, A. (April 2020). Research: U.S. unemployment rising faster for women and people of color. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/04/research-u-s-unemployment-rising-faster-for-women-and-people-of-color


Lia FalcoLia D. Falco, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona where she has been a counselor educator for over 12 years. She is a former middle school counselor, and her program of research focuses on motivation for career decision-making in early adolescence. She is an active member of the American Counseling Association (ACA), American Educational Research Association (AERA), and the National Career Development Association (NCDA) where she chairs the research committee. Dr. Falco has numerous peer-reviewed publication, and she regularly presents her work and national and international conferences. In 2019, Dr. Falco was selected to be an Erasmus Circle Fellow. ldf@arizona.edu



Carol M SmithCarol Klose Smith, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, ACS, is currently an assistant professor at Viterbo University in La Crosse WI. Carol has 30 years of experience as a counselor and a counselor educator. She is an active member of American Counseling Association (ACA), The National Career Development Association (NCDA), and the Association of Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES). She currently serves on the NCDA’s research committee and actively contributes to peer reviewed journal articles, edited volumes and presents at national, region, and state conferences. cmsmith@viterbo.edu



Brian CalhounBrian Calhoun is an Associate Professor of the Practice at Wake Forest University. He teaches classes with the College to Career series in the undergraduate college. His professional interests include career counseling and development, and he is a member of the National Career Development Association (NCDA) research committee. Mr. Calhoun also serves as a faculty fellow in a first-year residence hall (Johnson Residence Hall). His research agenda focuses on career interventions that assist students with developing and learning more about their career options in the world of work. calhoubm@wfu.edu



Debra Osborn 2016Deb Osborn, Ph.D. is a Professor and Co-director of Psychological and Counseling Services in the Educational Psychology and Learning Systems Department at Florida State University. Her current research focuses primarily on factors that impact individuals’ career development. She also has a passion for exploring “what works” in service delivery, with a special interest in the role technology plays in enhancing and extending services. Dr. Osborn’s work has been published in many peer-reviewed journals, such as The Career Development Quarterly, The Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, Canadian Psychology, and Professional School Counseling. Dr. Osborn holds several memberships in professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, and the National Career Development Association (NCDA). She has served on national professional boards, is an active member of the NCDA research committee, and is past NCDA President (2011-12). dosborn@fsu.edu


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1 Comment

Melissa Venable   on Tuesday 11/10/2020 at 11:48 AM

Interesting statistics related to the pandemic's impact on essential workers and challenges related to conducting research right now. I recently updated an annual college student survey to include the context of COVID-19. Really appreciate your encouragement to set realistic goals and acknowledge the complexity of work and projects right now!

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