Contagious precarity: A collective biographical analysis of early-career physiotherapist academics’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic

Article accepted

This article has been accepted for publication. Peer reviews and author responses are available at the end of the article.


Background: The COVID-19 global pandemic, and the policies created to respond to it, has had profound and widespread impacts. We – three early career physiotherapist academics focused on equity and human rights – noticed both common and divergent experiences amid the impacts of the initial pandemic response. Aim: To explore the professional contexts in which we operate as physiotherapist academics through an analysis of our COVID-19 pandemic-related experiences. Methods: We used a professional practice analytic framework to conduct a collective biographical analysis of our individual and collective experiences. The analytic framework consists of three lenses (accountability, ethics, and professional-as-worker), each of which is considered through three questions. Results: The analysis revealed the instability of our working conditions. Among us, there were experiences of the pandemic inducing unmanageable workloads and also experiences of the pandemic providing reprieve. We found that our accountability to departments and funders competed for our professional resources with our ethics of providing quality services. The combination of accountability obligations and ethics commitments often overwhelmed our capacities to sustainably maintain well-being. Caregiver status was an important characteristic determining whether the professional context improved or deteriorated in the early pandemic phase. Conclusion: This analysis can help inform essential changes to professional and academic institutions during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.


Dear Shaun Cleaver, Sidhiprada Mohapatra, and Mathieu Simard

With pleasure, I read and engaged with your article. It is a rare, important insight into the lived experiences of you all as early-career physiotherapists and academics. The article breaths an intertwined nature of vulnerability and courageousness. It is a tempting, inspiring though also challenging piece to read and comprehend.

The article is of added value to our profession as it embarks on a journey into implicit parts of our life as professionals. Still, it took me several readings to get a feeling/ As it is very interesting, though also a bit difficult with some perspective changes. It is a mixture of first and third-order, also it creates some implicit epistemological questions in these perspectives. It swings the reader in different directions (which is an interesting experience), though I am not sure that is your intention. I suppose a bit of tweaking will help the reader comprehend your work.

In addition I added some more detailed observations, questions, and suggestions directly into the text, which you can download below. Hopefully, those can be useful. I am available to collaborate more if desired.

Your work opens up new areas for research and exploration and will help to transform and creating future.

Detailed feedback by Joost van Wijchen (click here to download)






Thank you for the opportunity to review this paper, which I find both interesting and highly relevant for academia as such, not only to academic physiotherapists.

Title and topic

The title of the paper stimulates readers’ curiosity and expectation of the outlined phenomenon that are investigated, which is a very good starting point. However, the exploration of the phenomenon and, or metaphor “Contagious expectations” during the outbreak of covid-19, could have been more explicitly unpacked throughout the paper. I do not know if “contagious expectations” are entirely adequate for what comes out of your study/ your findings – is it not rather how restrictions and uncertainties concerning work in the time of the pandemic reinforce the experiences of living already uncertain, overloaded and vulnerable work situations as early career physiotherapist academics?

Aim and methodology

When it comes to the purpose and aim of the study, I specifically want to challenge you to focus more specific on what it is that are being investigated in this study/ paper. In the abstract the aim of the study is said to be “To explore the professional contexts in which we operate as physiotherapist academics through an analysis of our covid-19 pandemic-related experiences”.  In the introduction you state that your aim is to describe “our shared and individual positionalities in order to explicitly identify and communicate the standpoints from which we perceive our experiences of pandemic-related policies”. And, when you describe the impacts of your study you say that your analysis of the practice contexts of early career physiotherapist academics “provides a novel example of research about the lived experience of physiotherapy faculty members”. These descriptions differ and it is somewhat confusing to understand what the focus of the study is.

One suggestion is to limit your examination to be about the “lived experiences” of working as an early career physiotherapist academics in the time of the covid-19 pandemic outbreak. I have put lived experiences in quotation marks as I do think you have to elaborate on what “lived experience” mean to you. Since you focus both on the concept of lived experiences and the context within which these experiences are unfolding, my expectation is to get close to those lived experiences of physiotherapists academics in the time and place of the outbreak of covid-19 pandemic. I expect these situated experiences are being analysed and discussed in the light of an explicit theoretical framework. You do not explicit mention any theoretical framework, and I wonder why and if it may be “emancipatory physiotherapy practice” with reference to Trede (2012) you see to be such a perspective. Whether this is the case, “emancipatory physiotherapy practice” needs an explanation and interpretation of what it means and entails – what is the idea, what is the perspective in business. This ought to be explained as it is not self-explanatory.

Presented data, analysis and findings

The data of this study/ this paper is presented through three; examples, narratives, autoethnographic descriptions or as you name them “our individual situations”. As it is not clear which theoretical perspective being the basis of your study, and initially your research approach is just briefly explained the methodological procedure is unclear.  The readers need to know something more about the underlying applied perspectives before being presented for the empirical examples. Later in the paper you describe briefly how these examples have been developed. I would suggest you offer some details about this before presenting them.  As I read you, it has been through dialogue exchanging experiences that you have created the examples. What you mean by stating that you have seen “ value in moving beyond dialogue, drawing inspiration from other early career academics (Hartung et al., 2017) and early career clinical physiotherapists (Hammond, Cross, & Moore, 2016) to engage in a more systematic analysis of our situations” (see under the heading “Exploring our experiences through our professional practice context(s)” I suggest you clarify and elaborate more on this. How have the dialogues been, how did you agree on writing the examples related to their content and form, and how have you been working with the examples etc?

Far out in the paper you describe to have applied an analytical framework offered by Freeman & Jauvin 2019. A framework which “comprises three baseline questions, each of which ask from the perspective of three lenses, producing a total of nine questions. The baseline questions relate to practice realities, the difficulties experienced by professionals, and the responses of professionals. The lenses are those of accountability and ethics, and the lens of the professional-as-worker”. I wonder how lived experience relates to this analytical approach and I do think you already from the beginning of the paper have to make a clear description of the applied methodology of your study. I suggest you present the readers for this before presenting examples, narratives, autoethnographic notes. I think you must explain more detailed both the analytical framework and how it has the potential for revealing and interpreting “lived experiences”. There is also a need for an explanation of what “modifications of some questions” have been about.

Related to the presented examples you explain that each of the authors have provide a text that is “beyond our commonalities – of profession, task orientation, career stage, and substantive focus” and emphasising that each of you is an individual, and your experiences are developed within your individual situations”. I do agree with you, but in the paper it might be an idea that you in order to capture the lived experience of the pandemic outbreak as early career physiotherapist academics make a distinction between the descriptions of the situation before the outbreak (which makes up an important background, and as you show through the three examples have some commonalities and of course individuality ) and the experiences of  the outbreak and of the changing life and work situations during this time.

When it comes to these descriptions, narratives, related to the pandemic outbreak, I will urge you to be braver and get closer to the lived experiences. Meaning that I challenge you to provide more evocative texts from the first-person perspective instead of only from a third person perspective. In these examples when describing the lived experiences during the early time of the pandemic outbreak – more compelling experience emerges as for instance; relief that some work tasks had to be put aside and the following experience of increased opportunity to complete other tasks etc.

The discussion

In the discussion you argue that your findings  illuminate how the Covid-19 pandemic “has exploited weaknesses in pre-pandemic societies, exposing these weaknesses for examination” you are here referring to Bezuidenhout, 2020 and Teixeira da Silva, 2020, but as I read your study,  this is your findings too. You also argue how the Covid-19 pandemic helped you to see and realise how unstable work organisations you are involved in. I really enjoyed reading the discussion and conclusion. Here you present your reflections, interpretations and analysis of the presented examples – your findings. Interesting is also your findings concerning what you describe as the biggest difference between you authors/ research participants namely the gendered experiences of responsibility burden and the feeling of anxiety connected to the care for children and elderly family members. But I see this as analysis and findings that should have been revealed linked to the presented empirical examples.

I also find your conclusion important when you state that you; rather  than continue to try to work your way out of a deficit of organisational conditions,  are inclined to seek ways to align with other parties who have seen the societal cracks exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and respond with a demand for a system change rather than a “return to normal”.

Summing up

As already said, this is an interesting paper. I think it could be even better firstly by clarifying the purpose of the study in more detail. It is also necessary to clarify both theoretical and methodological choices, which is important for how the empirical examples are written and presented. In the material presented, I believe you have the potential to make deeper analyses related to the outbreak of covid-19 and the lock down of society with the consequences and experiences it entailed. I also believe that the analytical steps according to the strategy you have chosen should be seen as a tool for you in the analytical process and not necessarily be presented in its full breadth. Describe the analysis process and strategy and make visible how you have arrived at the results through analysis of the examples with emphasis on the experiences from the outbreak of the pandemic. This can help to make the text a little shorter – which will be an advantage as it now is very long and partly heavy to follow.


Conflict of interest statement

The authors report no declarations of interest.

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