The COVID-19 pandemic had a substantial reach into many aspects of academic science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) life in 2020, and research collaborations, mentoring and sponsoring relationships, networks, and professional organizations were not spared (Al-Omoush et al., 2020; Kramer, 2020b). The effects on the workforce were documented in published studies, and STEMM experts continue to highlight the differentially gendered effects on science and scientific collaborations (Buckee et al., 2020; Gruber et al., 2020; Kramer, 2020b; Minello, 2020; Myers et al., 2020) and in service activities such as mentoring and advising at work (Kramer, 2020b). While there may be benefits of video conferencing and technology that provide a means to maintain collaboration and communication among scientists during a pandemic (Korbel and Stegle, 2020), evidence also suggests that shifting priorities both within households and at work for academic women during the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted their ability to engage in collaborative work and networking at the same level they might have been engaged prepandemic (UW System, 2020; Zimmer, 2020) (see Chapter 4 for more on work-life balance). In light of this challenge, institutions are being encouraged to understand the explicit and implicit mechanisms of the COVID-19 pandemic on shifting norms in collaboration and networking for women STEMM academics. If no action is taken, the differential effect that the pandemic has had specifically on academic women’s
1 This chapter is primarily based on the commissioned paper “The Impact of COVID-19 on Collaboration, Mentorship and Sponsorship, and Role of Networks and Professional Organizations,” by Misty Heggeness and Rochelle Williams.
ability to collaborate, mentor, and network will continue going forward (Kramer, 2020b), potentially worsening already existing gender-based inequalities.
This chapter focuses on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected collaboration and networking, as well as the role professional organizations have served, for academic women during 2020. A description of how the authors of the commissioned paper on which this chapter is based selected the materials is available in Appendix C.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time a major global crisis has shifted norms associated with academic collaboration and networking at universities. After World War II, international collaborations on university campuses and interactions among academic colleagues globally were stunted, resulting in reduced productivity, as measured by publications and patent awards, and a slowing of new and novel advancements along the scientific research frontier (Iaria et al., 2018). The aftermath of September 11, 2001, drove changes to how colleges and universities accept students, postdoctoral students, and faculty from abroad. International student migration dropped post-9/11 and shifted worldwide student mobility trends (Johnson, 2018). Barriers to visa and work permits were reported to stifle international collaboration and engagements as well as advancements in innovation and productivity (Chellaraj et al., 2005). Four years later, Hurricane Katrina forced students and faculty to relocate to other campuses, which influenced both the workflow and psyche of faculty and students, as well as of those who collaborated and worked with them (AAUP, 2007).
These historic experiences indicate that methods of collaborating among scientists are hindered and stunted by crisis events, through either human- and nature-made restrictions or policies restricting communication and engagement standards with potential collaborators. These barriers to collaborative networks have long-term effects that bleed into future success, including achieving tenure and reducing potential future collaborations and research output of academics and STEMM researchers (Chai and Freeman, 2019; Chellaraj et al., 2005; Iaria et al., 2018). Restricting or canceling participation in professional organization conferences, which occurred regularly in early spring 2020, has also been shown to alter future collaborations negatively (Chai and Freeman, 2019). Nonetheless, professional organizations can play a vital role in the interinstitutional efforts required to meet the needs of their membership and the society at large.
With advances in technology and cloud computing, collaborations can more easily flow across state and country lines and, at first glance, it may appear that
these technologies have mitigated or reduced the damage to collaborative work during the COVID-19 pandemic (Apuzzo and Kirkpatrick, 2020). However, collaborators have nonetheless had to adjust to the sudden elimination of in-person engagement as a result of public health policies enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic (CDC, 2020b, 2020c).
There are general approaches to collaborative research that changed in response to losing the ability to physically meet in person. One preexisting approach was to use online platforms such as Zoom, Webex, or Microsoft Teams meetings; emails; cloud-computing shared spaces; and other digital formats (Clark, 2020). By taking this approach, a relatively small decline in collaborative research might have occurred. However, family obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic may deter or hinder the ability to collaborate even if remote options are open and accessible (Myers et al., 2020). (See Chapter 4 for more on how family obligations are affecting women STEMM faculty.)
Some collaborative research projects, however, cannot be conducted over an internet connection and instead require face-to-face interaction to thrive and survive. Such projects include those requiring fieldwork or experimental or bench/wet-lab research. Indeed, collaborations requiring expensive and exclusive laboratory equipment to advance cannot easily be replicated in a home office. In these situations, collaborations have been slowed or put on hold (Radecki and Schonfeld, 2020). These delays in timing have the potential to sour time-sensitive laboratory projects and put a strain on demonstrating outcomes of grants and other types of research funding. In addition, as laboratories adapt to COVID-19 pandemic safety measures, they have to adjust to doing more with fewer interpersonal interactions because of social distancing and other measures (Brockmeier, 2020; Radecki and Schonfeld, 2020; Schiffer and Walsch, 2020; Schmidt, 2020).
Even though federal funding agencies have been providing support to scientists during the COVID-19 pandemic,2 the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on collaborative networks does have the potential to negatively affect future grants for projects that may have been funded based on current collaborative research that was slowed or terminated (Heidt, 2020; Whitlock, 2020; Yeager, 2020).3 These challenges to data collection and essential travel have put research at risk and reduced or slowed the speed of research and publication of results (see Box 5-1). This, in turn, has the potential to negatively affect tenure and promotion (see Chapter 3 for more on this subject).
2 For more information, see https://grants.nih.gov/policy/natural-disasters/corona-virus.htm.
3 For example, the U.S. Census Bureau had to delay its door-to-door data collection program for the 2020 Census by several months because the pandemic made it risky for enumerators to collect responses in person (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020).
Effects of COVID-19 on Collaborations and Networking for Women Faculty
During the course of 2020, it became beneficial for institutions to anticipate areas where women’s professional productivity and advancement could be negatively affected by the challenges of conducting collaborative research (Andersen et al., 2020; Muric et al., 2020). When considering specific disciplines, like Earth and space scientists represented through the American Geophysical Union and life scientists, virtual collaborations have proved incredibly beneficial for journal clubs, meeting collaborators, workshops, and conferences, among other collaborative mechanisms (Korbel and Stegle, 2020; Wooden and Hanson, 2020). However, preliminary evidence from 2020 suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic affected women’s ability to engage actively in collaborations. Studies suggest, too, that team size has decreased during 2020 and that women’s shares of first authorships, last authorships, and general representation per author group have decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic (Andersen et al., 2020; Fry et al., 2020) (see Chapter 3 for more on publication).
Buckee et al. (2020) describe the complex situation of women scientists studying the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly Women of Color, who are often not noticed by the media and yet play a major role in getting the work done and advancing breakthrough science. To address these issues, Black engineering faculty from multiple institutions formed the grassroots organization Black in Engineering to draft and disseminate the call-to-action report On Becoming an Anti-Racist University (Black in Engineering, 2020). Drafting this call to action
took considerable time away from teaching preparation, mentoring, and research in which these scholars would have otherwise been engaged.
Additional Effects for Women Faculty with Children and Caregiving Responsibilities
Many parents or caregivers are unable to participate in international or distanced collaborations, even virtually, because of the time commitment required that competes with the need to serve as a homeschool teacher to school-age children in their care, as discussed in Chapters 2 and 4. This issue is not new to 2020. In March 2018, the Working Group of Mothers in Science published an opinion piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America titled “How to Tackle the Childcare–Conference Conundrum.” The group compiled four recommendations directed toward facilitators of collaborations, such as research societies and conference organizers, titled CARE, for Childcare, Accommodate families, Resources, Establish social networks. These recommendations were made as a direct response to the parent-researcher struggling to attend key conferences and further their careers while securing care for children. The CARE recommendations are intended to enable women in academia to have equitable opportunities to make contact with representatives from funding agencies, communicate new research and discoveries, form collaborations, and attract new members to research teams (Calisi et al., 2018). These considerations are even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, when mothers’ workload within their households has increased substantially, as discussed in Chapter 4 (Del Boca et al., 2020; Sevilla and Smith, 2020).
Professional societies and networks can serve as conduits to standing up programs and policies that help mitigate the loss of collaborative networking among women scientists, as these organizations have historically responded to national crises by equipping their members to meet societal needs (Morris and Washington, 2018). For example, in 2005, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) organized an emergency conference call with all U.S. medical school deans to coordinate the response from the National Institutes of Health and academic medicine to meet the health-care needs of patients affected by Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, AAMC created a website to coordinate offers of housing and laboratory space for researchers and students displaced by the storm (Cohen, 2005). Professional organizations also advocated for the needs of the scientific workforce and have continued to engage in advocacy and outreach efforts on behalf of the scientific community and related groups (Segarra et al., 2020).
Professional organizations can also play a role in resource sharing and networking components that may be pivotal to career advancement and ongoing
education. Even with recent technological advances that allow for remote communication, physical attendance at various venues, including conferences, lectures, and networking events, are primary means by which scholars build their research programs (Segarra et al., 2020). As women continue to face inequitable obstacles to fully attending and participating in networking and development experiences because of responsibilities related to children and other family obligations (e.g., eldercare), professional organizations now have an opportunity to reimagine the structure of membership, conferences, and events. Fortunately, technology now provides alternate ways to do this, and by using an inclusive lens, organizations can broaden access by reimagining conferences and meetings.
During the social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders in place in 2020, professional organizations catered to an emerging set of member needs around collaboration, mentorship, and sponsorship while navigating constraints arising from the cancellation of in-person events, decreased philanthropic support, and less income typically supplied by membership fees. The financial losses that many of these organizations have suffered hindered the ability of professional trade and professional associations to establish alternative approaches to making their activities more widely available during the COVID-19 pandemic. These organizations remain vulnerable to severe financial issues as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit member participation. Despite financial constraints, professional organizations and networks in STEMM are being called to remain resolute in their tenets to promote professional excellence and help promote change at the intersection of a global health crisis and a fight for racial justice within the United States (Community Brands, 2020; SWE, 2020). Professional organizations responded quickly to member and societal needs, while they strived not to undo years of effort in creating diverse and equitable opportunities for persons with identities traditionally excluded from STEMM.
Online communities serve as one mechanism in which professional organizations can promote inclusive online environments that drive conversation around gender equity. Higher Logic, an engagement platform that delivers online communities and communications software to more than 3,000 customers, primarily community, advocacy, and professional associations, reported that online community engagement increased between February and April 2020 (Bell, 2020). For example, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and American Society for Microbiology (ASM) opened their online discussion forums to the public to facilitate communication and engagement with leading NSPE and ASM members, respectively (ASM, 2020; NSPE, 2020). While not explicitly tied to gender equity efforts, members at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) are using their online community as a source of connection and education. In all, overall logins at AOTA increased 109 percent between mid-March 2020 and mid-April 2020. They also found that new member logins, those utilizing the community for the first time, increased by 149 percent. While in the online community, online discussion posts increased 48 percent, views of
library content saw a 100 percent increase, and library downloads increased 122 percent between February 2020 and April 2020 (Bell, 2020).
Given that professional organizations often serve as an intellectual resource for STEMM communities, this suggests that members are relying on their association communities as vital sources of connection and information. The broader access to membership benefits such as online discussions and resource libraries could prove to be beneficial to the community at large.
Leveraging Working Groups and STEMM Networks to Promote Gender Equity during the COVID-19 Pandemic
One way in which professional organizations can better highlight their efforts toward supporting women in academic STEMM during the COVID-19 pandemic is via working groups. Working groups, also called affinity groups or divisions, are organization-recognized microcommunities that can serve to promote diversity and inclusion efforts and allow for networking, mentoring relationships, and other opportunities for professional and personal development (Taylor, 2019). Historically, affinity groups were centered on race or gender, but these groups are increasingly being created for those sharing other characteristics, such as age, sexual orientation, and disability status. Groups for women in professional organizations typically address gender equity, recruitment and retention, awards and recognition, and career advancement (AAMC, 2020; Taylor, 2019).
When considering the role of gender-centered affinity groups or working groups housed at professional organizations, evidence on the overarching roles of these groups suggests that these groups have been deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic to advocate for the women members within the organization, support the inclusion and raise the visibility of women in virtual meetings spaces, and ensure organizations take intersectionality into account as they develop interventions to support women’s advancement in the field.
To further improve efforts to support academic women in STEMM during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence suggests that creating partnerships with networks that specialize in addressing gender equity issues in STEMM could further amplify gender-equity work at professional organizations (ARC, 2020; Aspire, 2020; NIH, 2020a). STEMM networks have been leading discussions on ensuring equity for women in academia during the COVID-19 pandemic, but their reach is often limited to those who already know of the network. Intentional partnerships between STEMM networks and professional organizations can simultaneously heighten the visibility of women-centered working groups within professional organizations and broaden the reach of STEMM networks. Given that one high-impact function of many professional organizations is sponsorship (e.g., nomination for awards, leadership opportunities, scientific plenaries, reviews, visiting professorships) (Cree-Green et al., 2020), coupled with technical and scientific work relying on research teams, groups, and the cooperation of people (Fox, 2001), these bodies have an opportunity to shift how mentoring
and sponsorship is viewed both within and outside of academic institutions for women in STEMM.
To develop larger-scale interinstitutional change, there are opportunities for institutions and professional organizations to engage a number of equity-centered networks in STEMM. For example, over the past 20 years the National Science Foundation (NSF) Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE) program has provided funding to support the implementation of evidence-based systemic change strategies that specifically promote equity for women STEM faculty in academic workplaces and the academic profession.4 In 2010, the ADVANCE Implementation Mentors (AIM) Network was formed to establish a common mentoring network for ADVANCE program coordinators and project directors at all developmental stages of ADVANCE grants with the purpose of answering questions and providing support, sharing promising practices, and establishing a common resource base. With membership of more than 80 program directors and managers, AIM is a community of practice that accelerates and disseminates the work of NSF ADVANCE. More recently, NSF established the ADVANCE Research and Coordination Network in 2017 to facilitate authentic, intentional dialogue between researchers and practitioners, connect inclusiveness to organizational principles and practices, and account for and incorporate intersectional perspectives throughout the network members’ work. Both networks have been instrumental in convening national audiences to discuss the issues women faculty in STEMM are facing and the resources they need to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professional societies and academic institutions, through the conferences they hold, can provide women STEMM professionals with the opportunity for development of national recognition and academic relationships beyond their home institution (Cree-Green et al., 2020). However, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers had begun calling for a paradigm shift in how scientific conferences are conducted to reduce their contribution to climate change by reducing travel-associated emissions (Levine et al., 2019). While professional conferences were canceled in the first half of March 2020 (Benchekroun and Kuepper, 2020), they quickly started converting to virtual programs starting in the latter half of March (ASAE, 2020), and virtual conferencing became the new normal in 2020. In the wake of a global pandemic, in-person seminars transitioned to virtual seminars and in-person coffee breaks, and happy hours converted into virtual meetups on video-conferencing platforms, allowing for a broader participation from international colleagues. Those in privileged situations—those without care responsibilities and with reliable access to high-speed
internet connections—navigated new paths forward despite the need for social distancing and the inability to meet physically in a central location. Universities and professional organizations adjusted budgets to accommodate the financial requirements needed for this virtual transition and lower enrollments (Hemelt and Stange, 2020).
In many ways, the move to virtual platforms provided new opportunities for those with limited travel funds to participate in conferences and seminars in which they otherwise would not have been able to take part, particularly for early-career individuals (Adams, 2020; Segarra et al., 2020). Additionally, virtual seminars gave institutions the ability to invite speakers to present their research they would not have otherwise been able to invite because of limited travel budgets, and individuals across the country gained opportunities to participate in some institution-specific seminars that they would otherwise have not attended (Kalia et al., 2020; Segarra et al., 2020). However, while these expansions opened access, they did not eliminate the challenges of attending these events while engaged in childcare activities within their households, which many women in academic STEMM have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the conference experience is different because networking is limited by one’s ability to engage with other scientists via a virtual platform.
Building Virtual Environments Conducive to Collaboration and Networking
The cancellation of in-person conferences may have led an entire cohort of early-career scientists and academics to lose out on networking opportunities if not for the development and implementation of new technologies by conferences during 2020 (Benchekroun and Kuepper, 2020). The longer-term effects of the changes in conferences during 2020 on the careers of early-career scientists going forward are yet to be realized. Institutions have the opportunity now to work through how this may be affecting their own early-career academics and plan alternative options to help mitigate the negative effects.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers investigating the shortcomings of scientific conferences found it imperative that organizers of virtual meetings and events improve strategies for facilitating digital connections (Avery-Gomm et al., 2016; Sarabipour et al., 2020). Specifically, they found that scientific organizations were utilizing features such as Slack to facilitate both group and one-on-one discussions during and after meetings, along with incorporating Twitter to deliver poster sessions (Avery-Gomm et al., 2016; RSC, 2019; Sarabipour et al., 2020). However, when professional organizations shifted to virtual events as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were cautioned to keep membership engagement in a central location to ensure members can readily find information and directly network with the organization and other members (Community Brands, 2020). As such, efforts to transition conferences and events to inclusive virtual spaces hinged on investing in immersive and interactive experiences that
promote collaboration and networking (Sarabipour et al., 2020). At the end of 2020, the question still remained as to how virtual meeting components (e.g., ability for participants to engage one-on-one or in a group using video instead of chat, informal meetups, and social interaction) directly impact women’s participation, advancement, safety, and ability to collaborate and network with their peers in this new setting.5
Bias in Virtual Environments
In July 2020, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) published a survey report titled Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Engineering and Technology. The survey of its members, open between June 3, 2020, and June 15, 2020, examined how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their personal and professional lives. Analysis focused on responses received from women and genderqueer/nonbinary people who made up 98 percent of the total respondents. More than a third of the respondents identified as working professionals, a quarter of the respondents were People of Color, and nearly a third of the SWE professionals who responded reported experiencing bias during virtual meetings in the form of getting talked over, interrupted, or ignored more frequently during virtual meetings than those held in person (SWE, 2020). When disaggregating the data by age group, a higher proportion of younger SWE professionals (aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 years) than SWE professionals aged 55 to 64 years reported getting ignored (35 percent), interrupted (38 percent), and talked over (22 percent) more frequently during online meetings than those held in person.
In a report published by Catalyst in June 2020, 45 percent of women business leaders reported that it was difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings—42 percent of men business leaders agreed with this observation—and one in five women had recently felt ignored and overlooked by coworkers during video calls (Catalyst, 2020a). SWE Professionals of Color were as likely to report similar frequencies of getting interrupted, talked over, and ignored in virtual meetings as their white peers, while Women of Color and genderqueer/nonbinary SWE Professionals of Color disproportionately reported other concerns, such as losing their job as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their employer.
A review of the public-facing web pages of 246 STEMM professional organizations did not show evidence of the steps organizations are taking to combat the bias women experience in virtual meetings and events or how they were being intentional about highlighting presentations, keynotes, and resources written by women during the COVID-19 pandemic.6 In a study conducted to review the
5 There are examples of large-scale, virtual professional society meetings, such as the American Geophysical Union 2020 meeting held during December 2020 that used several synchronous and asynchronous modes of engagement.
features of scientific conferences, researchers found that 97 percent of 270 scientific conferences they examined lacked a statement of gender balance or diversity (Sarabipour et al., 2020). Additionally, they found that out of the meetings reporting names of chairs, organizers, and invited speakers online, only 43 percent and 34 percent of conferences achieved gender parity for conference chairs and session chairs, respectively; 41 percent achieved gender parity for conference organizers or steering committees; 32 percent and 34 percent achieved gender parity for keynote and plenary speakers, respectively; and only 17 percent had equal numbers of men and women as invited or featured speakers (Sarabipour et al., 2020).
Researchers reviewing medical conferences also reported that women are underrepresented among conference and symposium session chairs, plenary or keynote speakers, invited lecturers, or as panelists in a broad range of academic meetings (Gerull et al., 2019; Larson et al., 2019; Ruzycki et al., 2019). Similarly, the American Geophysical Union investigated the chances of scientists from groups that are underrepresented in Earth and space sciences being given speaking opportunities, compared with other applicants, at their annual fall meetings from 2014 to 2017. The results indicated that first authors from Communities of Color contributed 7.7 percent of all the abstracts in the sample (n = 2,981) and that these applicants were disproportionately students or early-career scientists and were less likely to be invited to give presentations (Ford et al., 2019).
The advancement gap between men and women in academic STEMM developed because the systems have inherent performance support and reward bias built into them that may require additional guidance and navigation for women (Castilla and Benard, 2010; Roper, 2019). When women have sponsors, it can narrow the advancement gap between women and men in academic STEMM (NASEM, 2020; Patton et al., 2017).9 Research has shown that mentors can positively affect the career outcomes and advancement of academic women (Ginther et al., 2020), but it also suggests that mentoring and sponsoring relationships serve as a source of men’s invisible advantage in STEMM, given women’s lack of access to senior academics who would serve as sponsors (O’Connor et al., 2020). Studies have shown that women benefit from multiple mentors of all genders and
7Mentorship is a professional working alliance in which individuals work together over time to support the personal and professional growth, development, and success of the relational partnerships through the provision of career and psychosocial support (NASEM, 2019c).
9 A sponsor is typically a senior-level person who advocates for their protégés.
that mentees receive a different experience from mentors who identify as men versus those who identify as women (O’Brien et al., 2010).
The importance of having multiple mentors for women STEMM academics is essential during difficult times, which is why researchers have suggested institutions proactively support, encourage, and develop mentorship and sponsorship programs for their women faculty and staff during and after the COVID-19 pandemic (Mickey et al., 2020). Furthermore, peer support network interventions may help address reduced opportunities for interactions between colleagues, increased social isolation, and reduced mentoring opportunities related to working from home. These factors affect both the psychological well-being and career outcomes of women faculty, as discussed further in Chapter 7. For example, work is now being conducted with social media peer groups for physician mothers (Yank et al., 2019).
There was limited information available about changes in mentorship during 2020. In a survey circulated among life scientists in eight countries, including the United States, from April 15 to 23, 2020, almost 48 percent of respondents said that communication with their supervisor, mentor, or manager had remained consistent, while 22 percent of respondents said that their communication had increased, indicating the value and benefit of video conferencing and current technology (Korbel and Stegle, 2020).
While it is important for women faculty to continue to have access to mentors and sponsors during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is equally important to interrogate the systems that cause women to be overmentored and undersponsored (Ibarra et al., 2010). When considering how gendered faculty networks have affected the retention of women faculty in STEMM, the role of mentorship and sponsorship during COVID-19 appears to be two-fold: to support women faculty in navigating the systemic, professional, and personal challenges the evidence suggests they will encounter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide guidance and advocacy as they expand their networks.
The confluence of events that took place in 2020 highlighted the importance of professional organizations and networks using intentional, intersectional, and inclusive lenses to ascertain the range of opportunities and approaches available to build STEMM capacity, diversify STEMM fields, and meet the needs of academic women. Federally funded endeavors such as the NSF’s ADVANCE program assisted professional organizations in magnifying policies and practices that not only support equity and inclusion but also mitigate the systemic factors that create inequities in the academic profession for women (NSF, 2020). To meet the needs of members navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many
professional societies and STEMM networks transitioned their in-person events to virtual experiences, adjusted various submission deadlines to accommodate for continued uncertainty, and advocated both locally and nationally on behalf of their constituents (ASAE, 2020; Community Brands, 2020). Because of the developing and ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be an opportunity for future, systematic studies of how STEMM networks and professional organizations responded and functioned during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly regarding who they serve, what they do, and with whom they collaborate.
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