Doctoral researchers and early career researchers (ECRs) are crucial to producing scientific advancements and represent the future of academic leadership. Their research endeavours were changed radically by lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of this study was to explore the perceived benefits and challenges of the national lockdown in the UK from the perspective of doctoral researchers and ECRs. We present analysis of qualitative survey data from 1,142 doctoral researchers and ECRs on their experiences of the first UK lockdown collected from April 16, 2020–May 14, 2020. Our findings suggest considerable heterogeneity in how the pandemic impacted this key group of academic workers. Challenges arising from the lockdown largely cohered around a poor work environment, limited access to resources, perceptions of pressure, and negative psychological outcomes. Conversely, respondents also highlighted several benefits in the early stages of the pandemic, with the change to working from home creating more time, resulting in greater productivity and a better work-life balance. Collectively, findings indicate the importance of considering the personal circumstances and needs of individual researchers. We discuss the implications for support these researchers require to rebuild their careers in the wake of the initial disruption.