Embracing Challenge and Change in the COVID-19 era

A personal message to AUT Graduate Research Students from the Dean of the Graduate Research School

This situation we find ourselves in is a major disruption. Things are not as they were for anyone of us one month ago. It seems probable that things will continue to change and there is much uncertainty for all. As a graduate research student, your plans may no longer be possible to implement. This is unsettling and difficult. Feeling anxious is a natural response. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Change is not easy, especially when that change is unexpected and what comes next and what we should do is uncertain.

Here are some thoughts that might help you work through the coming weeks:

Your “mind-set” is important

How you frame your thinking is an important influence on how you cope with this situation.

  • Try to focus on what you have, rather than what you have lost.
  • Find a quiet time each day where you go through in your mind all the things you are grateful for.
  • Find joy in what surrounds you – the sound of rain on the roof, the feel of the sun on your face, the stars and the moon. Embrace that you are alive in this moment and use your senses to fully immerse yourself in this moment.
  • When thinking about what’s next, try to take a long-term perspective. Taking things one day at a time is helpful – but also remember that “this too shall pass”.
  • You cannot control or influence all that is happening to you at present – so try to “let things go”.

Embrace the opportunities

Every challenge provides an opportunity. What opportunities does this situation offer for you?

  • The opportunity to slow down. Our “normal” lives are typically so busy, we rush from one task to another. Time is a great gift and we are being given this right now.
  • People matter, things – not so much. We have the opportunity to connect and re-connect with others. Who can you call to chat with. Who have you lost touch with who might you reconnect with?
  • We are living through a major historical event – we will reflect on this time and remember – perhaps not with fondness – but we will remember and share these memories with others.
  • We have the time and opportunity to learn a new skill (paint, create, learn music, build something, fix something, read something, write something …).


  • Show kindness to others – it will help them and it will help you. That’s the cool thing about altruism – giving benefits the giver as well as the recipient.
  • Be kind to yourself! Graduate research degrees are difficult and tend to be undertaken by people who are driven “high-achievers”. These personality types are often very self-critical. If you are like this, remember to treat yourself with compassion and kindness. It’s okay to struggle sometimes. You are human after all!

Re-thinking and re-planning your graduate research journey

Each of you will be at different stages in your research projects. For some of you, there may be little disruption to your plans. For others, you may be needing to re-think your entire research.

You cannot control everything that happens to you, or your research project – but you can choose how you react to it.

  • Think
  • Adapt
  • Be creative
  • What alternatives do you have?
  • What opportunities does this situation create?
  • What progress can you make over the next few weeks?
  • Who should you communicate with to get advice?
  • Who can you support and help?

Remember that the research you are involved with as a Graduate Research Student is important. The challenges this COVID-19 era is placing in front of you may be difficult, but they are part of this “worthy journey” that you are on.  It is worth persevering and finding a way forward because:

  • Your research helps us improve our understanding of the world around us.
    • That improved understanding can help us make better decisions, and live better lives.
    • Your journey helps you grow as thinkers, scholars, and people.

My very best wishes for the coming weeks and months. Remember, you are not alone on this journey. Your supervisors, academic and professional staff in your labs, centres, departments, schools, and faculties are all here to help you.

Noho ora mai,

Mark Orams
Dean, Graduate Research School
Auckland University of Technology

About Mark Orams

Professor Mark Orams is the Dean of the Graduate Research School. He has a research background in marine conservation, recreation, sport, and tourism. He has authored a number of books and over 150 scientific journal articles, book chapters and scientific conference papers. He has also represented New Zealand as a yachtsman, and is on the board of the New Zealand Sailing Trust and the New Zealand International Yachting Trust.

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