How COVID-19 Has Affected the Careers of Doctoral Graduates in NZ

The University of Otago, in conjunction with five other New Zealand universities, has conducted a wide-ranging research project on how COVID-19 has impacted the careers of doctoral graduates. The six participating NZ universities invited recent doctoral graduates to participate in a survey (thanks to those from AUT who did!). Over 400 recent graduates completed the survey, and initial results have now been compiled.

In addition to showing how COVID has affected the careers of existing doctoral graduates, they also hint at ongoing impacts on those who are yet to graduate. So: how has COVID affected the careers of doctoral graduates?

Career plans

60% of doctoral graduates surveyed felt that their career plans had been impacted by COVID-19; and the nature of these impacts was generally negative.

Although significant, this proportion is lower than in a comparable international study conducted by Nature, which found that up to 86% of respondents felt their career plans had been negatively impacted by COVID (with 61% sure and 25% unsure).

This indicates that, while post-doctoral careers in NZ are comparatively sheltered, most graduates still had some change of plans.

Job offers rescinded

19% of respondents had a job offer rescinded due to COVID-19. International students were far more affected than domestic students in this regard. In the Nature survey, up to 34% had had a job offer rescinded (with 13% sure that their experience was due to COVID-19, and another 21% unsure as to the reason why their offer was rescinded).

What does this mean?

The job market for doctoral graduates is clearly tougher in a global pandemic. Initial comparisons between the NZ data and the global study in Nature indicate that NZ doctoral graduates are in a slightly better position than those elsewhere in the world. However, international students who have graduated from NZ universities are feeling the effects more than their domestic student colleagues.

Qualitative comments (which have yet to be fully analysed) seem to indicate themes of uncertainty, with many respondents re-training or altering their academic trajectory.

This study will be longitudinal, and further insights will emerge as the study continues. For now though, it appears that COVID-19 has (perhaps unsurprisingly) significantly disrupted the careers of new doctoral graduates.


Special thanks to Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith and Dr Kim Brown of the University of Otago’s Graduate Research School, together with co-researchers from the other universities for sharing these survey results with us in advance of publication.

About Graduate Research School (Auckland University of Technology)

The Auckland University of Technology Graduate Research School offers support and resources to all postgraduate students at AUT. Come and visit us on the 5th floor of the WU building.

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