Job Hunting in New Zealand

It can be challenging finding jobs on another continent, but it can be done – here’s the evidence and tips on how to do it, particularly if you’re looking for research jobs.

Belinda Bray, who worked with me on the UK GRAD programme, and in the Faculty of Life Sciences on their Widening Participation programmes and the national Researchers in Residence programme, has now headed back to her home country. As she’s from New Zealand, she couldn’t just nip off for the afternoon for a quick interview, so here’s how she did it (and if you’re wondering why you’d want to go to NZ, I’ve included some visual clues).


Guest Post : Belinda Bray

“After living and working in the UK for the past four years, circumstances dictated that it was time to return to my home country of New Zealand. Good news, except that it did require yet another job hunt and this time from a distance. How did I do it?

Well, I have to say the internet is a wonderful thing! I spent many productive hours cruising and viewing any websites that I could find relating to jobs, science (Toxicology being my speciality) and research. Unlike the bigger job markets of the UK and the US there is no really easy way to search for graduate jobs.

There are seven Universities in NZ which are located in, Auckland (University of Auckland), Hamilton (Waikato University), Palmerston North (Massey University), Wellington (Victoria University), Christchurch (Canterbury University and about 30 minutes out, Lincoln University) and finally Dunedin (Otago University). In addition there are nine government funded Crown Research Institutes (CRI’s) including Crop and Food, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) AgResearch, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS), Environmental Science and Research (ESR), Industrial Research Limited (IRL), HortResearch, Landcare Research and Scion (for the forestry sector). As you will notice, the NZ government is very interested in funding research directly related to our biggest exports – meat, crops, dairy, wool and wood, but don’t expect these institutes to necessarily be large, only 4,000 people in total are employed across all the nine CRI’s. Research jobs are hard to come by!

This is compounded by the general lack of investment in science research in this country. I know it’s tough everywhere at the moment but this reaches new heights in NZ. Overall New Zealand invests less of total GDP in research and development than just about any other OECD nation. Money is very, very tight. You will hear this time and again, no matter who you talk to.

So how do you actually get a job? All of the Universities routinely advertise internationally for post-doc level positions. You will come across them in both Nature and New Scientist and they will often be included on The only problem is that they just don’t come up very often. Jobs in the CRI’s are less widely promoted, unless it is a high level position. I would recommend checking all the relevant websites at least once a week, each of the Universities and any CRI relevant to your work. Unlike the UK jobs generally are advertised and processed very quickly. It is not unusual for there to be a two week closing date on a position, so check often!

It is worth spending the time finding out more about who you may want to work for, rather than just scanning the situations vacant. It may be that there actually is no-one in the country doing work in your field, so you may have to look to Australia instead (which, by the way, invests more into its science research). All of the NZ Universities have good websites which, if you dig deep enough, will profile the principal investigators in each department. Check in similar disciplines as well as many of the institutions have recently undergone restructuring and people have gone where the jobs are, even if the department title isn’t relevant. As always, Google will help you.

Once you have found a potential lab group – contact them. In general Kiwi’s value the skills of overseas staff and encourage people to join their lab group from around the world. Many labs here are very multi-cultural which is seen as a bonus. In particular labs will be interested in any new skills that you can bring to the group – up to date techniques or knowledge – and if you could help form collaborations with other PI’s. With funding so hard to come by, networking is always high on the priority list. It is likely that you will be told that there is no funding, you may have to apply for your own fellowship but many PI’s are ready and willing to help you with this process, particularly if you can really bring something new to the project.

Keep talking to people, as many and as often as you can. Let them know that you are job hunting. It is a small community and people will spread the word. You never know who knows who and what funding they have. Keep this in mind in all your dealings as ignoring one email can have a real knock-on effect, don’t annoy anyone. After being in the UK I found the people here lovely, very open, friendly and wanting to help. Work any contacts that you have, through a supervisor, lab mates or just any kiwis that are working/studying at your institution. A personal reference or referral goes a long way. If by a strange twist of fate you are about to attend a conference, chat to any NZers that may be attending (they don’t often get to go as it is a long way to most conferences and very expensive). Even if they are not active in the immediate area that you are looking in, chances are they know who is and can give you some contact details. Network, network, network!

After sending many, many emails, phone calls and sending my CV to what seemed like every scientist in the country I was offered several positions. It took a lot of work, and longer than I expected, closer to six months than the three or four I thought originally, but it did work eventually. Some of the positions I was offered were technical posts, to allow them to get to know me better and as a preliminary to grant funding being applied for or offered. Others were research jobs but in a field were I knew I didn’t want to be long-term. Only recently have I received an offer that is all that I hoped for, a fellowship that aligns with my interests. Sadly, I have already accepted another job… [Update – Belinda has changed jobs again since writing this post, showing that it’s much easier to find the right job if you’re already in the country where you want to work.]

If the hard work does pay off for you there are a few other details you may like to know. The average salary for a post-doc hovers around $65,000 NZD (£25,000) but the cost of living is higher than the UK so you won’t feel particularly wealthy on that wage. Auckland is by far the most expensive city to live in but there is no compensation for this in terms of salary. The pace of life is definitely slower with work hours of 9-5 and weekends expected only rarely (particularly at post-doc level, students are expected to work a bit harder). However, it is likely that you will be expected to take on a wider range of job responsibilities overall. With fewer people in the country it is a bit more widely expected that each person will just do what is needed, not just what is in the job description. Technicians won’t be found in every lab and support staff in general are thin on the ground. One other thing you will notice is that supplies can take a long time to arrive, no more overnight delivery, and if something isn’t in stock it may be several weeks before it can be sourced. It’s then that you realise that New Zealand is a long way from anywhere. To work in NZ you will need a visa, this shouldn’t be a problem if you already have a job. Your employer will help you with all the necessary paperwork and it is very likely to be approved. If you attempt to get a visa without a job you will find it very difficult. Immigration works on a points system, similar to Australia, and the entry criteria are quite strict.

Despite the negative comments, the lack of funding, the small research institutes, the long supply times, New Zealand is lovely and the science is often cutting-edge. The people are friendly, the pace of life is slower, there is less crime, fewer people and less traffic. The scenery is fantastic and, once the rain stops, I can’t wait to get to the beach. It is a long way from anywhere (Sydney is a four hour flight from Auckland) but there is enough to see here that I don’t feel any urgent need to fly off overseas for my next holiday.

In closing, good luck with your job search. Use the power of the internet to your advantage and don’t forget – we’re 12 or so hours ahead of you here and in the opposite hemisphere so the UK winter is a NZ summer, just something to keep in mind when you’re making all those phone calls to potential labs.


Useful websites:

University of Auckland – located in Auckland, NZ’s largest city (pop.1,400,000); one of the two top research Universities (with Otago), good biological sciences and chemistry. Has one of the country’s two medical schools and many associated research institutes (e.g. The Liggins Institute)

Waikato University – located in Hamilton (pop. 184,000); known for arts, education, Maori studies and business.

Massey University – located in Palmerston North (pop.78,000); originally an agricultural college (long time ago) and still strong in plant and animal sciences. Has a history as a extramural provider and also hosts the country’s only Veterinary School. Now has a satellite campus in Auckland on the North Shore (Albany).

Victoria University – located in Wellington (capital city, pop.380,000); known for chemistry and also arts, law and architecture.

Canterbury University – located in Christchurch (pop. 360,000); best known in the physical sciences, it has the engineering school and some chemistry.

Lincoln University – located at Lincoln, approximately 30 minutes south of Christchurch (4,500 enrolled students), historically was a agricultural college. Research is mainly in the plant sciences, crops and food technology.

Otago University – located in Dunedin (pop. 119,000); one of the leading research Universities (with Auckland), very strong in the biological sciences and also physics. It has one of the two medical schools (the other is in Auckland) and has medical research groups based in both Christchurch and Wellington.

CRI Homepage, all the Crown Research Institutes can be accessed from:

Other job websites:

NZ job seeking websites

Major Newspapers:
Auckland – The Herald
Wellington – The Dominion Post
Christchurch – The Press
Dunedin – The Otago Daily Times”