Migrant Tales – UK Scientist’s 12-year Grapple with New Zealand


Continuing in our very popular series of Migrant Tales – first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand.

Today’s tale was sent in by a well published, post-doctoral scientist with a background in research chemistry, his career has taken a turn for the worse since moving to New Zealand. This is his story.

The positives: I like the outdoor opportunities in New Zealand and the country itself. I love the situation of our house in terms of the space we have, and we are happy with our lives. We got lucky with the quality of our home (although we are technically minded, and were very aware of the pitfalls).

We are two self-sufficient people in our early 40s with a healthy lifestyle, we communicate easily with the outside world via the internet, and we download our video and written entertainment from international sources. We buy online from both local and overseas stores. Amazon and eBay save us thousands of NZD every year vs. the locally-sold, brand-named stuff.

We live in one of the big city regions.

Sounds good? Mostly positive, I agree. However, my personal opinion in regard to New Zealand society is overwhelmingly negative, and a real bummer.

I know there are a large number of exceptional, socially responsible and intelligent people living in New Zealand. But this fraction of society is small relative to the other countries where we have lived (UK and Australia).

I am a PhD educated scientist with overseas research fellowship and commercial consultancy-level experience here in New Zealand. My work used to cover research-based chemistry. I have authored well over thirty original research papers in most of the journals of my field.

Since moving to NZ, all of that has become meaningless.

The New Zealand economy is mostly based on the export of basic commodities and tourism-based dollars. There is no real work for research chemists unless you can find low paid work for the main production industries, i.e., the polluters: New Zealand agriculture, oil and gas. These industries usually only want qualified engineers, and not scientists, as there is very little active research happening in New Zealand itself. The chemistry research sector is tiny and is not adequately funded, or indeed, even promoted by the government. The current government is focused on downsizing almost everything and appears to be selling off or spitting up the less ‘productive’ crown research institutions. It is now forcing research work to be derived from commercial funding sources that have fixed commercial outcomes in mind. On a per-capita basis, government funding for general research is simply miniscule relative to Australia, or the UK, as examples.

Unfortunately, a slow degradation of my career, which was hardly noticeable at first, has occurred. I started as a senior scientist at a non-governmental organisation, and I simply did not like it. The research funding was limited and the management was very poor at that time. I have had a consultancy-style job since then in New Zealand, but it was all about low quality commercial output and back stabbing your colleagues for pennies. I hated it, and got out.

So, I was jumping around for a while trying to change direction, and this always looks bad on your resume. The economic downturn arrived and the relatively well-paid science jobs simply disappeared. At this time I was in the middle of a ‘career-changing’, non-chemistry-based masters degree at the time. This was bad planning, or I was simply unlucky.

The only job I can get here in New Zealand now is as a semi-skilled worker. I have been doing this for three years now. Unfortunately, once you take a job like this, you are screwed, because any employer will wonder why the hell you did it. I did it out of desperation.

My employer told me that this job does not require a degree, although I am actually managing the supply of technical materials to three departments for NZD110 take-home per working day. There is now only one other person here who has the skills to repeat my work. My wages have not increased with the ongoing rate of inflation.

I am lowest paid employee in the entire division by at least NZD10k per annum (I know because people complain to me about their rate of pay). Everyone in the Science Division is a multi-generation New Zealander (with the exception of that first-generation New Zealander who can do chemistry at my skill level). We have had many scientists who have simply arrived, stayed for a year or so, and left the country (typically European).

Regardless, I consider myself lucky to have this job. There are no other opportunities close to our location (I am constantly looking – every day). But even then, it would be a big risk because of our mortgage to leave this current position (which is stable).

The worst part of the whole debacle is that I now commute by road for 1.5-2.0 hours every working day. There is no direct public transport route from our suburban home to this urban-commercial location.

Why has this commute had such a negative impact on me? The behaviour of the average New Zealander on the road is simply awful. On a per capita, per hundred car basis, when we stepped off that plane in 2003, we became twice as likely to die in a motor vehicle accident as when living back in the UK [OECD stats]

Usually, the true attitudes of individuals towards society are not actually expressed as behaviours because social norms, eye contact, etc., will moderate embarrassing, self-centred behaviour. When placed within a motor vehicle, however, these barriers are reduced and the behaviours of individuals tend to more accurately reflect their internal attitudes towards the people around them.

After 12 years of driving on the roads in New Zealand I truly believe that most (not all) New Zealanders hate each other. If you are not within their immediate circle, i.e., in their car, you are hated. This type of New Zealander doesn’t just hate people from the USA, they hate everyone.

These people appear to take out their daily frustrations by making others feel physically endangered. Tailgating is one example that appears to be an accepted, effectively legal and un-moderated component of everyday life in New Zealand. During my commute, at least 30-40% of drivers are doing it at any given time. I have even seen the police doing it.

Can anyone argue with me, in a sensible and logical manner, that aggressive behaviour like this does not stem from people who are either (1) socially retarded, or (2) educationally retarded in regard to hazards and risk? Could it be that they even (3) intellectually retarded in regard to visualising the common future outcomes of poor risk management?

Seriously, such behaviours in New Zealand appear to result from an undercurrent of widespread anger at the situation of the average New Zealander, hatred of other New Zealanders who may possibly have it better, and an almost universal sense of low self-esteem. I can sense this when I meet this kind of unpleasant person at work.

So, why am I still here mixing it up with these people?

Firstly, it is better than China, North Korea, South Africa, Mexico, et al. Congratulations.

Secondly, we tend not to mix with New Zealanders that much at a social level anyhow. That is simply just the way it has turned out. My wife has some more mature (all 50s+) non-first generation New Zealander friends both from work and her technical social club; I have some friends too, but they are all first-generation New Zealanders like us.

We don’t have kids.

Most importantly, my wife is an engineer, and engineers are needed here. Our combined wage allows us to live quite comfortably. She also loves her job and gets on well with most of the engineers she works with (both imported and local).

It has not always been so easy in New Zealand for her. My wife is Asian (Aussie educated). We first arrived in NZ years before the downturn hit, and New Zealand was absolutely crying out for engineers. Regardless, she had to work in an honest-the-god, New Zealander-owned sushi shop chain on the minimum wage for six months just to keep busy… I’m not saying they are racist, but..?

I am no longer interested in doing science for rubbish wages. The plan is to finish off this mortgage, and take things easy. If my wife’s job bites the dust at some point (and I hope not), we will leave immediately for better job opportunities.

My advice:
(1) Make sure you keep some money to get out,

(2) Watch out for the alcohol abusers and the cannabis/meth users on the road (highest cannabis/meth rates in the OECD). They are the worst,

(3) Think twice if you are an artist or musician of some kind, if you have a sensitive nature, or if you need meaningful social contact,

(4) Be internet savvy for entertainment and contact with the world,

(5) If you stay for five years, but don’t live overseas for more that 6 months during this period, you are eligible for citizenship. Currently, this is your ticket to jobs in Australia,

(6) If you are serious about staying, don’t buy either an old house (unhealthy) or a new house (poor quality). Avoid New Zealand’s ‘trades people’. Buy some land, keep it simple and, if you have the capacity, build the house yourself.


Migrant Tales – No Science Or Skills Shortage In New Zealand

Hi all – we moved here in 2005. I am a research scientist and left Oxford to fill the skills shortage in NZ.

Unfortunately there really is no science or skills shortage in NZ and so we are off.

Nowhere is perfect and everywhere is different. There are things we will miss but if you cannot earn a decent living then there is no point in being in NZ. Earning only $50k a year for advanced medical research going into clinical trial is no goodread on

New Zealand Scientists Fear New Code of Conduct is an Attempt to Gag Them

Some scientists worry a proposed new code governing what they can speak out about is actually an attempt to gag them.

It’s called the Code of Public Engagement and, according to the PM’s appointed chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman (who is also a paediatrician) it is becoming “common practice around the world.”

Professor Mike Joy, who criticized New Zealand’s 100% pure image to the NYT, attracted personal attacks from members of the government, (including the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key) which included being called a traitor to New Zealand… read on