With the COVID19 pandemic, the future is unclear, and there is a lot of uncertainty. I think it's the same for graduate students. A university asked me to give career advice to students graduating this year. I answered three questions specifically related to mental health, which I've included here.
Mental health challenges of the present and future
Uncertainties are more significant than ever in the COVID-19 pandemic. But, they are not only coming from the pandemic, but also other environmental, social, and technological changes. I am still forced to work remotely and cannot make business trips. I travelled to Africa and Europe several times a year for project meetings, research, and consulting, but now I cannot do this. With IT development and a fight against climate change, we probably do not travel as much as before. Travel restrictions are good for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but they are also a barrier to consulting and research jobs.
Even if we manage to reduce our net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050, we will have experienced global warming of the 1.5°C-rise since the Industrial Revolution by the end of the century. This scenario means we will have to adapt to changes in the environment that we have not experienced before. Keeping up with these changes will be a challenge for us now and in the future.
How I stayed mentally healthy and resilient
We cannot stop social and environmental problems and their technological solutions, and both may threaten our careers. We can only anticipate the changes, make sure that they are suitable for humanity, and prepare to adapt ourselves to them.
Towards the end of my PhD at Oxford University, I read "Luck is no accident". The book was about preparing for changes, and I still apply that approach to every aspect of being resilient, focusing on the skills I can develop and not getting too attached to a particular goal. I do not deny that you can set goals, but the idea is that being aware of the opportunities in front of you will help you succeed, rather than sticking to ingrained goals and limiting your possibilities. For example, I said, “I will work for World Bank” during my scholarship interview before entering the university. Rather than setting a goal to "World Bank", it was better that I switched my thought to “I wanted to do something useful for society and the environment”, so I could look for more opportunities to grow to do so.
My advice to graduates
Following what I said above, focusing on developing your skills and finding opportunities in the industries and sectors you are passionate about is an excellent way to think about your career in an uncertain world. The more you are interested in something, the more likely you will find information that will lead to opportunities. And, you are willing to learn more if you like the industry.
Also, the need for sustainability, which I have worked in for two decades, will continue to grow. Governments and NGOs are leading the way in sustainability, but business is the engine that drives it. So, I would like to see more and more people from business schools entering the world of sustainability.