seascape models

Here follows a recent email I posted to my research team. Someone said I should share it here.

Dear team,

We have never faced as much uncertainty in our lives, careers and economy as we do right now. The decisions we make now, even small decisions, will have repercussions possibly for years to come. But there is no way knowing what the ‘best’ decision is. We are faced with a dilemma, a dilemma that forces us to act without knowing the right way forward.

I am writing this message to help you respond to this uncertainty. All of you have the abilities to respond and the strength to do so. As a team we also have great strength to face this challenge.

We’ll start at the most immediate decisions and then think about how the uncertainty affects longer term decisions.

The uncertainty

How the pandemic plays out if the world carries on as it has can be very well predicted by epidemiologists. Cases, deaths, recoveries are all known quite well. The outcome doesn’t look good if we continue as we are.

Epidemiologists can also predict well what will happen with mild, moderate or drastic interventions, such as closing schools or banning face to face interaction.

Recent modelling for the US suggests that a very strict lockdown of 1.5 years is needed to avoid massive fatalities and a broken health system. This will give time for a vaccine to be developed and a vaccination program implemented. If we go down this path, but change our minds before the vaccine, the pandemic will come back, as bad as ever.

The greatest uncertainty is in human behaviour and politics. We don’t know how society and our government will react once they see the hospital system overwhelmed and the deaths mounting. If they do start a lockdown, we don’t know if they can maintain it for long enough.

We also don’t know how either scenario would play out for the economy or for science careers.

Stay home or go out?

Right now the decision is whether to stay home and isolate, or to continue to participate in outside life to varying degrees. We are all fortunate in our jobs that we can make this decision and we have the option. Many people must face work now, or lose their jobs. For now this decision is yours, until the government makes it for us.

If you decide to keep going out, know that the risk of infection is high, very high. Soon it may be impossible to avoid. If you go out regularly, and keep up person to person contact, you are accepting that you will likely get sick. At this point, you likely will not get a chance to change your mind. You will get sick and we hope, recover with a stronger immune system.

Also know that this decision does impact others. You will be contributing to the spread of the disease in our community. So please be extreme in your hygiene and stay away from vulnerable groups if this is the decision you make.

If you decide to stay home, know that it will be a long haul. Months, maybe more than a year. You can change your mind later about this of course (unless it becomes illegal), so staying home now will keep your options open to some degree.

If you are sick or exposed to someone who is, of course, please stay home for at least 2 weeks.

Whatever you do BE SAFE. Be 1000x more cautious than your normally are. Whether its driving, working around the house, or exercising. We need to take the stress of our health care system so those that really need it can access it.

Your local economy

The current pandemic will force a massive amount of economic change. Much of it will be hard, possibly a depression. It could be months or years. We cannot know. Be prudent, but generous, with your money. If you’re not good at budgeting, the Barefoot Investor book series is a great resource to help you get started with a budget free, but financially savvy plan.

Many people, like those in the service industry or casual workers, will be facing a tougher economic time. So be generous too, to people who need it. They do need us to spend our money and they may need our help.


Many people are oblivious to what is coming. Many can’t move with anxiety. We can’t say what responses individuals will have to this change. But we can help others be calm, and make better decisions, by showing compassion and being calm ourselves.

Making decisions when faced with uncertainty

There are things you can do to make good decisions, even when the path is unclear.

Stay abreast of the latest information. Keep in touch with locals, information sharing through the local community will be a real asset right now. So invest in your local community.

Be ready to respond and be adaptive in your decision making. Make plans, but be prepared to change them, at short notice. If you get the chance, gather data to test alternate future decisions. This could be very local, such as finding out which suburbs are safer to shop in. Or it could be longer term, like trying different routines at home for keeping fit.

As change is rapid right now, it is easy to get caught in making moment-by-moment decisions. Give yourself time to think one or two steps ahead. For instance, while everyone else is wondering if there will be a lockdown, get prepared for the possibility of being home a lot. While everyone else is wondering if they will lose casual jobs, ask yourself what casual job might have increased demand right now.

Clear communication with those around you is also important. That means your friends, local community and colleagues. Starting to feel sick? Then let your colleagues know you may be out of action for a while, as well as warning those you’ve seen recently.

Your career

This event will impact all of our careers. It seems unlikely that science careers will emerge unchanged from the pandemic and the economic change. We don’t know if these changes will be big or small, or what they’ll look like. Some of us may not have the same careers when this is over.

But there may also be new opportunities that emerge.

For now we continue toward our career goals as we were as much as possible, disrupted by the move to online interaction. But be ready to adapt. Look for these opportunities and be ready to take them, even as we face challenging times.

Look to the predictors of past success as a guide, but don’t rely on them too heavily, this event is unprecedented.

Social connections and your network will absolutely be crucial, no matter how the economy changes. So make sure you keep investing in those. Find ways to make new bonds and strengthen them, even as we no longer talk face to face.

Our strengths

Our team has a real strength in our focus on team work and the support we all get from that network. Also know that as a scientist, you have strengths in our technical expertise, analytical ability, curiosity for experimentation and creativity that many folk in other careers lack. As scientists working on knowledge frontiers we are all too aware of the discomfort of uncertainty and how to cope with that.

Individuals in our team also have their own unique strengths, whether that is reliability, a ‘getting things done attitude’, presentation skills or many, many other things. So remember that as a team we can draw on others with unique strengths.

Your supervisors are also here to support you. We don’t know the best decisions right now, no one does. But we can help you make good decisions and we can help you cope with the uncertainty. So know that we face this uncertainty together.

Yours truly, Chris

Contact: Chris Brown

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