Damithri Jayasekara

Damithri Jayasekara

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

She wants to help her home country reduce the impacts of natural disasters, says Damithri Jayasekara who came to AUT as an international student from Sri Lanka to study a PhD in disaster and risk management and development.

“Sri Lanka has been suffering from the burden of disasters linked to natural hazards since ancient times, and countless lives have been lost and communities affected across time. I’ve lost some of my colleagues to the disasters too. My dream is to establish a systematic and efficient disaster research culture in Sri Lanka to work towards reducing the impacts of disasters linked to natural hazards and better equip Sri Lankans to face them.

“I’ve been working on this goal since 2016, both through my research and my engagement with local communities. When I was at the University of Colombo, I worked with Si Lanka’s leading academics exploring the science behind disaster risk reduction. Now I’ve taken the next step; learning more about this subject from ideas developed from around the world. My PhD research focuses on combining local and scientific knowledge in ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction in Sri Lanka.”

Damithri’s PhD research is being supervised by Dr Loic Le De and Professor Michael Petterson from AUT, as well as Professor Deepthi Wickramasinghe from the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka.

The support to succeed
When Damithri decided to take on doctorate study, New Zealand was an obvious choice for her.

“It made sense to get a doctoral degree from a country like New Zealand, which has gone through its own tragedies, including the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. I knew New Zealand had developed technologies and strategies to recover from this, which would greatly help me with my understanding of the subject.”

In 2020 however, she found herself back home in Sri Lanka and unable to return to AUT to finish her studies because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to cope with studying online, she jumped at the chance to return to Auckland and complete her PhD.

“When I’m at AUT, I can better concentrate on my research because there’s less distraction than at home. I can gain a greater understanding and get real-life examples from the lecturers and the other students. Studying in person in New Zealand also gives me the opportunity to connect with other students from a wide range of backgrounds. I feel more comfortable and learn more easily in in person compared to studying online.

“I was given a remarkable amount of support from AUT, from the beginning of the border closure to the confirmation that I could return to New Zealand. While I was offshore, my supervisors arranged meetings once every two weeks to support and guide me with my studies. The administration staff were also in constant touch with me and guided me towards getting back to New Zealand.”

Advice for other students planning to return to AUT
Damithri has some great advice for other students who are considering returning to New Zealand to continue their studies at AUT.

“The best advice I can give other students is not to give up the chance to return back to New Zealand because there are many differences between studying online and studying in person. You should keep in touch with your supervisors and the administration team at AUT. They will guide you in your return to New Zealand.

“The time you’re spending offshore and waiting to get to New Zealand in person can be difficult, but keep fighting and never to give up on your dreams and objectives. If you’re not giving up, you’re on your way to success.”

She also has some specific advice on how to cope with the two weeks of quarantine on arrival back in New Zealand.

“Don’t be anxious about the two weeks you need to spend in quarantine because time flies quickly. It’s also a good idea to bring books, paints, water colours, movies and other things that will keep you occupied. You can also work on your studies and keep in touch with the university.”

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