Achieving life and career

Erin Kernohan
  • Human resources manager

The decision to study psychology stemmed from Open Polytechnic graduate Erin Kernohan’s desire to make a difference and impact people’s lives in a positive way.

Completing a Bachelor of Applied Science (Psychology), and a Diploma in Organisational Psychology through Open Polytechnic, enabled Erin to progress her career and achieve this desire in her current role as Human Resources Manager, a role that she is passionate about.

Qualifications gained through the Open Polytechnic have also given Erin the stepping-stone needed to be accepted into Massey University’s Master’s programme.

Erin’s achievements are a sign of a determined individual who knows exactly what she wants to achieve in life, and has the motivation and focus to get there. However, Erin says that as a teen straight out of college, focused was not a characteristic she would have used to describe herself. 

“Despite being a high achiever in my school years, I was easily distracted, and ended up working in several unengaging jobs, before deciding to travel overseas,” says Erin.

The key to a new career

After 10 years of working on super yachts, and globetrotting around the world, Erin decided it was time to head back to her roots and kick start her career.

“I had a strong desire to be back in New Zealand, and realised I needed to start a new career. I always enjoyed and excelled in people-oriented roles but felt I needed to extend myself to be able to take this to where I really wanted to go, and understood tertiary study would be key.”

Once back on New Zealand soil Erin began working full-time as a customer service administrator for Integrated Control Technology, the same company she works for today in her current role as HR Manager.

Finding the perfect balance

Giving up full-time work to study was not an option for Erin after investing in a house, knowing that she needed to keep working full-time to maintain her mortgage.

“The only way I could pursue studies was via distance learning because of financial reasons,” says Erin. “Studying with Open Polytechnic fitted around my work schedule allowing me to have enough income while studying at the same time. I didn’t have to give up studies because I was working. I could do both.”

“I did look into other alternative learning organisations, but Open Polytechnic was the only institute that really specialised in distance learning, as it was entirely what they did, and they had a great reputation,” says Erin. “I also found the staff I spoke with were really helpful with answering my questions, and it was easy reviewing the courses they offer on the website.”   

Erin chose to study Psychology because it is one of the few disciplines which provide insight into what makes people ‘tick’. “Being an empathic people-person and having a genuine interest in what motivates people’s behaviours, attitudes and actions, and wanting to pursue a progressive career along this vein, Psychology was the obvious choice,” explains Erin.

Applying theory to practice

Whilst working and studying towards a Diploma in Organisational Psychology at the same time as working towards her Bachelor of Applied Science (Psychology), Erin could see the relevance of what she was learning and the benefits it would make in her job role.

“I found that what I was learning during my studies helped me enormously in my daily work life - particularly the Organisational Psychology studies which included many aspects of HR, with tasks like recruiting, analysis, understanding the motivation behind people’s behaviour or decisions and approaching performance-based issues.”  

“Psychology has helped me with the way I approach and understand some sensitive situations and has given me a lot of valuable insight, generally into human behaviour and thought processes,” explains Erin.

“Studying has also been good for my ability to work to deadlines, even when time is exceptionally tight. I have also found I am more mature in many ways, and definitely more understanding.”

Support is key

The flexible learning environment provided by Open Polytechnic, paired with the supportive staff, were key in helping Erin during some major life events.

“During my studies, I faced challenges such as unexpected bereavement, which occurred during final exam time and assignment hand in’s. Open Polytechnic were understanding and gave me extensions. It was great having the flexibility and general support on assignment requirements,” says Erin, adding that everyone from administrators to the lecturers were really supportive and helpful with any questions.

“I took a year off on maternity leave to start a family and also took that year off from studies to focus on my son before returning. It was definitely challenging balancing family life whilst studying, and the early years with a small baby who didn’t sleep was tough.”

Employer recognition

Erin’s employers were very supportive of her study journey and recognised the value Erin’s studies would bring to her role.

“My employers were exceptionally supportive. When I came back to work after a year off from having my son I was able to start working in the HR department which aligned with my studies very well.”

“When the opportunity arose, my employers were happy for me to transition into my current role as HR Manager. They continue to support my studies and recognise that I can bring certain qualities to improve my work environment.”

Words of wisdom

Having to balance personal commitments around study always comes with its challenges, and Erin’s study journey was no different. However, unlike her younger self, Erin now possessed the characteristics needed to reach her study goals.

 “There were definitely difficult times during my studies, such as having a small baby, and the general challenges life throws at you. But keeping my focus and having an eye on the end goal was so important to me, and having the flexibility of Open Polytechnic made it possible to reach that goal.”

Erin has learnt so much about herself during her studies and encourages others who want to pursue studies to give it a go, ‘it’s never too late’.

“It may sound cliché but honestly it is important to just seize the day, and don’t put it off! Start with small steps, and be bold to see where it leads to. Don’t procrastinate, make a small commitment and keep it – you won’t regret it.”

Life Long Learner

Erin’s learning journey isn’t over and she is continuing to enjoy learning as a key driver in life, and one day would like to make a positive impact in a wider sense, whether this will be through specialisation in Organisational Psychology or ultimately in another field of Psychology.

“I am currently undertaking my Master’s degree which I’m hugely enjoying, and am yet to see where this will take me, but I have a drive to see what else I can achieve, and who knows, I may go on to do a PhD.”


I always enjoyed and excelled in people-oriented roles but felt I needed to extend myself to be able to take this to where I really wanted to go, and understood tertiary study would be key.