I used to write to keep my funding; now I write to keep my job.
Earlier this summer, I said one of my goals was to make a smooth transition between being a graduate student and being employed full-time. I was lucky enough to be offered a position as an archivist at a public, academic library, where I’ve been working for three months and putting my writing and research skills to good use every day. As a newly graduated historian, I’m excited that I convinced someone to pay me to play with primary documents, something I would do for free (but don’t tell my bosses that). However, the changes have not all been smooth, both in terms of lifestyle and psychology.
Finding a new attitude – I had been a student for 22 consecutive years. I had part-time jobs throughout undergrad and I was a GA during grad school, but this is my first full-time position. Part of me is shocked at how different life is. Earlier this week, I panicked when I thought I had a paper due when some of my friends who are still in school discussed an assignment on Facebook. I have a newfound sense of freedom, but I can’t help feeling like something is missing. My entire approach to life has to be realigned to break free from the habit of being in school. Writing on a deadline for GradHacker feels more familiar than not having any assignments.
Institutional differences – Being a grad student is often a solitary experience, especially when we sequester ourselves away for comprehensive exam prep, theses/dissertations, and research. Now I’m part of a cooperative team environment with an idiosyncratic and specialized workflow. People rely on me, money and funding are on the line, and my performance affects projects that are larger than my job. In grad school, my name was on the front page of everything I produced; now I work behind the scenes, and if I’m doing my job right, the public will never know who I am. The work I perform is for the good of my institution.
The money – I’m making around three times more money per month than I did while I was working as a graduate assistant and I have health benefits. But most of that money now disappears into student loan payments, which I had been able to defer while I was in grad school. Many graduates struggle with money after school, and I wish I had been more familiar with Katie Shives’s advice about negotiating salary. In effect, I make a lot more money, but I also “spend” a lot more money. Paying back student loans is definitely a problem you should prepare for before you graduate and before you start working.
Free time – I hadn’t read a novel since 2009, when I was a freshman in college. I finally feel like I have the freedom to read what I love instead of what I’m assigned. But I have to fight the feeling of guilt and procrastination because no matter what I still feel like I’m blowing off an assignment.
Routine – Life is much more consistent now and I go to work at the same time every day. I sleep better. I eat better. I see my wife more often.
Activism – I’m a government employee, and Patrick Bigsby has dispensed some excellent advice about avoiding trouble in the workplace. As a student, I was able to pursue research into radical subjects without much fear. If I produced good work, I knew I could make any argument I could imagine, and could comfortably rely on academic freedom. Now, in my capacity as an archivist, I have to walk the line carefully about letting my politics influence my job. My Twitter handle is a pseudonym and my Facebook is private. I can’t jeopardize my new position by saying something that someone might find inflammatory.
Impostor syndrome – I still have to prove that I belong. I’m by far the youngest full-time employee. I have the least experience, the most to prove, the steepest learning curve, the shallowest safety net, no institutional security, no established credibility. But these challenges perfectly mirror my experience of grad school, where every class was a test to prove worthiness and belonging, every paper was scrutinized, and there was an entire field that I had to live up to. If anything, grad school prepared me to work in the real world in ways that undergrad didn’t.
Quality of work – Expectations are still high. I’ll concede that being out of grad school is awesome, but I still have to work hard. My boss, like my committee chair, expects regular progress on everything I’m working on. I’m held accountable by several layers of bureaucracy, and my work is overseen by several departments.
Intra-office drama – Everyone gossips. Students gossip about professors and other students; coworkers gossip about everyone who isn’t in earshot. It’s comforting that no matter what environment I’m in, the people seem to have similar characteristics.
The transition has been more psychological than anything else, and I know I’m still transitioning. I still have the fear that at any moment this whole trip could be over. I take comfort in the stability and consistency, but I also take comfort in the drive to succeed and the constant stream of work. Overall, the job reminds me of my research seminars, and those were my favorite classes.
What do you hope your transition to employment will be like? What challenges do you expect to face? How can I rid myself of the perpetual feeling of panic? I would appreciate any feedback.
[Image by the Wikimedia Commons and used under Creative Commons Licensing]
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