A new temp assignment

Well, I produced a big burst of posts the last few weeks, and then neglected the blog for a week. I’m still here, though; I’ve just been preoccupied settling into a new temp assignment that is rather more promising than the others I’ve done thus far.

But first, a little rant I need to let out. A grad student I know won a fellowship for this academic year, a fellowship that hir advisor strongly encouraged hir to apply for, because it was a “great opportunity for your career,” would look great on the CV, etc etc. So grad friend applied and won. This may all sound great up to this point – no teaching duties for a year! Except that the fellowship pays significantly less than a TAship, and is thus a substantial pay cut – we’re talking thousands of dollars here. The fellowship also involves participating in some sort of recurring seminar with a combination of other fellowship recipients, postdocs, and full professors.

Grad acquaintance recently got the reading assignment for the first seminar, which was, like the pay cut, quite substantial. So this “great career opportunity” turns out to involve a huge pay cut and a major time commitment that will take up time that grad acquaintance could be working on hir dissertation. So much for all that time saved by not having to teach! Instead zie has to participate in this seminar where those in precarious financial situations (financial situations that, in the case of the grad fellows, have been made even more precarious by the award of this fellowship) will all be vying to impress those with secure employment in the hopes that it will lead to secure employment for themselves some day. Although I am not sure how, since these professors are not grad acquaintance’s committee members, and thus won’t be writing hir letters of recommendation for the job market or giving hir a job, since one doesn’t get a tenure-track position at one’s own university. It sounds to me like this whole set-up is a much better deal for the tenured professors, who get a bunch of smart, young people desperate to impress them to participate in their seminar – smart, young people who were encouraged to apply by professors who are friends with the professors leading the seminar, even though it means being even more impoverished than usual for a year.

Ok, that turned into a long rant, but the whole thing seems like a total nightmare/yet another example of crazy crap one puts up with in grad school to me. But now I shall move on to Promising New Temp Assignment.

This week I started a long term assignment at a young start-up company. I won’t get too specific about what they do, but basically they provide a service to small, local businesses. It’s pretty straightforward, unlike financial start-up I worked at a few weeks ago, which did all kinds of mysterious things. What I am doing is a combination of glorified data-entry (it’s a few steps up from entering things into Excel, and it’s at least not the same thing over and over) and something like copy-editing/proofreading. The good thing about this position is that a) it’s long term – there’s no end date set b) the company recently had a huge influx of cash. Consequently, they are now trying to expand their operations quickly and have been adding new people right and left. So it’s a good time to have a long term temp assignment with them, because it may well turn into a long term non-temp assignment. My agent has placed at least one, possibly more temps into real, full time positions here.

The bad thing is that it starts off part time. I was told that it will become full time, but not when. However, since they have plenty of money and need more people to run things, the odds seem very good that it should become full time before long. It is just a bit stressful not knowing. Anyway, I can see how it goes for awhile, and if it doesn’t convert to more hours within a reasonable time frame, I can always try to negotiate more hours, and walk away if I can’t get them. Unlike grad person with the fellowship, I’m not committing to being paid less than I need to survive for a whole year. And, also unlike that whole fellowship situation, the people I am working for and trying to impress are the people who have the power to hire me.

So I get to take my time and decide if this is a place I’d actually like to work, which is nice. Thus far, I have good feelings about it. For the most part, I’ve temped at start up companies, and they seem like a good option for someone leaving grad school who might like to go into something business-y but is terrified of being a cog in some soulless corporation. Start ups seem to be more ok with “diverse” employment backgrounds, and they want people who are smart and willing to work hard. The employees tend to be on the young side, and the environment/dress code can be more laid back than at a more established company. The dress at this place is even more casual than in my grad program. They really do not seem to care what people wear, as long as they do not show up naked or in a bathing suit. Not having to acquire a special business wardrobe saves money for me, so I am happy with this.

I had to interview for this position, which was both odd (really, an interview for a part time temp position?) and promising (presumably they would care more about who they’re hiring if they plan for them to be around for awhile). It was weird to show up in my fancy-pants suit and be interviewed by people wearing jeans. The people I talked to all asked why I was leaving academia. I had my answers all planned out (much thanks to all the advice out there from others who have left), and I guess they worked. It was a little off-putting during the interview, mostly because at one point one of the interviewers misspoke or stuttered (I can’t even remember now) and then said, “Oh sorry, I’m not an academic!” Giant cringe. I don’t know who all of these English teachers are who are going around giving people neuroses about their grammar skills, but they are giving the rest of us a bad rap. I wanted to assure hir that I wouldn’t be traipsing around the office giving impassioned disquisitions on the Oxford comma or split infinitives, because I just do.not.care.that.much and think people who are snotty about other people’s grammar are jerks. I didn’t say this, because that would be a weird thing to say in an interview, but it was an awkward moment. In any case, I’m sure they were just concerned about whether I would be bored by/think I was too good for the job they needed me to do.

Ok, sometimes grammar snobbery is fun.

So I am cautiously hopeful about this assignment, though I don’t want to get too excited about it until I have full time hours. Even if it doesn’t ultimately turn into a real job, having full hours would at least let me relax a bit and stop worrying about financial doom. It could be that “next” job that will give me some breathing room to decide what I want to do with my life. And, sadly enough, 40 hours a week on temp wages would bring in bigger paychecks than I got in grad school for labor that required far more skills. C’est la vie.

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6 thoughts on “A new temp assignment

  1. I hope that this temp job turns into something more concrete so that you have time to catch your breath…but yes I know how it’s crazy that temp jobs often pay more than graduate school fellowships. Insane isn’t it??

  2. I felt like the immediate post-academic life was about pursuing multiple possible paths, some of which briefly seemed promising and then faded, some of which became more obvious options as time went on, etc. Sounds like you’ve found your first possible path forward — and hey, you get paid!!

    And yeah, the fellowship you describe sounds totally like CV padding to me. Padding for the prof running it, not the grad students in it. This is another weird aspect of the grad school economy, I think: there’s a demand among grad students for special things that might make their CV stand out among the millions of competing apps for entry-level academic jobs, and there’s a demand among TT profs for special things that might make their CV stand out among competing apps for better jobs at better schools. Thus, things like bullshit fellowships exist that do nothing for anyone, and largely do not serve the students in them, but probably make the profs seem like hot shit and desirable to other universities who need special things for their overenrolled, underemployed grad students. So it SEEMS mutually beneficial but it really just benefits the privileged.

    • Glad to hear that the multiple possible paths thing is normal – I guess there’s no need to rush into a new career right away without weighing my options first (especially considering that the last time I rushed into something it was grad school!) as long as I am still making some money. And yeah, your assessment of the fellowship sounds totally correct to me!

  3. I am on a fellowship right now and this blog really speaks to me. I will say, resoundingly, that YES the profs heading this shindig are benefiting, some with a smug unapologetic-ness we fellows all sense and resent, and YES the other fellows struggle to impress the blow-hards, who in fact have no power over their future, yet seem to wield some magical superiority. Until recently, I too wished to impress them. Later to that. Now, I’ve refocused my energies to making this fellowship work for my future career in advertising.

    • Ugh, that sounds so awful. Glad that you’ve been able to focus on more promising future prospects! And I’ll be intrigued to hear more about how pursuing an advertising career goes on your blog – sounds exciting and glamorous (or maybe I’ve been watching too much Mad Men).

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