Well, this is a grossly overdue post. The short version of what has happened during the almost year-long (!) break I took from this thing is that the temp assignment described in my last post finally turned into a real job a few months ago. It took months and months and was a very frustrating process, but it did work out in the end.
I feel kind of bad for not keeping up writing here through the long, crappy months of uncertainty. I find it very reassuring to read about other people who also struggle to figure things out right away. Waiting in limbo for months and months while your company hems and haws about whether they want to pay you a real salary and benefits for your services is not fun – though even when I was at my most frustrated and impatient I was completely certain that it was still better than how I felt in grad school.
In any case, it worked out in the end, and now I have a job that I genuinely like with coworkers I enjoy spending time around, a real adult salary, and a good sense of the kinds of careers I could see myself moving on to from this starting point. It almost seems too good to be true! There’s definitely plenty of drama and frustrations in my workplace, but after the level of dysfunction I experienced in my grad department and in higher ed in general, I feel like any place I end up working would have to be pretty f&!*ing terrible before I’d start getting too upset about it. I guess that’s one benefit of starting out in higher ed and then leaving because you don’t like it – you’re used to a) shitty pay b) long working hours (with no overtime pay) c) shitty benefits (if you have any at all) d) shitty future career prospects e) awful departmental politics that are exacerbated by all of the above f) and more! There are bad aspects to any industry you could go into, but most other knowledge work is going to be better than all of that.
There are definitely plenty of bad aspects to temping (no benefits, low pay, unreliable work), but adjuncting has all of these bad aspects and then some. I didn’t do any adjuncting as a grad student, but based on all of the horror stories I’ve read, I’d say that for a post-ac trying to make the transition from academia to some other job, temping is a much better bet than adjuncting. The pay is low, but at least in my experience, it’s better than what one makes as a teaching assistant, and thus definitely better than what one makes as an adjunct. Depending on what kind of assignments you get, you can get useful experience and references that can make you a stronger candidate for non-academic jobs. And if you’ve never had an office job, it’s a good low stakes way to adjust to office norms.
In my experience so far, I also think that young tech companies (of which there are many in certain parts of the country) can be good places for post-acs. There’s definitely a need for smart people who work hard, conduct themselves professionally, can learn new things quickly, and are detail-oriented. In a young company, everything moves at a very fast pace, and there’s a lot of opportunity to take on new projects and really shape the way things work. I’m finding it all very exciting! I would never have thought I’d enjoy or be any good at something like this, and I certainly wouldn’t have known to apply for jobs like the one I ended up with. In my case, one benefit of coming in as a temp is that the company basically created a position for me based on what I was doing well – they weren’t hiring for this kind of position, but once I became good at it, they eventually realized (after a whole lot of prodding) that they couldn’t do without me.
This is getting long, so I’ll stop for now – I’m hoping to write a bit more consistently about temping and transitioning from an academic mindset to office culture. For now, I just wanted to check back in to say that while the post-academic transition is definitely, definitely hard, life does go on, and you eventually find yourself doing all kinds of new and interesting things you would never have imagined doing before. A year ago I had just left my program, hadn’t yet started temping, and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next. I am in a much better position today, and I am so much happier about where my life is going.