As a graduate student, I was required to do a field placement. Not all of these gigs were paid, so I strategically (only) expressed interest in being a research assistant (the kind that get paid). I had a 6 month old baby to take care of. Working for free was not an option.
The work itself was fairly interesting. I learned some new “skills.” More important than learning how to “do” anything, I learned some other lessons. Here are the most important things I learned:
The easier the job is, the more it pays. The more you sit on your butt, the more money you make.
Women can be their own worst enemies. I worked on three projects for three different women. The oldest one, Sally, was the only one who had children and they were almost grown. She was also the least compassionate about my status as a single parent. Sally did not believe it was appropriate or “fair” to give me any flexibility in the workplace as a parent (not to mention a single parent with NO help from the father, no child support, subsisting on student loans, WIC, and food stamps). She claimed that the point of the internship was to simulate a real work environment. She proceeded to inform me that in the “real world,” flexibility is not given to people who also happen to be parents.
(Fast forward 11 years and I have never had a boss as inflexible as she was, except for Colleen at RITG. My other employers have been happy to give me flexibility in the workplace. It’s called the work/life balance. I found it completely ironic that we were doing poverty research and she had no compassion for me taking care of a 6-month-old while going to school, living in poverty, and fighting to make a better life for myself and my son.
Sometimes your neighbors hear more than you think you do. I had a LOT of anger towards my son’s father for failing to contribute anything to the physical, financial, and emotional responsibilities of parenting. I experienced the worst hell during that year-and-a-half, trying to complete a graduate degree, work, and take care of an infant who was only in day care part-time (when I was in class and at work). I couldn’t afford day care for the rest of the week when I was supposed to be studying.
One night, I spewed all of my (then) hatred towards his father in a verbal tirade to his imaginary presence. I ripped him a new @$$hole and then some. I realized from something one of my neighbors said a few days later that he had heard my “conversation.” How freaking embarrassing.
It’s not how hard you work or how good of a job you do, it’s your bosses (or their bosses) personal opinion that matters. Once again, the only time I ever experienced this was with Colleen at RITG ten years later. Fortunately, the rest of my work experiences have been vastly different. With Sally and Colleen, they were the kind of people who needed a degree of “ego massaging” to get on their good side. I don’t do ego massaging. It goes against everything I believe in.
I’m better with computers than most people, despite a lack of formal training. This has been a major strength for me over the years. Wherever I work, I quickly earn a reputation for being the best computer person in the group. Only the “IT” people know more than me and they are always in short supply. I have gotten many jobs because of my unique range of skills.
I’m a better writer than most graduate students and I’m great with theory. I discovered this in two different classes…both were rumored to be the hardest classes with the most impossible-to-please professors. I got A’s on every paper I wrote for both classes. I’m not trying to brag here. This was a refreshing experience given I’ve gotten lower grades for the same quality of work in “easier” classes. I’m still perplexed by the grade I received for one of the best papers I’ve ever written. It was for an urban planning class. I honestly don’t think the lecturer (the “famous” professor who was supposed to co-teach the class only showed up once) understood the paper.
Also, this is important because I didn’t think I was smart when I was growing up. When I first attended this university as an undergrad, I assumed everyonewas smarter than me. And here I was in graduate school, kicking everyones butts. After being misunderstood for so many years, this was the universe telling me I was going in the right direction. This was the universe showing me a life, and a future, with possibilities.