more than seven jobs

desk of a working mom (it's usually messier)
desk of a working mom (it’s usually messier)

There’s been a meme going around Twitter of listing your first seven jobs. It started with Marian Call, but of course spread across all sorts of folks, including academics. It’s been interesting—some folks have jobs that in retrospect lead exactly to the job they have now; others have a range of early jobs that I never would have guessed. But the academic ones often depress me. Many of the ones I saw seemed to quickly lead to being teachers, a few noted things like, “I haven’t even had seven jobs!” It wasn’t until smart woman and fellow scholar Kirsty Rolfe tweeted something about this that it occurred to me that maybe I was reacting to something more systemic than my individual annoyances.

So, in response to Kirsty’s tweet, here’s my list of all the jobs I’ve had, including the ones that didn’t pay me but that were jobs nonetheless. If you’re struggling with making a career as a scholar, I hope this provides you with some solace: there are more ways than the straightforward one to live this life. If you’re juggling trying to do paid work alongside being an unpaid caretaker, I hope this provides some solidarity: you are doing hard and important work. I can’t make these efforts easier or increase your odds of success, but this is me seeing you and acknowledging what we’ve done together.

  1. babysitter
  2. dishwasher in a lab
  3. daycare worker
  4. convenience store clerk
  5. day camp counselor
  6. movie theater clerk
  7. teaching assistant
  8. office temp (multiple times, throughout much of grad school)
  9. office receptionist
  10. part-time college teaching
  11. program coordinator
  12. full-time college teaching (first post-PhD job, as a post-doc fellow)
  13. post-doc researcher with some admin and teaching components
  14. adjunct
  15. mom to my first baby
  16. adjunct at a different school
  17. library administrator (1-year leave replacement)
  18. adjunct at a third school
  19. another baby! (being a mom is fortunately an ongoing job, supported by babysitters, preschool, and schooling, but the time commitment doesn’t disappear even when they’re in middle school and high school)
  20. library program consultant (n.b. over the next few jobs, both of my parents became ill and died; my sister and I were fortunate in that we found great caretakers for them and my parents could pay for their care, so we didn’t have to do that work ourselves)
  21. part-time library program director
  22. p/t library program director + p/t library outreach coordinator = first regular full-time work as an adult!
  23. digital media strategist (this is my first single full-time job! in my mid-40s!)
  24. caretaker for my spouse post-accident (thank god, not an ongoing position and one I no longer need to fill)
  25. caretaker of myself in the throes of endless migraines (slowly becoming manageable now but which ate up about a year of productivity)
  26. ????????

So there you go. My full work history. There are some weirdnesses here. A lot of the early jobs were summer work (I was blessed with parents who saved up to pay for my college). I didn’t get a tenure-track job, so my post-grad school work isn’t steady. I had kids, which limited the hours available for paid work; I have a spouse tied to a location, so I couldn’t move to take a job, but he is paid well enough that I didn’t/don’t have to panic about taking poorly compensated adjuncting and library work. I don’t think it’s typical of my peer group, whatever that is, to not have had a full-time job until I was in my 40s. I do think a lot of us struggle with aging parents, and if you haven’t yet, your day will come (I hope when it does, it’s easier rather than harder). I also think a lot of us struggle with illnesses, but if those illnesses aren’t visible, people don’t necessarily realize how debilitating they are. I didn’t list in here my struggles with depression after my second was born, but that’s another often hidden illness that can make listing jobs complex.

I have many thoughts about being #altac—that is, being in non-traditional, tenure-track academic job, and you can read some of those in talks I’ve given. (My thoughts about my own trajectory and making my own luck are maybe less depressing than the previous paragraph.) And there’s a side note to be made about #seriousacademic, the hashtag started by the Guardian op-ed about serious academics staying away from social media. I haven’t wanted to delve into that, but I have many ~~feelings~~ about what constitutes seriousness and academic and the pressures that young researchers are under and the ways in which social media creates communities.

For now, I’m going to concentrate on the “??????” of my current status and revel in the twisting path that got me here. I hope you can enjoy your paths, too.

1 thought on “more than seven jobs

  1. Thanks for writing this! I had a similar reaction to Kirsty, because the hashtag highlighted for me the difference I have always felt, as a working class person, from the majority of my colleagues in academia, who are from the middle class. My first seven jobs only covered the ages of 9 to 19, and there were about 20 after that, most of which occurred while I was in graduate school and after I became an assistant professor (I worked through every summer and holiday for years to help pay credit card and student loan debt). I am only debt free now because of a relative of mine died and left me enough to pay off my loan debt. I find that I gravitate to colleagues from similar upbringings without even realizing it and generally feel more connected to staff members than faculty members. I never anticipated the way class would matter in this field in terms of my own sense of belonging to a community (and having common interests) as much as it does.

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