Monday, April 24, 2017

I'm writing this from a bus

Lucky me, I managed to find a place to live. No, not the bus, but a place just a block away from where I currently live. I managed to negotiate the rent down $100. It has a parking space. It is very close to a grocery store, albeit probably the shittiest grocery store in the city. Unfortunately, I don't get to move in until April 30.

I've spent about 6 hours looking for a job at this point, cumulatively. I applied for four jobs online after writing a cover letter and having someone look at it. I pounded the pavement for 3 hours handing out resumes and making notes, and learning where else I should apply online. Seems big chains don't like people applying in-store these days. Of course, the benefit of applying in-store is that I don't have to have a cover letter.

How the fuck does one write a cover letter to work at David's tea? Especially how the fuck does one do this without any previous retail, hospitality, or service industry experience?

People have been making recommendations to me about where to go where they'll hire me without any experience. Earls, Boston Pizza, the Old Spaghetti Factory. And I've applied at all those places... in person. Despite the fact that the online applications say they only want a resume, the overwhelming advice of the internet (and my personal gut feeling) says that a cover letter is really a good idea. It's just so hard to explain why I think I have good customer service skills when I don't have any experience to back it up that's technically directly relevant. Thank god I bothered to start my own club (with the help of Carina, beautiful angel that she is (I say this because she really covered my lazy ass a lot this year as my co-prez)), because I feel like that looks really good. What evidence do you have that you're a self starter? Oh, only that I started something. It doesn't get much better than that.

But seriously, almost every job I look at says that prior experience is an asset. And if not that, then it's a fucking requirement. I keep saying I wish my parents had made me work a summer at a dairy queen or a store in the mall or something in high school, but the lab experience I gained helped me get MORE lab experience- more summer jobs, more research opportunities, and likely it will help when I look for grad school. But of course, lab experience peters out once you, y'know, graduate. Fuck, the number of additional things I could apply for if I was just continuing as a student next year... almost makes me second guess my decision to graduate on time.

So, this is the way it goes: if I'd gotten some service industry experience, all my lab experience would have been harder to come by (especially since my grades are, somehow, not competitive), and I would have defaulted to service jobs anyway. Since I didn't, I got a lot of good undergrad opportunities, but now that I'm about to graduate with a very bare-bones plan, I'm fucked. Nobody wants to hire someone who's in their early 20s who's never waited a table before, and I know if I was 16 they'd be more willing to overlook that. I mean, 16 year olds have to start somewhere, right?

The thing is, nobody has bothered to tell me what the real world is like. I'm forced to figure it out on my own, like this, like I guess everyone was. But nobody explained to me that a bachelor's degree in science in and of itself is nothing more than a stepping stone. I can't get a job in any scientific field with just a B.Sc. And nobody, and I mean nobody, bothered to mention that while the whole world was encouraging me to go into science because what are you going to do with a degree in the arts? Well, what the fuck am I going to do with a degree in genetics? I have a few options: 1) start my own company. 2) work in an unrelated industry 3) more school. The fact of the matter is that everybody has a bachelor's degree now. Why the fuck do you think it's so much harder to get into medical school?

I guess the point of this post is some advice: university isn't a mistake, but please, for the love of god, do stuff while you're there. If you take 6 years to get a degree, it won't fucking matter. Try and find some internships, or relevant work experience. Volunteer as much as you can, join clubs, take on exec roles, start your own club. And do stuff in the community if you can- volunteer, or even work. Don't just go to school and get good grades- that's important, but it's only one tiny piece. I'm glad I went to school; I don't regret getting a degree. I will find a way to make use of it, because my goal is to go back to school. But I am so, so, so glad that I pursued different and interesting opportunities while I was there. University is full of these things, these chances to get involved, they're literally thrown in your face and so easy to take, so TAKE THEM. Fuck, even my two years with the engineering group were good- it was Management Experience Lite (TM) and now that that same group just launched a satellite, it makes me look even better. Sure, I ended up leaving once I discovered it wasn't for me- but that's okay, because I tried in the first place. The club I co-founded this year might not have worked out either, but at least I would have tried and learned something. And it did work out! And now we have this amazing new group of execs ready to take on the second year of operations, and I get to say- look. My time here meant something. I did something here, I left a legacy at this school, however small. I helped fill a gap that needed filling, and I did it with one of my best friends. How many opportunities are there to do that in the real world? I'm about to find out.

In the meantime, my research project report is still due on Friday and I'm not quite finished. I'm hoping, though, that this recent uptick in blogging is a sign that I can get back to this in my time away from school. Perhaps I can just leave bizarre life advice here every couple of weeks.


Friday, April 14, 2017

It's been a while

School has been far more intense than I could have imagined, and this last year has been especially hard for me. I've been doing a lot of intense thinking about what I want to do next year, once I no longer have to work towards a degree. Should I really have shoehorned myself into all these classes in a desperate attempt to graduate in four years? Maybe not. But here I am anyway, powerless to stop it. Despite the fear and trepidation, I registered to graduate, took my grad photos, and have made it publicly known in my social circle that I Am Graduating. And also, that I'm taking "a year off."

I don't even know if I can really call it that, since it's not like I'm taking a year in the middle of a degree. It's become rapidly apparent to me that if I wanted to be in graduate school next year, I would have had to put more effort into finding a supervisor. When I did summon the courage to email one, she encouraged me to explore my options more (and then come back to her if I was still interested- so it's not like she just wanted to get rid of me). I realized as I left her office that she was right. If I'm going to spend 2-3 years working closely with a supervisor, I need to make sure they're someone I want to work with, and also that their research will be something I can stomach. The only thing I'm sure of so far is that I can get behind almost any research- it's all interesting to me, especially translational research. But I know I can't devote the time I need to to that, and to finishing my degree. Hence, the gap year.

It does make sense, I suppose, to take my time and carefully consider this decision. Do I even want to do traditional science grad school? I still think I do, but there are other options out there. Either way, I'm giving myself an academic year. I don't want a year off spent waitressing (or potentially doing something more interesting I can't imagine) to turn into two, or three, or ten. I want to go to graduate school. I know I have what it takes, despite what it sounds like. Geez, she can't even handle classes and planning for her future, some may think. Why does she think she can handle the stress of a graduate degree? Which is something I've thought myself more than once, but honestly... it just doesn't make sense anymore.

I've come way too close to the edge this year, way more than I'd like. Being on the precipice of the rest of your life is completely terrifying. Don't I owe it to myself to take it slow? It's not like I'm graduating and being like "whew, no more science for me!" My degree wasn't a waste of time, it was a learning experience and a tremendous opportunity that allowed me to gain lots of relevant skills I plan to use. I still want to be working in that area. But if trying to pursue the "traditional" path is... not working for me, why not modify it for my life? Pushing myself down that road would ultimately end poorly. I'm choosing myself, and my own life and health, by stopping for a second to breathe.

That being said... is this year going to be sunshine and rainbows? I highly doubt it. Am I going to get rejected a lot? Well, doesn't everybody? The worst thing I could do now is curl up in a ball and refuse to face the world because I couldn't do it "properly." Would I really look back on one odd year as a horrendous mistake that ruined my life? I don't think so. I'm not going into this because "ugh, the real world has GOT to be better than school!" but more because "I need time and space where I'm not concerned about my final grades to make sure that the next educational decision I make is the right one." I'm not going on a year to "see what happens" so much as it's to take time to evaluate my next steps, keeping a goal and a deadline in mind. THAT being said, I don't want to be so rigid that I refuse to let life happen. Obviously having a goal and a deadline will help me keep this year to just one instead of three, but I still don't know what could happen. When I look back at my life as it's unfolded so far, great things have come where I least expected them, and not everything turns out as I expect. That satellite project didn't get me anywhere, but I can still put it on my CV. Deciding to take the leap and pursue undergraduate research paid off in more ways than I could have imagined. Even last summer turned out wildly different than what I expected. Heck, this YEAR did.

My point is: I can't predict where I'm going to be a year from now, but I'm still in the driver's seat. I can still steer, but I don't know what's ahead on the highway. I'm hoping that by keeping my seat buckled, speed limit reasonable, and a destination in mind is about all I can do. I don't know if there's construction ahead that leads me down a side road, or a slow vehicle I get stuck behind, or a gas station just when I'm about to run out. I can't pretend I'm not afraid that all that's ahead of me is a giant boulder blocking my only path, whatever that looks like when it's not a metaphor. But it's not like I can stop driving.

With all of this being out in the open... I'm really trying to think (in between studying for my finals) about what I want to try and accomplish next year. I figured maybe one of those things could be a blog. Sure, maybe no one would read it, but if I could find someone's blog right now full of their experiences on a "year off," especially a year off that's NOT spent teaching English abroad (not knocking that, I just have no interest in doing such), I'd really appreciate it. Maybe this will be the last you hear of me for quite some time, but I hope it's not. I guess we'll see how it goes.


(a side note- quick but very heartfelt shoutout to redbeard for helping me through all of this, time after time after time. He's heard the most about it and been unwaveringly supportive, and I appreciate more than he knows)