Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Now that summer is coming up, several people I know are making vacation plans. One person I know is spending several weeks in Europe; another person went to the Bahamas. Other people I know are planning cross-country road trips.

What will I be doing? Working, of course!

One reason that I work so much is that I can't afford not to. Several of the other grad students rely on student loans or help from spouses with full-time jobs; I don't have either. I have a teaching assistantship that provides me with a monthly stipend, but it isn't enough to live on.

I can't work a regular full-time job because the classes I teach are often in the middle of the day, and the class schedule changes every few months. So I "moonlight" by working additional part-time jobs to help make ends meet. I currently work part-time for a website.

I've worked as an adjunct instructor at different schools around the city, but I'm not working as an adjunct as often anymore because a) the adjunct positions are difficult to get since instructors are hired on an as-needed basis; b) the pay is extremely low, because apparently untenured faculty members don't need to have enough money for luxuries like rent and groceries; c) it can be very tiring to grade up to a hundred or more papers every week, especially when I also have my own graduate work to do.

College teaching jobs are difficult to come by in the summer. I was offered an adjunct position for a summer session at one school, but it paid less than what I would have earned working in retail for the same amount of time. I was lucky last summer in that I had a well-paying teaching job, but this summer I'm looking for at least one more part-time job to supplement the income from my website job.

So lately I've been scanning the Craiglist job ads for openings; I've also filled out online applications on the websites of different companies and stores that I'm interested in working for. I applied to a couple of temp agencies; one of them responded and said that I didn't have enough administrative experience (I haven't worked in an office since I did internships in college) but suggested that I apply to a different temp agency that offered warehouse positions.

(Side note: I read somewhere that people with graduate degrees are both overqualified and underqualified for many jobs outside of academia. I have heard of people with master's degrees and Ph.D.s succeeding outside of the academic world, but most people I know are working towards careers in teaching and research, as am I.)

I applied for other "assistant" positions at various offices, since they pay more than retail jobs, but it is true that they require a lot of skills that I don't have.

For example, I'm not familiar with several computer programs; although I can do my website job effectively, it's very likely that if I were given responsibility for most work involving a computer, at least two things could happen: a) the computer could break down, and then I, subsequently, would break down too, shrieking, "I don't know what happened! I just turned on the computer and it suddenly malfunctioned out of terror or revenge, or possibly both! I think it HATES me!" or b) I would lose a bunch of important files, and then the corporate employees would start talking to me like I'm eight years old in order to get me to understand how to work the darn thing, although eight year olds could probably operate computers better than I can, considering how technologically savvy kids are these days.

The one field outside of academia that I do have the most experience in is retail, so a lot of the jobs I've been applying for are in retail. Recently I went in for an interview for a "retail associate" position. When the interviewer told me how much the wages were, I swallowed hard but managed to keep a straight face, acting like it didn't bother me that I would have to work several hours to earn enough money to buy just one product from that store.

Even though I'm a workaholic, I wish that I had the time and money to go on my own vacation to some place I haven't been to before, like New York, Boston, or even a foreign country, like Italy. I don't get to do a lot of traveling; twice a year I visit my parents, who live in another state, for  a couple weeks each time. But during the rest of the year, I am working.

Someday, when I complete my Ph.D., I hope to find a full-time teaching job. It's okay if it's not a tenured position (though that is the ultimate goal of most Ph.D. candidates), because those are extremely difficult to get. But for me, being able to teach at a good school and earn enough money to live on without having to work additional jobs would be more than enough.

The fact that I don't earn a lot of money makes me a lot more careful about how I manage the money that I do earn. That's why I read blogs about saving money, like the one that Donna Freedman writes. Her blog is called Surviving and Thriving and is filled with great advice. She also writes a column for MSN Money's Smart Spending. She and I have exchanged several e-mails, and she was kind and generous enough to give me coupons for a free movie pass and a free soda at the theater, as well as a coupon for a free frozen dinner. It thrilled me to be able to watch a movie for free, especially since I only watch movies two or three times a year. It also thrilled me that the soda they gave me at the theater was HUGE, because I love Coca-Cola, even though a couple of my brain cells probably die every time I drink it.

Incidentally, I recently won the grand prize in Donna's annual giveaway on her blog: a $100 Amazon.com gift card! Thank you, Donna! I was really hoping for the gift card, because my dissertation committee has assigned me a very long reading list that includes many books that aren't available in the library. A few months ago, I also won a prize in one of Donna's weekly giveaways (she hosts one every Friday on her blog); I won several different kinds of Godiva chocolate.

Winning prizes like that makes me think of those rare good weather days in Chicago; because the weather is so extreme the rest of the year, everyone always takes advantage of the mild weather on those days and goes outside. (Then again, for us Chicagoans, anything above thirty degrees or even anything in the double digits is considered a good day.) So winning a gift card and chocolate, saving money through coupons, and being careful about how much I spend and where I spend it have taught me to value my money. I've also learned to be grateful that I have the opportunity to work part-time jobs; even though the paychecks are smaller than I'd like, they're better than no paychecks at all.

It also makes me a lot more aware of the people who have less money or no money at all. So I try to help them in small ways. I can't write a big check to charities, but I usually say yes (unless I'm really hard up for cash) when the cashiers at grocery stores ask me if I'd like to donate a few bucks to whatever charity they're sponsoring that week. I also set aside a few dollars to buy Streetwise papers each week, which is the newspaper that homeless people sell on street corners; I think they get to keep $1.25 out of every $2. Sometimes I give sandwiches or bags of chips to other homeless people. I gave away bags of clothes and shoes that were still in good condition to the Salvation Army.

Donna also says that people should set aside a few bucks every week for a "cash cache", or an emergency fund. That's what I've been doing too. Recently I found a five dollar bill on the sidewalk when I was running errands. I put it into my "cash cache". Although it's technically my emergency fund, I've secretly named it my "vacation fund" as well. Someday, when I have enough money, I'd like to take my own vacation, escape from all of my work, and have a chance to breathe, for the first time in years.

What about you? Have you ever done any moonlighting? What kinds of part-time jobs/day jobs have you had, and what did you like best/least about them?


  1. I worked at Costco and quitting was the hardest decision I ever made, because Costco pays so amazingly well for a retail job. I've never made as much money since leaving. Sometimes I still regret leaving that job.

  2. I am working for the literary journal on campus as a copy-editor. The pay is great but the hours are few. I applied to teach over the summer, but because none of the ABDs can get jobs, none have graduated, meaning that while a few years ago someone at my stage in the program could probably have gotten a coveted summer gig, the same people who got those gigs a couple years ago are still working them. Grr.

  3. Hi Karen,
    It's definitely hard to leave a well-paying job; I've been in that situation before. In particular it's difficult to find a well-paying job in retail. You'd think that with the prices they charge in other stores they'd pay the employees at least a little (or a lot) better.

    Hi Anna,
    Summer teaching jobs are definitely hard to get, because everyone wants them. In my program they rotate the summer jobs so that each person gets a chance; it's too bad there aren't enough for everyone every summer.

  4. Weirdest-ever moonlighting: Watching a short piece of women-made porn for a university study.
    Surprisingly lucrative moonlighting: Babysitting. I get $10 or more per hour here in Seattle, and half the evening the kids are asleep and I'm getting paid to sit on someone else's sofa and read.
    Here's the link to a piece I did for MSN, "Tips from 8 champion moonlighters." It might give you some ideas:

  5. Good luck! It's hard to make ends meet. I've had to work two jobs at once a few times and once did film school, an internship, and a 30 hr a week job.

  6. I can totally relate to this because I just started moonlighting last month as a pet-sitter for this local petcare company. It's kind of an awesome gig. It's very flexible because I accept jobs around my schedule and the money is pretty good for mainly cleaning out litter boxes and watering plants. If you like animals, I would suggest something like that for you. It's been a really great way for me to make some quick cash in the last month and with summer coming, I'm sure business will be picking up.

  7. You are in the hardest time of life. I had a friend in your situation take out loans to supplement her income. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope you figure it out.

    I'm older than you, and can't find a full-time teaching job. The only other things I'm qualified for is auto insurance (please God, no) or writing (not finding pay with that).

  8. Hi Donna,
    I wouldn't mind babysitting, except I actually don't have any babysitting experience; when it comes to working with kids I've only ever taught high school students and undergrads. I really like that piece you wrote on moonlighting. It made me feel better that I'm not the only one who's had to work additional jobs, and it made me admire the resourcefulness of the people you described.

    Hi Libby,
    That's really impressive that you were able to do a 30-hour a week job in addition to film school and the internship. Even I don't think I could juggle all of that.

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks for the advice! I do love animals. My parents have two dogs, and I had my own dog when I was growing up. I wish I could have one in Chicago, but my building doesn't allow dogs. I like the idea of petsitting. I'm allergic to cats, though, so I'd only be able to look after dogs. But I'm going to look into that, because from the way you described the work it sounds like a good deal.

    Hi Theresa,
    I hope you find a full-time teaching job too; you definitely deserve one after all the substitute teaching jobs you've had. I think that substitute teachers have great endurance and flexibility, because they learn to adapt to a variety of situations.
    I thought about taking out student loans, but the thing about those loans is that I'd have to pay them back eventually. And seeing as how there's no guarantee that I'll find a steady full-time teaching job after I finish my degree, I'm not sure I'd be able to make all the payments in time. I'm going to try and apply for grants and fellowships, because at least those don't have to be repaid.

  9. Hey,

    I know what it means or how tough it can get to make ends meet. I worked and am still working in various part time jobs besides going to college and full time work.

    I have been working as a personal assistant for the last 6 years. This is my full time job, but it was not enough. So;

    I worked in exhibitions like IGEM (Trade Fair), Smart Kids (Consumer Fair)and Star Educational Fair. Each was a different experience as the positions i had were different each time. It was hectic it was tiring but it was different and i got about 26-32 USD which is around 80-100 Malaysian Ringgit daily. I am living in Malaysia by the way.

    Besides that i worked part time in a jewelry shop where i attended various seminars making custom charm bracelets, bookmarks and key chains. It worried me at first as i was not sure if i could actually deliver a piece of fashion jewelery that would be satisfying to the buyer, but surprisingly i did and i have enjoyed doing it, it is really girly stuff. :)

    Now, i am attending seasonal bazaars together with my mother like Christmas Charity Bazaar and rent a booth to sell my mother's lovely hand-crafts, knitted shawls, baby clothes and accessories. We managed to pay out rental with the amount we earned last bazaar :)

    Then, i do translations Turkish-English for the people who need them and ofcourse if they call me for it.

    When times were harder i did door to door sales. It was very tough but when life gets tougher, you become braver.

    I do part-time modelling too whenever i am called for. I played in Dove Advertisement although i thought i would never be chosen. I was, thankfully. :) See you never know, you should not give up trying! With the money i earned from the advertisement i have decided to donate part of it to Orphanage :).

    Then another part time job i worked was as an usher in a high-class wedding party, it was a whole different experience too.

    Somehow with all the jobs i worked at from low paid to higher we managed to make the ends meet and survive.

    I am happy with all the experience and knwoledge i have gained.

    And i hope i can go on my own vocation one day too. I know i will, one day. :)

  10. Retail associates don't earn a lotta $$$. It's too bad that you have to find a second job. However, you can make a little extra money right here by becoming an Amazon associate.

  11. Hi Rose,
    You have a very interesting and impressive resume; that's particularly interesting that you've worked as a model. I couldn't be a model, though, because I'm too short. Still, though, that'd be fun. I think that working all these jobs helps people like you and me realize what we want and don't want out of our work; these jobs can help motivate us to achieve our goals.

    Hi notesfromnadir,
    I've learned to be wary of ads for retail positions that pay "competitive wages", because that often means that the salespeople still have to work eight or nine hour shifts but won't make a lot of money if there aren't any paying customers. I think that makes it similar to the work that restaurant servers do, except I've heard that servers can make a lot of money at the upscale restaurants downtown. Those jobs always require experience, though, and I haven't worked in restaurants before.

  12. Good morning (Malaysia time), i am only 5'1 or 5'2 (we use cm). So i am too short too. But in advertisements you are not doing a catwalk and so you don't have to be tall. :)

    I will invigilate an exam and earn few bucks today too.

    I hope you will find the right job that makes you happy :)

  13. I found my way to your blog today and have really enjoyed reading your posts. I find what you are going through to be very interesting because I am a Senior working on my BA degree and getting ready to apply for MA and PHD programs. My ultimate goal, like so many others, is to teach on a college-level. Of course I have a very long way to go, but it has always been my dream. Unfortunately, I cannot think of anything else I want to do more than teach. As I begin to look into programs, do you have any advice? What do you teach? Your advice and insight would be invaluable. :-) I'm following!

  14. Hi Teddi,
    Welcome to my blog! As far as advice for graduate programs, here are some basic tips. First, I'd advise taking a year or two off before you go to grad school; being a grad student is all-consuming and the work is very demanding, so it's really easy to burn out (that's happened to me more than once). But if you want to go sooner rather than later, start doing online research on the schools you're interested in. Look not just at the department descriptions but also the faculty bios; the professors usually list their research interests and their publications. You can also e-mail the professors with questions (the more specific your questions are, the more likely they are to answer you) about the kinds of classes they teach. That way you'll know if there will be professors who share your research interests, because you don't want to end up in a program that offers a bunch of courses that have nothing to do with what you want to write your thesis/dissertation on. Also, M.A. students often don't get to teach, which means that they're responsible for paying most (if not all of their tuition), but sometimes MFA students in writing get to teach. So look for programs where there is enough funding. Some programs won't make you start teaching until your second or third year in the Ph.D. program; other programs will make you start teaching right away. It depends. But be prepared for the fact that it will take a long time to finish, at least 2-3 years for the M.A. and 4-6 years for the Ph.D, depending on which school you go to and which program you go into.
    I wrote a post titled "Surviving Grad School" a few months ago with more advice: http://neuroticworkaholic.blogspot.com/search/label/grad%20school.
    Whatever you decide to do, good luck! It's good that you are passionate about teaching, because you have to really want to pursue that as a career in order to commit to graduate school.

  15. Congrats on winning the giftcard! I'm sure you can put that to good use.

    I've had all kinds of filler jobs - the worst was working as a house painter and scraping paint off for hours for less than minimum wage. Ugh.

  16. Hi Talli,
    I've already thought of several books I want to buy with the gift card, but I'm going to try and make it last as long as possible. It's more fun to savor it.
    Working as a house painter would be tough, especially because it would get really tiring after a while.

  17. I wrote out a comment, but my computer froze up and I don't think it went through... Anyway, thank you VERY much for the advice. Much of what you said is very consistent with the advice of my professors and friends in graduate school. Unfortunately, I can completely envision the amount of work that it is going to take, yet there is very little (if anything) that I can imagine dedicating my life to. I am currently a double major in Literature and Sociology/Gender Studies and I am trying to decide which I should pursue in graduate school. Would you say that all grad school programs are equally saturated or do you think it is English in particular? Considering that I enjoy both equally (I'm not sure if this is the case), would you suggest that Gender Studies be better to pursue? I have much to decide, and certainly any advice from those experienced is absolutely invaluable to me. Also, I read your post on graduate school and chuckled at your comment, "What does Derrida think?" I suppose that I must already be on that track, because I was given a kitten for Christmas and named him, yes... Jacques Derrida. :-) Thanks again for your input.

  18. Hi Teddi,
    There are definitely a lot more English Ph.D.s than full-time jobs available. That's why it can be very disheartening to go through all those years of grad school and still not be able to find a good teaching job. I'm not very familiar with Sociology/Gender Studies, so I'm not sure how it works in that field. I think that you should pursue the field that interests you the most, because if you're going to be making a long-term commitment, it should definitely be something that you're passionate about. The thing about English, though, is that you can usually find schools that need adjunct/part-time Composition/Literature instructors. That's how I was able to get work as an adjunct at other schools. It's just harder to find schools that are hiring tenured/full-time professors, but that's true of most fields.