So You’ve Decided To Work For Yourself

As I have said before, graduate school is both expensive and time-consuming. You will most likely need at least one job, and you will definitely need flexibility. I have worked many jobs as a graduate student, and by far my favorite has involved working for myself as a nanny/housekeeper/pet sitter.

During my first year of graduate school, I created a profile on Care.com, a web site where families can post their care needs, and caregivers can apply for jobs. There are several other web sites that offer similar services, but I have enjoyed the services of Care.com. Over the years I have branded my profile to showcase my strengths as a caregiver and developed a sizable caseload of families who rely on me. As a caregiver, I am free to update my availability based on the demands of my program and any other things in my life. For example, one family asked me to work this Sunday afternoon, and I had the freedom to refuse because I had other plans. No “regular” job would let me do that, and it is much easier to take care of myself when I have this flexibility. Also, once you build up enough of a following, you do not have to worry that giving up a few shifts will leave you short on rent money at the end of the month.

Of course, this line of work is not without its drawbacks. Any time I meet someone through the web site, I take safety precautions. When possible I bring a buddy to the interview, or at least have several people who know the address and time of the meeting. You never know who you will meet online, but when working for yourself you do have the added freedom of turning down any jobs you do not find desirable without worrying about backlash from an employer. I once interviewed for a position as a housekeeper where the home owner told me that he was a nudist and wanted a “like-minded” housekeeper (AKA wanted me to clean while naked). I left.

I also have the right to set my own rates for the various jobs that I do, but the responsibility of advocating for myself, since there is no one to do it for me. I have had to let more than one position go because a family refused to compensate me at the agreed-upon rate. I had a parent “round down” and pay me for three hours when I had been there for three hours and forty-five minutes. This same parent could not understand why I was unwilling to skip class to pick the children up from school. My personal favorite was when a parent of a special needs child offered me half of what I normally charge, even though I clearly post my rates on my profile. The parents told me that other “qualified sitters” had agreed to the lower rate. I simply asked them, “How many of those sitters have a masters in psychology and extensive experience with children with similar needs to your child?” The answer was none. Sometimes it pays to be over-qualified.

I have been lucky enough to find a few very nice families within walking distance of my apartment. After working these gigs for a few years, I have gotten skilled at identifying which families are going to appreciate my work and respect me as a person. The flexibility is perfect for a grad student, and the income certainly helps with unanticipated expenses. A nannying job with a special needs teenager paid for the repairs on my car after I was involved in an accident two years ago. Walking dogs paid for my internship applications. In today’s job market, and with the inflexibility of many employers, this is a fantastic way to fund your graduate education without sacrificing your schoolwork.

Once again, if there are any topics my followers would like to read about, please let me know in the comments.

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So You’ve Decided To Teach A Class

Hello everyone and welcome to spring semester! In honor of the start of classes, I thought I would share some thoughts on teaching.

My university allows some graduate students to teach undergrad courses, which gives the undergraduate students a wider variety of elective courses and frees up tenured faculty for research projects. This semester I was given the opportunity to teach Motivation and Emotion, and on Tuesday, I presented my first lecture. Throughout the semester I will post updates on my teaching experience, starting with the first week.

If you have never taught before, taking on the role of professor can be intimidating. You are being put in charge of someone’s education. They will hear what you say and most likely assume that it is true. What if they think that I have no idea what I am doing? What if I made the syllabus too difficult? Too easy? What if the students stage an open revolt? That last one is probably not the most likely scenario.

I have found that fellow professors can be an invaluable resource for new teachers. After all, a seasoned professor already knows the ins and outs of the university, how to craft a syllabus, how much work is too much (or not enough) to expect of the students in 16 weeks. Besides, they would not be in that line of work if they did not enjoy sharing their expertise with others. A friend/classmate of mine has patiently tolerated all of my questions. I was also lucky enough to obtain the contact information of my predecessor for this course, who graciously sent me a copy of her syllabus and her exams for points of reference.

So, with syllabus in hand, I arrived to my first class early with visions of Ted Mosby in my head as inspiration (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJpDXIqRaw4). I immediately learned why most of my professors arrive either exactly on time or a few minutes late: It is somewhat awkward to sit at the front of the class watching the clock. You cannot start because most of the students have not arrived yet, and the ones who have arrived are watching you expectantly, waiting for you to begin.

Despite my consultations for becoming a successful professor, I felt uncertain about my ability to run an entire class for a full semester. After 25 students arrived for the first day, I introduced myself and asked them, “What are you expecting from this class? What do you want to get out of being here?” 25 pairs of eyes stared blankly back at me, avoiding direct eye contact for fear that I would call on one of them. I guess I will have to rely on my other resources.

I am excited to “learn by doing” as a new professor. I will do my best to be flexible and knowledgeable and help my students get their tuition dollars’ worth. But I think my favorite part about teaching will be the fact that my students have to laugh at my bad jokes because I control their grades. (I’ll try not to let it go to my head.)

So far, I do not think I am qualified to advise others about teaching, but my advice to Future Amy is the same that I have given myself for my past student presentations: TED talks are fantastic fillers if you are short on time, great shoes can never hurt a good presentation, and do not wait for the last minute to put it together. Tonight I am ignoring my own advice on that third one, so I will end this blog post and get to work. My students are counting on me to talk so that they do not have to.

So You’ve Been Featured In GradPsych

Since I just returned from an extended round of internship interviews (I will probably do another series on the internship process at some point), this week’s post will be shorter than usual. I need my beauty rest.

You may recall from my Thanksgiving post that my dissertation was featured in GradPsych. Part 2 of that series was published online this week. I highly recommend following the other students featured, since their projects present a variety of projects from different programs and can provide insight that my experience lacked.

GradPsych periodically presents profiles and series of graduate student experiences. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to be part of this one because I responded to a Twitter post by APAGS. They did not specify if I was the first to reply, or if I was at a point in my dissertation that worked for the project (the author of the piece mentioned they were interested in following someone who was post-defense), or if they just liked the sound of my project. Regardless, it was a great opportunity to share my knowledge. It also forces me to continue thinking about my dissertation even though I have completed my defense. For the majority of graduate students, the dissertation sits on their bookshelf and is never looked at again. This is perfectly fine – the purpose of writing a dissertation is to graduate, and that happens after the defense (or much later than that in my case).

Because my project consisted of a manual that can be implemented in real-world settings, I am hoping to make it available as a resource for university campuses looking to improve their outreach and response to victims of sexual violence. However, making this happen means that I need to continue to contact various universities. These contacts are usually ignored all together, so the process can get frustrating. Knowing that I will soon have to record another video detailing my progress keeps me motivated to keep working so that I have more to share.

My (hopefully) next step is to find a way to make the entire project available for download online. The manual was published online through my university, but I would have been required to pay a fee to make the full version free to potential consumers. For now, I look into alternatives. If anyone knows of a way to do this, or knows of a university that might be interested in implementing the manual, please contact me. When it comes to graduate school, if something is not a challenge, then it is probably not worth pursuing.

So You’ve Decided To Get A Job

It took about 30 seconds after I got accepted into my graduate program for my excitement to turn into panicked thoughts of “How the **** am I going to pay for this?” Obviously I did not think this through as well as I could have – see my post “So You’ve Decided To Take Out Student Loans.” I realized almost immediately that, even with taking out the maximum I was allowed in loans, I had about a $7,000 gap between my budget and my expenses. Higher education is a luxury in the United States, and luxuries require an income. So I decided to get a job. I have had many jobs as a graduate student, and so today I will focus on the employment I used to survive my first year.

Whenever possible, if you are taking time away from the 10,000 things you are supposed to be doing as a graduate student, you want that time to be worthwhile. In a perfect world, you will receive an outpouring of highly paid, flexible clinical jobs that work around your class schedule and make nice lines on your CV. If you pulled off this feat, please contact me so that you can write a guest post, because you clearly are better at this grad school thing than I am.

Back to my reality. Shortly after receiving my acceptance and deposit, my program was kind enough to send me a packet that was over 30 pages of clinical positions in the Hartford area. I spent two weeks calling and emailing every clinic, hospital, and research facility they had sent me. Approximately 75% of the sites never got back to me. The other 25% were either confused as to why I thought they were hiring, not interested in someone who had no Masters degree and no prior field-related work experience, or gave me the age-old brush off of “We’ll keep your CV on file and get back to you if something opens up.” I prepared for my move with no idea if I would be able to afford more than the first semester.

About two weeks after the semester started, I gave up my search for a clinical job. The only lead that would take me seriously was a volunteer position that actually required me to pay them for the training involved. It would have been great for my resume but horrible for my checking account. (If you can afford to volunteer in your field in order to build up enough experience for a paid position, be my guest, but like graduate school, volunteer work is a luxury.) As an undergraduate, I spent two years working as an usher for my school’s theater department to help curb expenses, so I contacted a local theater and was hired almost immediately. It wasn’t a psychology job, but my rent checks cleared. I loved my co-workers, and the benefits were pretty fantastic for a part-time job (free theater tickets plus admission to donor galas with free food and an open bar), and I got to meet Kate Mulgrew, but we were often short-staffed, so I kept being scheduled almost double what I had committed to. I also had to pay for parking in the garage every time I had a shift, and about once per week I was given a short shift where most of my income went into the gas to getting there and the parking, so I came home with almost nothing. Meanwhile, the over-scheduling was making it difficult to complete my school work. I had been assigned a group project, and I could not find time to meet with my classmates. That is the Catch-22 of higher education: Unless you are independently wealthy, you have to work so much to pay for everything that you do not have time to fulfill your student responsibilities.

Shortly after midterms, an opportunity fell into my lap. My school has an on-campus help center for students who are struggling with college, whether academically or personally. An email went around to my classmates indicating that they were looking for graduate students to work part-time as tutors to help students who were failing classes. At first my plan was to tutor on top of my theater job because, by definition, doctoral students do not know how to stop taking on commitments when they become overwhelmed. But after the interview, the head of the center called me with an amazing offer: They did not want me to be a tutor. They wanted me to run their tutoring program. My job was to sort through referrals from professors about students who were struggling, meet with those students individually, and set them up with tutors as appropriate. The pay was higher than my current job, I was allowed to make my own hours, and I could walk to work from my classes or park for free. Although not technically a clinical job, I have had a training director at an internship site tell me that this experience is invaluable to some of my clinical interests.

The point I am trying to make is, when you’re looking for work in graduate school, be flexible and willing to take a job outside of your field. When you have zero work experience you are not given the benefit of being picky. At the same time, though, do not settle for a job that inhibits your success. Persistence pays off – keep applying, and eventually something field-related will pop up and make your life immeasurably easier! I do miss the galas, though, and Ms. Mulgrew is delightful.

So You’ve Decided To Make A New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year, readers! Last week I wrapped up my four-part series on how I survived the dissertation process. I hope my experience can help others in the same position. If my process does not work for you, I hope it can at least help you figure out your own personal recipe for success. In honor of the new year, I thought I would be a cliche and talk about resolutions.

It has become common knowledge that most resolutions are abandoned by February, if they even make it that far. This is often the case because we tend to over-estimate what we can accomplish. One of the most common resolutions is to work out more often. How many people do you know who have not gone to the gym since last January who insist, starting 1/1/14, they will exercise five times per week? Or maybe this person is you. (Exercise has been my failed resolution more than once!) The important thing is to be realistic. Resolutions that involve setting yourself up for failure are easily abandoned.

That’s not to say you could never exercise five times a week. You just need to work up to that rather than starting there. Will power is like a muscle – the more you engage it, the stronger it gets, but it requires training. You would not attempt to bench 200 pounds if you had never touched a weight before because you would get nowhere. Start with the smaller weights and work your way up. For me – these past few months I have been shirking my exercise schedule. I have my internship applications to thank for that. So for the new year, I am starting by going to the gym in my complex once per week, and I found a brief workout that can be done at home to be done before I shower.

Next, we have to remember to forgive ourselves when we fall short of our resolutions. I can’t tell you how many times I have committed to making a change in my life only to abandon it because I was falling short. Once, when trying to make healthier dietary choices, I read a quote that I now cannot find: Deciding to stop your diet because you did poorly that day is like dropping your cell phone and saying, “It’s probably broken. I may as well run it over with my car.”

My third and final tip for keeping a resolution is to make it quantifiable. Last year I made a resolution to finish my dissertation, and so I set a schedule to keep it. If I had just resolved to work on my dissertation, it would have been much more difficult to determine whether or not I was successful. Break it down for yourself and you are more likely to follow through.

So, to recap:

1. Keep it realistic.
2. Forgive yourself.
3. Be specific.

Now that you are all set to make and keep your resolutions for 2014, I want to throw in a plug for self-care. New Year’s resolutions tend to focus around self-improvement, which is wonderful, but sometimes at the cost of well-being, so I suggest throwing in at least one that is just for you. For me, I enjoy cooking but rarely make the time for it. In 2014, I intend to try two new recipes per month. I know I would probably fail if I tried to make cooking a part of my weekly ritual, and I know that a resolution to “cook more” would ultimately lead to one or two taco nights with my roommate and end there.

Welcome to 2014! What will you do to take care of yourself this year?