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, 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 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.