Monday, June 3, 2013

Disconsolate Desdemona With an Early Thirsty on The Dissertation Tip.

I'm not yet finished my doctorate, out of funding, and need work to support myself so that I actually *can* finish this thing. I know the degree likely won't lead to an academic job, but I do really want to finish it, and this will take at least a year or so. Applying for adjunct positions (which I continue to do) has been a complete wash -- there are too many people with already-completed doctorates, and years (or even decades) of teaching experience going after the same jobs. My TA experience seems to count for nothing, in spite of publications, a polished portfolio, teaching-training courses, and great evaluations from both students and supervising faculty.

So, I am applying for "regular-person jobs", and, so far, am getting nowhere. You would think that doctoral-level study in a writing-heavy discipline would be good experience for working as a receptionist, at least? Nope, not without years of experience and a diploma in Administrative Something-or-Other. What about retail? Nope, you need experience there too, and, even moreso, you apparently have to be very young and conventionally attractive. (When you inhabit a socially stigmatized body, one that causes people to view you as inferior, broken, lazy, and stupid in spite of your achievements, doors slam shut pretty damn fast, and hard.)

So, what about back-room types of jobs, where the public doesn't have to see me, then? No luck there either yet. I've taken every relevant career-skills workshop I can, and have had professionals review my resume and cover letters, so the problem doesn't seem to lie there. I'm starting to wonder if it's only possible for people who are already wealthy, or attractive enough to get married to an employed spouse, to actually complete a doctorate? I'm neither.

Q: What, then, can I actually do to support myself through the already-onerous process of writing a dissertation? What did *you* do? Or your colleagues?


  1. A good friend literally begged family to loan her money. And she lived in a very cheap place in the Bronx----not a good neighborhood at all. Just thought I'd throw it out there. I lived at home with my parents and cleaned their house and various offices as my job (they paid me to clean their house on top of the free room and board----definitely a sympathy move. Thanks mom and dad.) through my Masters. It was horrible though, and one of many reasons why I did not finish with the doctorate. Don't ask why I did not just move in with fiancé. I don't understand it myself. Old country issues.

    Actually, you could probably get work as an office cleaner. It sucks a lot less than cleaning houses (I've done both, not just for my parents.) Try cold calling offices for the cleaning gig. I did that when I was in graduate school. You get turned away a lot but also some surprising yesses after a while.

  2. Not exactly "back-room" but online teaching is how I subsisted -- then, and now.

    Face time is usually a non-issue. (Some programs have face-to-face "residencies" but that is more common with graduate programs.)

    I can't vouch for the availability; I did this 10+ years ago. I'd sense you might hit the same glut that you're encountering with the on-campus adjunct gigs.

    But -- here's the blessing and curse -- I'd also surmise that the turnover in the online programs, especially the for-profits, is pretty high because too many of them are sliding (if have not already slid) to just above diploma mill quality.

    If you are able to get in, I would encourage having a firm exit strategy so as to not having to grapple with your soul being sucked dry by an assembly line quantity over quality work ethic.

    (Yup, full post on the this theme in production!)

  3. My sister cashiered at a grocery store. Apparently, mild competence can get you promoted quickly. Many are unioned with near-livable wages.

    Alternatively, network the crap out of life. A job posting in a public location (like the internet) gets a bajillion responses, and weeding is a pain int he ass. A common method of weeding is to throw out everyone who didn't get an undergraduate degree specifically in the field (Where the Tea-Party did a B.A. in Academic Counseling come from?)

    Good Luck.

  4. Join the testing-industrial complex, especially on the question-writing end (look at Pearson, ETS, whoever's producing the MCAT these days). The money is pretty good, and skill (i.e. the ability to create and defend a single right answer and appropriate distracters) are what's valued. Downside: it can take a while to get paid, you have to pay self-employment tax (the other c. 7.5% of social security), and work is by no means steady (but might become more so if you were juggling several such gigs). Grading written responses to standardized tests is also a possibility, but I believe both pay and conditions are worse (on the other hand, this may be less mentally taxing, and you don't necessarily need an additional mental challenge while trying to finish the diss.). Upside: any experience with testing/assessment is probably a plus these days, both in terms of getting an academic job, and in terms of looking at related alternative careers. Downside: you may feel like you've gone over to the dark side (I was reasonably comfortable with the purpose of the graduate admission test for which I wrote, and thought the questions I wrote accurately tested a crucial skill -- reading comprehension. But that was 10 years ago, and, although I continue to see some value in some standardized tests, I'd probably be a bit more leery today).

    If you're really mostly looking for a steady (but small) paycheck, have you looked into jobs involving care for the very young, the very old, and/or the disabled? They pay terribly (and are often physically demanding, possibly a problem from what you've said), but the demand is definitely there. If you have a car, you might also be able to find (or make) slightly more palatable versions of same: running errands, taking elderly people to doctor's appointments, children to after-school activities, etc. (and perhaps using the down time involved to write?). And, of course, there's tutoring, substitute teaching (which may or may not require certification), and/or private-school teaching (which usually doesn't; see ).

    Full disclosure: I managed to finish in part because of family support (mostly a small inheritance from a grandmother). I agree with the "finish what you started" mentality (and am still glad I did finish), but definitely think in terms of finishing as efficiently as possible. And, either concurrently or sequentially, explore non-academic career paths ( comes highly recommended).

    1. One more thought on independent schools: they tend to hire through recruiting firms (paid by the employer, not the job candidate). Bella recommends Carney Sandoe in Maybelle's thread below: . Having spent some time in such schools (and applied for jobs in such places, admittedly somewhat ambivalently, at two points in my life), I suspect you might run into the "socially stigmatized body" problem there, too (they often have very sports/fitness-oriented cultures). On the other hand, if you're qualified to teach in a harder-to-fill field (basically, science/math rather than English/History/Language/arts), you might have a chance, especially as things get down to the wire in July/August. They also might offer substituting/tutoring opportunities, which are also likely to have a lower bar to entry.

      Also, "writing-heavy discipline" suggests ability to write. Technical, grant, or other business-oriented writing (and/or temp/contract agencies that provide same) might be possibilities.

    2. Yes! All the advice I gave to Maybelle, I also mean for you! Here it is:

      Have you tried tutoring for your local school systems? Even though many of them have a requirement that the tutor be state certified for secondary ed, many times they are desperate and will take people who don't have that but have other qualifications. The pay was pretty good when I did that, per hour. How about SAT prep? Or SAT tutoring? Now is the season when the little darlings who did not do so well (and their parents) are getting antsy. I live in the prep school capital of the world, but there are prep schools everywhere. You might try getting in touch with Carney Sandoe, a firm that has a great track record (a few of our adjuncts have found jobs through them) for prep school placement nationally. They have regional job fairs, like MLA. Yay, right. But it could be something else to try. I do not work for or profit from Carney Sandoe (just FYI).

  5. Temp agency?

    If you live near a big university, go see their human resources office. I worked many temp jobs in grad school this way. There always seemed to be tons of part-time or temporary jobs available.

    I worked as a substitute in a public school while I was displaced during Katrina. I'm not certified, and it didn't seem to matter. It was actually decent money for low-maintenance work that allowed lots of time for reading.

    As has been said, for private schools Carney, Sandoe is the big player, but there are many other placement services. Go here for a list:
    If you hate teaching lazy, sullen college students, then independent school students will seem like a dream come true.

    Best of luck.

    1. Ah, yes, substitute teaching ... did that too.
      (Well, did that post-doc, but that's a WHOLE other story.)

      I actually had a teaching certificate from before my return to grad school and can attest to Surley's understanding -- my credential earned me a whopping $10/day more over non-certified teachers.

      You might have to cast a wide to get away from credentialing issues. I applied to the first, second, and third largest districts in my region. District #2 wouldn't look at my application unless I submitted a packet of original transcripts, etc. District #3 needed me to make personal appearances before the school committee.

      But District #1 hired me on the spot with only copies of my certificate & transcripts.

      If you choose to pursue this, I had spent nearly 10 years teaching high school. But as a substitute I found middle schoolers (6 - 8 graders) much easier to deal with. They're old enough that they can self-regulate after being given some direction, but they're still (mostly) young enough to have some deference to authority.

    2. Yes to temp agencies. Working for Kelly and Volt got me through much of grad school. As a writer, you probably have good keyboard skills and experience with MS Office applications. Some "temp" positions are fairly long-term (months) and some are very brief (a week). The brief ones are good for checking out different office climates, and if you get a sucky position or boss, you know it won't last long. The longer ones are good for that steady paycheck.

      The agency takes a sizable chunk off the paycheck, of course, and usually has penalties for the employers if they hire you out-of-agency within 6 months or something. But employers do that (or did that) all the time anyway.

  6. Have you considered checking your University's HR website for FULL time jobs as a staff member? If you are working on your phd that means you at least have your bachelor’s degree, if not a masters. This means you have more than enough education experience for almost any entry level university staff position. Plus, all of your higher education experience that means basically crap in the private sector is actually a huge bonus when applying for university staff jobs. Also, many university’s offer scholarships, flex time, etc., to their staff members who are taking classes.

    Furthermore, while academic jobs are very hard to come by (and becoming more so by the day), staff and administrative jobs are much easier to get and advance in. Especially if you are able to finish your phd! Once you have your foot in the door, and get a few years of experience, you might find yourself climbing the administrative ranks pretty quickly inside a university.

    I speak from some experience on this matter, having to support myself with a full time staff job while in grad school that has turned into a full-blown, and very rewarding, career. Sure, it’s not the same thing as being a professor, but I get to work with in academia and my office has a nice view of the quad! And it beats being a cashier at McDonalds!

  7. Private freelance academic tutoring to wealthy people's kids. Seriously. $50/hour is not at all unheard of in many places, and some tutors even make triple digits per hour. Advertise anywhere--Craigslist, private school newspaper--and use your academic excellence as a selling point. Tout your degrees and honors, and make yourself sound worth a premium price.

    There's gold in them thar freelance tutoring gigs.

  8. I guess nobody wants to talk about lap-dancing.

    1. I'm usually up (so to speak) for a conversation about lap-dancing.

      Oh -- you mean as a means of paying for grad school. Apparently there's a strip club in Providence that has provided employment for many a Brown student. It's supposed to be good money. But Desdemona has indicated that her physique is not the type generally valued in that line of work.

  9. I can sympathize, Desdemona. Currently my wife and I have a huge question mark as to what we're going to do for income over the next year due to coming up empty in the academic and (so far) non-academic job market. I hope that you can figure something out that lets you finish your diss while still retaining your sanity. At the very least, I know I'll be trying out some of the suggestions made so far in this thread.

    It does make grad school feel like a huge joke, though. I have a relative who flamed out of undergrad but who makes a pretty nice dime at his current job despite the fact that he's not all that bright. The fact that he has better career prospects than me has been the motivation for many a glass of whisky.

  10. It's possible to augment low wages with grants for dissertation-writing. One of my grad school jobs was finding a grant for a more advanced grad student. There are many, many grants with very few applicants.

    Cast your net wide for these. Are you in XXX ethnic group? From YYYY, in state ZZZ? Did either parent do DDDD for a living? Does your topic involve anything remotely related to pork products? There may be a grant for you, or two or three.

    The time investment in writing grant applications pays better if you apply for lots of them. After you've written the first few applications, for the rest you can usually copy and paste text you've already polished.

  11. Look for funders at The Foundation Center in New York City. You can do it online! Yay! Here is the link:

    I worked for a non profit while an undergrad in NYC and that is how I found out about this wonderful place. Use the search functions. Call them. They will help you find those less applied for grants. It is really almost like a miracle. Put in your specs, and find money!

    1. Bella, it looks like you now need to pay to access their databases. Is there something I'm missing?

    2. Oh..crap. It was not like that back in the day-----you could just walk in or log in. They must have changed it. Did you try calling and just asking if there is a way to get help for cheap or free? Back in the old days, at least, they were very nice, very helpful and very understanding that people had no money----that is why they were looking for grants.

  12. I appreciate reading all the advice from others, and send sympathy, Desdemona. While I was between masters' and Ph.D. I spent some time doing market research, starting on the phones, and was allowed to apply and promoted to a sort of research associate/Excel manipulator before too long. It's not physically taxing work, OK pay, and you don't absorb much more abuse from people on the phone than you probably do in some teaching positions. And naturally, you're not visible. Good luck.