How do I get a good job--or, at least, a job that doesn't suck?

Those of you who worked full-time jobs while finishing your grad work–how did you do it? And how did things work out? Is it really hard–if not impossible–to go back to grad school or an academic life full-time if it takes you a while to get your research/writing done?

I’m ready to acknowledge that I am in a state of total burnout. I’m sick of my crappy TA job, working for a course that’s incredibly badly designed and not very well-run. I love to teach, and I like my students, but I just can’t put up with this anymore.

I’m not making progress on my thesis–not because I hate my research, or because I don’t want to finish, but because I don’t trust my advisor. The other people in the lab and I don’t seem mesh very well, either, despite my attempts to make the environment as nice as possible. I get this knot in my stomach every time I go into the lab. Not a good sign. And I’ve been in this program too long, and put way too much effort into my present research, to switch advisors or programs at this point.

I’ve been fighting this for quite a while now, but recent events have made it clear to me that it’s time to get a real job. I can always work on my thesis at night, in the lab while no-one’s there. I’d have less time if I had a real job, but I think the feeling of security–and maybe achievement, or at least of not being a loser–that comes with some getting paid decently would give me the energy to actually get the work done.

Here’s the problem–I have no idea what I’d have to offer to a prospective employer. I must have some abilities or skills that someone would want to hire me for. But I don’t have a clue what they are. AFAIK, everything I’ve been trained in and/or do at least semi-decently at is more or less useless outside of academia. I’ve been doing research in forest ecology. I know something–not much, really, but something–about forests, plants in forests, and insects in forests. I don’t think I can even really claim expertise in my own field, let alone in anything else that I do. I’d be willing to work in a field outside my professional training (such as it is). There are lots of things I love–and that maybe I do well–that have nothing whatsoever to do with forests, insects or plants. But I strongly doubt that anyone’s going to pay me to do them. I’m getting the feeling that the people I work with, feeling that I’m doing something really worthwhile, and having autonomy over my work are more important to me than anything else in a job, anyway.

So, really, I feel completely lost. All I know is that I’d like to make decent money and at least kind of enjoy my job from one day to the next while I’m working on graduating.

Any tips anyone could give me would be appreciated.

Gee, if you lived down here, I just filled a good part-time job that comes open periodically. It had been open for two months, too.

Sounds like you’re looking for a distraction from your responsibilities. Which isn’t a good idea. The job will only do what you’re expecting it to, namely take your mind further from where it belongs for the moment.

I don’t know how far along you are, but I get the feeling it’s several months from being done. Hunker down and make it happen. It’s within your grasp.

If you need a job for money, that’s a different story of course.

I’m going to disagree with Bill H. Your mental and physical health come first. The best way to start is to find out your school’s policy. When I was where you are, my school had a really sucky policy where grad students had to be full time (well you paid full time tuition no matter how many credits you took so the end result was the same) so there were no options for working and doing grad school part time over numerous years. You need to know what your school’s policy is in that regard before you consider giving up your TA-ship. Although for me, there came a point where grad school just wasn’t worth it, and I ended up leaving all together. Whatever you decide, good luck.

Bill H–No, I’m not at all looking for a distraction from my responsibilities. I’m looking for a way to fulfill them. In order to earn my degree, I need to feel at least semi-secure that I’m going to be able to have a not totally poor and anxiety-ridden lifestyle. Really, you can’t get much accomplished if you’re losing sleep over your crappy paycheck and exploitative working hours.

My thesis may be several months–like 5 or 6 months–from being done. Or it could be longer than that. Already this thing has turned out to be much, much more work than I bargained for, and it’s already required a lot more time than I had planned.

taxi78cab Thanks for the warning. As it turns out, my university gives students a lot of flexibility in their academic programs. One guy who used to be in my lab was a high-school teacher full time and finished his thesis at night. I’m thinking that if he could do it, I can too.

Honestly, if I could find a fun, interesting, and worthwhile way to make a living without finishing my thesis, I’d drop out, no question. For the moment, though, finishing up the work would mean more money for me when I graduate. Not to mention that I could then shift fields a little and work in Amazonian conservation, which I’d love.

Oh, maybe I misunderstood. Are you saying you currently work in a lab, you don’t like your job, and are considering pursuing another job? Then by all means, go for it.

I assumed the lab was part of your thesis work, and that getting a job was in addition to your existing schedule.