It wasn’t long ago, I can still recall the excitement of knowing I was successfully concluding a period within one of the most important parts of my life: education. I was –again– going through the final stage of writing a thesis, wrapping up some last-minute experiments, having to deal with writing conclusions and discussions, gathering data and justifying how everything made sense. Nothing new to all science grads. However, at the back of my mind I was twice as happier for realizing that a new time in my life had finally come. After almost 8 years in academia and a diploma in each hand I felt –and still feel, with some differences brought about by reality– I was ready to start living out the dream. Once more life has shown me things don’t always go according to plan.
Looking for jobs, doing interviews, reading dozens of books about resume writing and cover letter mastering, learning the thousands tricks they recommend to be savvy about, etc. I knew it! I knew I’d have to go through all this. Let’s be clear, I was not a complete naive dreamer expecting things to happen magically over completing a degree. I followed the situation very closely, I was aware of the great difficulties in landing a first job after graduation and I had examples of colleagues and friends having to go through such process too. However, it’s hard to realize how serious it is until one is actually experiencing it. How do we cope with the hundreds of applications sent and the almost non-existent responses? How to deal with the embarrassment of saying “none” when a hiring manager asks “how many years of experience do you have in the industry?”? We’re recent grads, we will have very little chance to gain any experience at all if we’re systematical and repeatedly denied the chance to start – from the very deep bottom maybe, but at least take the first step. I am not in possession of national statistics –for Canada– about employment rate among youth, though it would be very interesting for everyone to realize the high percentages of recent grads who struggle so hard to land a position. Sometimes not even in the exact area of their expertise but something close enough to let them at least be in the field.
Not long ago I read two stories which I felt entirely and sadly identified with. One was from a grad student from University of Victoria, BC and also a columnist for the Canadian job hunting engine Workopolis. In her article she described the enormous frustration her friends felt for not being able to land any other jobs that working at bars and restaurants with the majority of them holding Bachelors as well as Masters degrees. She mentioned the embarrassment of these young people when asked what they do for living, and ended her article with a pledge to all employers: “Grad students are out there waiting for you, hire them!” I could not agree more. The second story was from a Spanish student who’s currently living in London. He holds two undergraduate degrees and a Masters and is cleaning toilets in a famous and luxurious coffee shop. The level of disappointment he expressed in his writing was such that the story became viral in a few days spreading to most Spanish-speaking media.
Both are extremely touching testimonies for all those who are in this situation. We know what it feels like to devoting such huge amount of varied resources to a career that seems to only leave us with minimal-wage jobs. I won’t say there are people to be blamed about this, what I know though is that we live this reality and it’s ruining young people’s dreams and life expectations from the get go. I may be an idealist, but I would like to find the way to help people like the ones in these posts have real possibilities of pursuing better and more consistent careers, doing what they’re good at. This is because I believe in the need of not being alone, of counting on colleagues and mentors who boost our will and make us aim high, no matter what the challenge might be. Even when the economy is tough, and even if the system fails to include everyone, I am down for looking beyond and overcome these problems. There is a need to support each other, and it is a need that implies learning. I ask myself, are we ready for this?
So, my final conclusion will be a sort of a question. Do you know of other young professionals in other disciplines who are facing the same problems? Is it just as hard to land an entry-level job as an accountant or a graphic designer or an IT person? From personal experience with acquaintances and friends I don’t think so. It’s far more difficult in the science field. If others are living in the same world and still finding it less hard to get similar things, shouldn’t we learn something from that? What do you think? I would love to hear your opinions and perspectives on the subject. I hope this discussion helps us understand what we need to do from now on in order to change our reality. Not sure up to what extent, but something is better than nothing.