the crushing hopelessness of un/underemployment

You guys, I am so fucking tired of feeling worthless because I don’t have a full time job.

More than that, I’m so fucking tired of feeling like it is going to be a long uphill battle before things get better.

As you all know, I’ve been employed part-time or doing contract work since I graduated in March of this year. Some of it has been very fulfilling work–I really do enjoy teaching, and have found ways to enjoy it even when the material in question is something awful like SAT prep, and I’ve had a few interesting freelance gigs–but it isn’t enough.

Now that the busiest part of the year for test prep has passed, I’m back to barely scraping together enough hours to pay my rather minimal bills, and sometimes missing that mark altogether. I spend a huge chunk of my time chasing down new work: I am completely set up to take private tutoring jobs online and in-person, I regularly apply to new tutoring agencies/afterschool centers/etc, and I badger my supervisors at PrepNow as often as I can within reason, and I taught a tutor-training workshop for them just yesterday. But despite my efforts, I’m running hard just to stay in place.

And frankly, tutoring was never supposed to be the long-term plan, at least not in this unstable, messy, never-know-if-I’m-going-to-get-enough-hours-this-month kind of way. I wanted, by this point, to have some kind of job with a completely reliable paycheck. But as much as I hate to admit it, I’m just not getting any closer to that. I told myself that if this was still so unsteady and frustrating by the end of the year, I’d change course somehow… and it’s starting to look like that’s pretty much the case.

Outside of tutoring, I regularly apply to just about any full-time position that is remotely suitable… grant writing internships, content writer gigs, internet researcher jobs, administrative positions at science-y or education-related companies, teaching or curriculum-writing jobs, and so on. I’ve pretty much completely given up on the usual suspects for those short on skills/experience–retail/food service gigs–because I got tired of complete radio silence and/or assertions that I’m both “overqualified” and “lack experience”. I also have given up on arguably the only job that my education technically prepared me for–lab technician–because I also never got callbacks on those jobs, probably because the last lab job I had ended poorly and my ex-boss is a well-known young superstar researcher at UCLA, but also because I’m hardly unique in being an advanced-degree-holding scientist out of work.

Usually those full-time job apps go nowhere, but occasionally I get an interview. And often those interviews go very well… and then nothing comes of it. Just last week, I interviewed for a content-writing position that seemed like a perfect fit. The interviewer and I got along brilliantly, which I took as a good sign as she would have been my direct supervisor. And technically, it isn’t too late for that job to come through, as I’ve yet to receive a “no”….buuuuut last Monday they said I’d hear “by the end of the week” and when that didn’t happen and I checked in by email yesterday, I was told I’d hear by “the end of the day”. Again, nothing. Best-case scenario, I’m clearly dealing with a company that doesn’t care about this position or that doesn’t know what they want, which is bad enough, but more likely I’m just out.

I really want to be a hopeful, optimistic person about all this. 

I want to say that it’s okay, the next job will work out. I’ll get more experience, and eventually someone will want me. Or I’ll make up my mind to pursue a path that involves more schooling, and I’ll start down that path and THEN I’ll have a job. But realistically, I spend so much of my time and emotional energy chasing down scraps of income and applying for/interviewing jobs I probably won’t get… that I’m not actually doing any of the things that will get me out of this hole. Despite repeated promises to the contrary, I’m not writing a science blog. I’m barely even managing to post here, because I don’t want to just get on here and whine and I feel like that’s all I have to offer a lot of the time.

I feel like I’m being constantly bombarded with reasons to despair. There is a steady stream of bad news about the economy, unemployment, the state of science funding, the state of education funding… all of which make me feel like even if I totally had all my shit together, I might STILL be fucked.  Adding to that a daily dose of begging for work… is it really surprising that I’m worn out?

So anyhow, I didn’t write this post just to whine. I have a plan, sort of. It may not get me any closer to stable employment, but it just might make me start to feel like a useful human being again. Maybe.

Provided the above-mentioned content-writer job fails to come through, I am going to spend the next month not trying to get new work. If I get handed new students or freelance work through any of my existing gigs/relationships, I’ll take them. And if any full-time job opportunities that I’d actually be excited to take fall into my lap, I’ll go ahead and apply. But otherwise, I’m going to spend my time producing content.

Yes, this was what I was supposed to be doing anyways. I’m not actually creating any new free time in which to write, I’m just making the conscious decision to stop spending that time fretting about not having enough work and scrambling after any whisper of work that passes my way.

The goals here are pretty modest. I just want to have a few more decent clips to send people for writing-related jobs/gigs/internships/etc. And I know that a month isn’t a very long time and at the end of it I may very well have to go back to applying for everything. And most likely, come January I will be frantically applying for summer internships and/or academic programs for next year.

But honestly, I have to try SOMETHING different. I only really get one shot at this, because the TINY financial cushion I am harvesting to pull this off will be depleted very quickly.

Here goes nothing…


  1. Keely-

    I totally get this. I spent large swathes of my adult life un/underemployed. I always managed to get by, somehow, but rarely was the survival a joyful process. I don’t have any advice to offer, except to say that it passes. It does, really. You are a top-notch communicator, an intelligent science-minded person, a hard worker (hell yes, if you’ve managed to stay organized enough to blog, tutor, and most of all keep trying from day to day,) and someone with vision and ideas.

    Having all that stuff is a guarantee that it WILL get better, this stage will pass. I love your writing, I love your content, so the notion that you’ll spend a month doing more output is happy news for me. Thank you!

  2. Hugs, Keely!

    I’m on the exact opposite end of the spectrum right now. I started my new job off and I was thrilled and excited and happy….but that wore off very quickly and turned into me being tear-my-hair-out anxious over the demands of my boss–who is patronizing, often mean, and has completely unrealistic ideas about the amount of PR one person is capable of generating in an 8 hour day (that, of course, did not stop her from encouraging me to come in 30 min to an hour early and stay late each day in order to lessen my “learning curve”).

    I feel awful because I come home and rant to Javi or my parents, and I haven’t been blogging at all in the last 2 weeks. I imagine I’m not particularly fun to talk to right now.

    So, y’know, the joys of actually being employed are over-rated too, depending on where you end up. I’ve been at this new job for about 2.5 months, and in that space of time 2 people have quit. It’s scary.

    If you do commit to this month of content-writing, 1) I will be super thrilled because I love this blog, and 2) I will be super proud of you because I know you usually write when inspired as opposed to writing daily, so it will be a good exercise for you in that respect. Also, I don’t know if you really need a “science blog.” I think you should just incorporate science into this blog. I had trouble trying to carve out a niche for my blog when I started, and then one day I was like “fuck it, I’ll write about whatever I want”, and that seems to be going fairly well. So don’t be too quick to pigeon-hole your blog. Let it grow into what it will become.

    I reallyreallyreallyreally hope this content writing job comes through for you. Try not to be too pessimistic about it yet—a lot of offices take FOREVER to get all the new employee paperwork and shit taken care of. It took over a month for everything to get sorted from my interview to my job offer for my last job (the secretary one), and that was a huge, national company.

    Many Jedi-Hugs to you! I’m thinking of you! Fingers crossed!

    • Hey Kait!

      I’m sorry to hear that the new job is not so awesome. That really sucks.

      I’m definitely aware that just having a job isn’t any kind of guarantee of happiness. Right now my girlfriend is working hard to switch careers entirely because hers makes her miserable, even though it pays decently. In fact, the pay cut that she will eventually have to take when she makes the leap is a big part of why I’m so anxious about getting to be more financially stable myself–we live together, and currently she covers me when things are tight a lot of the time, but she can’t keep that up forever if she makes this switch. So yea… right now I’m desperate to be better employed because the constant money anxiety makes me insane and less productive overall, but I know that getting A job is just step one of many towards finding a satisfying career.

      As for the needing-a-science-blog thing, you are right that I could just put it here. These days I’m not so worried about this blog having a narrow focus… I kind of write about whatever I feel like. My motivation to put the science stuff elsewhere stems more from my desire to be able to link to the science blog for professional purposes. Obviously once people have that blog, it isn’t hard to find this one–and really, they’re going to google me and find this anyways–so it isn’t about privacy… it’s more that I want potential employers to be able to browse through just my science stuff easily, and not get distracted by random tales of me crying through yoga.

      As for the job… well, they told me MONDAY that I’d hear by the end of the day, and it’s two days later and I’ve heard NOTHING, not even a “sorry, we’re talking longer to decide than we thought, but we haven’t forgotten about you!” email, so at this point I feel like at the very least I have to operate under the assumption that that ship has sailed. If they call me in a week and offer me the job I’ll still be open to it, but I’m not holding my breath.

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  5. I just wanted to say that I know exactly how you feel. I graduated in International Communication July last year, and I`ve been looking for a job for 1,5 year by now. I`ve had two crappy jobs (in a shop and at a call center), where I`ve been sexually intimidated, degraded, and downright bullied, while already very low on self esteem and have ended up in therapy by now (for other reasons as well). I`m running out of savings FAST, and though I have a temporary 6-week long job, it`s going to be barely enough to get me out of debt on my bank account, let alone give me some more financial padding to last on for a bit.

    I, like you, spend a lot of time on my blog (and my youtube channel in my case), trying to build up something there, but it`s not earning me any money so on the short term it`s not any help whatsoever.

    I feel worthless, stupid, like I`m doing something wrong but can`t figure out what, I feel crushed under all the debt and the responsibilities and it really really sucks.

    And I`m sorry this turned into a rant about me XD

    I did the same thing as you in October though. October was my month of “fuck this I`m not going to do anything”. It was pretty great, except that I neglected my blog and vlog as well. But I did get some more energy and motivation, and though things are still ridiculously hard, I feel more equipped to handle it now. I hope your month of time off will do the same (hopefully even more) for you 🙂

  6. Pingback: Career choices, identity, and being many things at once | a little dose of keelium

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