When you are a postgraduate research student, you will most likely be employed as a casual academic tutor. This means for about 5 months of the year, you will have no income (other than your scholarship if you are lucky enough to have one). The break between academic years is almost four months long (the mid-year break is almost 2 months long) so you have to entertain yourself with casual retail, administration or bar work until the semester starts again and you can resume teaching the wonderful undergraduate students.
Here are some strategies for surviving the break between academic years:
1. Government support. Some countries have some sort of government system to hand out money to poor people. In Australia, we are lucky enough to have Centrelink. This is a semi-privatised/contracted out system used to distribute government money. The problem with a privatised system, is that they strategically degrade, humiliate and undermine you for kicks. This means, that despite the high number of PhD graduates who end up in the dole queue, when you explain that you are a casual tutor between academic years to a Centrelink worker, they will invariably ask you whether you have finished high school. They may also insist you attend a Christian mission so that they may ‘assess’ you for ‘job readiness’. They see nothing wrong with canceling your payments if you express an ideological objection to being required to go to a religious organisation. Even when you cite the history of Western civilisation to illustrate that nothing good can come from anything called a ‘mission’. This means that at this time of year, around the nation, the despairing cry of “but I have a Masters degree…” can be heard from Centrelink offices far and wide.
2. Casual Retail Sales Assistant. One of the fabulous opportunities available to the graduate research student in the break between academic years is a career as a casual retail sales assistant. As an applicant for a casual retail sales assistant position, the graduate research student is required to show why they really want to work for that shop. Desperately. Passionately. Beyond all others. The application process will resemble a PhD proposal without the intellectual stimulation. Long, dull bureaucratic, and full of bullshit. If you are a successful applicant, you will then be lucky enough to be ‘trained’ for several days, or weeks, at reduced pay. ‘Training’ actually just means working, and being either ignored, or screamed at by the either a) 40-something trying to pull off 20-something gay man or b) 50-something trying to pull off steel grey hair battle axe woman. It may also include being required to pretend to work when there is nothing to do so that the overlord manager feels more secure about his or her micro-fascist dictatorship. Then there’s always the exciting treat of dealing with the general public, who are both more ignorant and more arrogant than the average undergraduate student.
3. Administration. A postgraduate research student can often find a wonderful job as an administrative assistant. These jobs are often seductively well-paid. They are a trap, and they make you want to die in a way that even the casual fury of retail can’t. It has something to do with doing a job without any purpose whatsoever. When you know that the world would be utterly unchanged whether the administration is done or not. It’s likely that other people in the office wouldn’t notice the difference.
4. Bartending. A career for the graduate research student that I have never personally pursued, but the late nights, tight tops, drugs and blatant sexual harassment perpetrated by both customers and fellow staff has always appealed. Maybe I’ll give that one a go next time around, because at least it’s probably fairly easy to get away with drinking on the job.
Just remember to document any jobs you apply for so that you can demonstrate your ‘job readiness’ to the Christian mission administering a government service as they remind you how useless and uselessly over-educated you are.