Seven jobs

August 5, 2016

Someone asked about your first seven jobs on the twitts:

It’s especially interesting to me because I have on again, off again conversations with a peer or two about how the employment history of academic trainees makes a difference. In essence my position boils down to thinking the more you’ve learned to work hard in shitty jobs, the more you are able to see academic science as a fine privilege that deserves a little bit of hard work. And the less you see it as your entitlement by birthright that functions as an optional vocation that should reward you with a comfortable life regardless of performance.
(#7firstjobs might be entertaining)

My answer was:

1) baby sitter: Probably the first thing I ever did for cash. 11 years old? maybe? It was basically the covering for the parents going out on a date type of deal. So, very easy work putting the kids to bed and watching television for a few hours. We didn’t have a teevee so that was part of the compensation as far as I was concerned.

2) lawn mower: I always mostly enjoyed the mowing of my own lawn as a kid. A straightforward job with a clear endpoint. And you could look at your work and see a difference. So I mowed a few lawns around the neighborhood. Not totally sure start and end dates but lets say before the age of 12. Pretty easy money.

3) forestry labor: pulling christmas trees out of the woods in knee high snow, fertilizing and trimming trees in the summer. tree tagging. maple sugaring. clearing stuff from place a to place b. off and on from about 8 or 10 to mid teens, I think. Learned all about getting the thing done, no excuses*, in this stint. And about actual hard work. And, eventually, something about the rewards of being the guy the boss can trust to get the thing accomplished.

4) table waiter: for a few years I worked summers at a Gordon Conference location. three meals a day and all the breaks in between to screw around with the other kids who worked there. high school years…..MAN we had fun. One summer at a real restaurant- better money, shorter overall hours, but way less fun.

5) contractor crew: Dumb labor of “move all this heavy shit over to where the skilled people are” to start. Also “hold this”. Eventually learned a little bit of framing, sheetrocking, insulation and some other stuff. Formative job for sure. 10 h days, 4 days a week. Work, home, eat, shower, sleep, off to work again. Trying to get in my bike training- remember that post work scene in Breaking Away? Like that. Working next to 40-50 y old guys for whom this was all it was ever going to be. Boss who rode you no matter the fact you were a dumb laborer (in pay) because he expected you to act like an experienced carpenter. Another really clear lesson about being the guy who gets shit done- my friend joined the crew at same time and was fired in two weeks. Ended a bust ass exhausting summer and went back to school where I wrote a tuition check for essentially the entire amount I had earned all summer (lesson learned, Dad, lesson learned).

6) dishwasher: really brief stint in a nasty, cramped kitchen of a pretty chi chi resort restaurant. The meals we got when on shift were phenomenal, but the work…I may never have been so grimy in my life before or since. Had some exp with industrial dishwashing due to number 4 but…ugh. This blew.

7) music festival roustabout: Built staging, ran spotlights, picked up the talent from the airport. Don McLean (American Pie fame) was an asshole. Remaining Mommas and Poppas were cool. Bonnie Rait concert was amazing.

How about you, folks? What were your first seven paying gigs?

*One of my favorite lines, issued in the context of putting hay into pickemuptrucks, from the boss of this outfit (who is kind of uncle-like in my development as a man): “Don’t wish it up there, Randy!”.

42 Responses to “Seven jobs”

  1. aspiring riffraff Says:

    1) Grader- When I was about 7 my high-school teacher father realized he could give me $1 to grade all of his multiple choice or fill in the blank exams. When I hit about 11 he realized I could sort the essays (he taught history) into piles of “really good” “not good at all” and “in between”. My pay was raised to $2 at this point. I now realize how underpaid I was.

    2) Library assistant. Shelved books, helped out in toddler arts and crafts, basically did whatever the real librarians wanted me to do. I still love libraries.

    3) baby-sitter. I did this routinely for many families in my neighborhood, as well as my own siblings. Made a killing at it. And got to eat as much popcorn as I wanted.

    4) Grocery store clerk. This was fantastic experience. Learned a lot about how stores function, how it feels to have to punch a clock, and how many different types of people end up in such a position. Got my first taste of being the “reliable one” here. Also, my Spanish improved significantly.

    5) Finance office of the grocery store. Basically low-level accounting. Know a lot about how stores process checks and credit cards, and a bit about the banking industry. I also learned a lot about how to please a boss from overhearing the managers chatting. This job actually came with a lot of responsibility, which my teenage self was very proud of.

    6) Lab tech. Did dishes, made solutions and media, poured plates, racked pipette tips, took out the trash. Once a month, got to pull the emergency shower. My performance here got me my first undergrad stint as a researcher in a lab, and got me on the radar of a lot of the department faculty for whose classes I prepped stuff for.

    7) Tutor. My undergrad university had a great peer tutoring system set up. I was the main Biology tutor.


  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    This is the most revealing post you’ve ever published about yourself.


  3. S P Says:

    Newspaper route (ages 7-14), jeweler (14), fast food (16), street painter (18), dish washer (18), food server (21), technician #7firstjobs

    I agree with your sentiment that having worked in undesirable jobs in the past makes you grateful for an academic job now.


  4. I think I only had two paying jobs before the academic ones came along. When I was in high school and just starting college I worked at a fast food place. Then I realized that I didn’t want to keep driving from my college campus to this restaurant, so I got a job fundraising for my school, which I kept the rest of the time I was an undergrad. I got very good at talking with strangers on the phone and asking them for money. I think these jobs are miserable in the rest of the world, but in colleges — or at least at my school — this was a good and desired job. People had the ability to set their own schedules to some degree and could earn bonus money for doing particular things (getting large pledges, having someone pay with a credit card, etc.). The people we called also often enjoyed talking with us, or at least weren’t often rude.


  5. Physician Scientist Says:

    1. Babysitting
    2. Mowing lawns
    3. McDonald’s cashier- in retrospect, the best job – taught me to focus and work hard
    4. Shoe sales
    5. Pool Cleaner
    6. HHMI undergraduate summer fellowship
    7. MSTP student
    8. Residency – an ass kicking
    9. Post-doc – an ass kicking, but better than residency
    10. Faculty


  6. Rebecca Riggins (@Prof_Riggins) Says:

    I had a variety, and there’s really something to be said for that. Babysitter, data entry/secretarial for an advertising firm, and carpenter’s assistant in high school. The latter was the coolest – I’ll never get to help build a walk-in humidor again! College brought 3 more: waitressing (I was horrible), work study data entry/secretarial at our admissions office, then work study in our Chem department (autoclaving, cleaning glassware, taking inventory). Then I was a sailing instructor up until I started grad school.


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    CPP- dare I ask what you’ve learned that you didn’t already know?


  8. Doctor D Says:

    Roofer — lugged shingles up the ladder in Kentucky heat
    Tacker — made small welds at a ship yard building barges on the Ohio River. Declined chewing tobacco.
    Gas station attendant — hated the job but learned to respect coworkers and customers
    Loading dock — company was sold after 3 months
    Stockboy — decided to go to grad school when offered a position in the manager training program.
    Bicycle mechanic — did this for three years during grad school important source of income.


  9. becca Says:

    1) Assistant art teacher. My long time art teacher started at a new facility and needed someone to herd the small ones down to the restroom and back without getting lost. I got $10/hour and extra art lesson time.
    2) Model for figure drawing class (clothed). Sometimes in conjunction with 1) but not very often (kid art classes only did figure drawing occasionally).
    3) Babysitter. We had some kind of a community organization that wanted to offer babysitting during their meeting, so it was about the lowest level of responsibility imaginable- just go get the Moms in the next room if something happened and make sure everyone stays in one place and isn’t insanely loud or hitting anyone.
    4) Lifeguard at a summer camp. Much easier than being a camper at the same summer camp (as I had been a couple years before), since I both got paid and got out of work-projects (that’s where I learned industrial dishwasher operation, how to wield a machete and how to put in drywall). I did not do well at this role, I was not prepared to be an authority figure off the beach (ON the beach was no problem).
    5) Undergrad research fellow. I was… rather extremely bad. Had no idea how to ask for help and felt so awful for everything I didn’t know.
    6) Library assistant for a tiny specialized science library. This involved mostly biking around to the 30 campus libraries and photocopying articles, purging obscure reports on arsenic in water, and making small talk with my awesome librarian boss. Best job ever, though I do remember biking in some unpleasant weather.
    7) Greenhouse plant waterer/laboratory glasswear washer/plant root weigher. The grunt work in a soybean disease lab. I really liked two things about this: the actual science (even if I didn’t get to do it), and hanging out in the greenhouses. They were always warm and bright and plant smelling.


  10. Ewan Says:

    1. Paper boy. Competitive to get the ‘best’ (i.e. longest but best-paying) route. In retrospect, massively exploited :). Hated this but loved having some – any – money. Weeks with multiple inserts paid extra but were a real pain… age 11-12

    1b. Babysitter. I suspect that the majority of folks did this at least a few times. Best was when they were old enough to do stuff like teach chess. Never a major job though.

    2. Shop assistant. First place I ever earned a pension or interacted with human resources: Marks & Spencer. Posh for a supermarket b/c adjunct of a department store. First place I got in trouble for dislike of rules with which I disagreed also 🙂 – I could do the price math in my head faster than customers could pay, so I used to tell customers waiting in line what their total would be – some of them complained and I was forced to stop. [Apparently they thought I was making it up even when the till backed me up.] I did get one girlfriend by working there: she thought I was cute or something when I served her, so came back through to ask me out!

    3. Petrol chemist. The M&S gig got me through sixth form; then I took a year off, the second half of which was gainful employment. This was the first of two jobs, initially obtained through a temp agency: developing additives to replace lead in petrol and improve performance. Interesting stuff – most vivid memory is having a very small number of 1.44″ floppy disks available so that critical data would often get wiped.

    4. Thermal paper chemist. Somewhat better pay and conditions than the petrol job, lots of TiO2: trying to make better coatings for the paper reels used in cash registers, calculators, etc. I felt very guilty handing in my notice – they treated me very well and saw my decision to go off to Uni as a betrayal really.

    5. Lego builder. I was lucky enough to go to undergrad (i) in the UK and (ii) when grants were still a thing*, so only needed to work during the summer: this was the first gig. At a big Lego expo, staffing the child-play booth and helping kids to make what they desired. By the end of the summer, well past the point of saying ‘no, not another racecar, that’s boring. How about an alien helium collector instead’?

    [* Single biggest factor in having freedom to pursue science and then academia: emerging from education debt-free.]

    6. Shampoo chemist. Hired out of undergrad to make medicines by P&G, turn up to be told I’m reassigned to haircare. Second clear example of failing to follow bureaucratic rules – does the colour of my tie really matter when I am working in a lab all day?! – and relief on both sides when I met a girl, fellow P&G employee, and followed her across the Atlantic to go to grad school.

    7. Grad student. And the rest is history.


  11. Crystal Voodoo Says:

    1. Babysitter (Age 11-17).
    2. Retail (Age 15-17). First at a major department store chain that went belly up (this is when I learned how to recognize a sinking ship) and then at a national housewares chain. Learned how to not be a giant douche to people.
    3. Paid undergrad researcher (Age 17-21). Went to school at a PUI, so my training was a lecture on what we were looking for, a protocol, and the location of the fire extinguisher. There weren’t any grad students, postdocs, or lab mates, so I had to wing it. I spent half my time on the phone with Biorad technical support trying to troubleshoot my protocols and the other half flailing about like an imbecile, so basically I was completely prepared for academia.
    4. Work study for the grant administrator of our department (Age 18). I learned the intricacies of bureaucracy and grant finances. I also learned that there are some people you can’t ever please. It is the only job I have ever been fired from (not technically fired, but I was told to take some time off to study for finals a month before finals).
    5. Science tutor (Age 19-21). I worked for the University at the Tutoring Center, so I ended up covering all the sciences whether I took the class or not. Learned how to pick out the intricacies of an unknown scientific field on the fly and speak intelligently about it (which is pretty much my job now).
    6. Grad school supplemented with under-the-table retail work.
    7. Post doc.


  12. gingerest Says:

    Babysitting, fast food (cinnamon buns but not the chain you think of), catering assistant, biology stockroom assistant, library research assistant, biology stockroom assistant again. Oh, and somewhere at the beginning I had a job at a car wash that my father made me quit before I even worked a shift.


  13. gingerest Says:

    Oh, and I mowed lawns and watered people’s gardens for a summer near the beginning, too.


  14. wally Says:

    1. babysitter
    2. pre-kinder day camp counselor
    3. swimming instructor
    4. receptionist
    5. warehouse worker (first and only female)
    6. accounts receivable
    7. photographer at Great America
    (all of these were jr high through high school)


  15. Philapodia Says:

    1) McDonald’s cook/register/janitor : I learned that customer service sucks and couldn’t eat at McD’s for about 10 years after.
    2) Factory worker : Learned that factory work is fine for some but was boring for me. It was nice to see the results of your work in a day rather than in 6-8 months like with grants, though.
    3) Machine shop apprentice : I learned that I was actually good with my hands and that it’s fun to cut huge slabs of metal with a circular saw. They wouldn’t let me touch the CNC machine, however, because I was just a dumb kid with a mullet.
    4) Lab tech : By chance I saw an ad for a UG research assistant position on campus and thought “why not!”. Turns out that was a turning point in my life.
    5) Grad student: “it’s not a job, it’s an adventure!” they told me. Bullshite….
    6) Medical research lab rat (on the sly during grad school) : Took some drugs and got bled /peed in a cup afterwords. When I was doing it to help buy my ramen I didn’t think about what was going on. I, like Jonas in “Twister”, was just in it for the money and free food. In hindsight it would be interesting to look at the PK/PD data that they generated from the ~20 blood draws they took from me each time. Also, to ask about the third nipple that developed afterwards…
    7) Post-doc : Indentured servitude. ’nuff said.


  16. --bill Says:

    paperboy/lawn mower/undergrad lab assistant/taxi driver/undergrad TA/grad TA/faculty

    I took a year off school, drove a cab 60hrs/week….that sucked and convinced me that being able to get an academic job was a gift that I ought to take advantage of….


  17. Dr. E. Schaffhausen Says:

    1) Concessions at minor league ballpark
    2) Delivery van driver
    3) Carpenter
    4) Dishwasher
    5) Bike mechanic
    6) Paralegal
    7) Lab tech
    Having real jobs is invaluable to learning:
    A) To have self-control. Either do the crappy job – or quit. If you stick around and won’t do the work, everyone will hate you. (If you stick around but don’t publish, learn new approaches, branch out into new fields, or submit grant applications but bitch and moan all day – go pound sand)
    B) To differentiate between what are supposed to do and what you really need to do. People say lots of s*%t but there are only a few things that actually matter. (You will not get promoted on the basis of your sterling community service)
    C) To know what you can get away with and what you can’t. (Only way you can purchase what you actually need at a PU)
    D) To manage your own time. At any given moment nobody is watching but there will be point at which this stuff needs to be done. (If you sit on that paper for months…..)
    E) To not slavishly respect authority. Higher-ups can be smart or rock dumb. (Every Vice Associate Senior Executive Dean (Acting) for Collecting a Salary will be a moron to be ignored or worked around as needed)
    F) To work through a hang-over. (Basic skill of adulthood)


  18. @mclneuro Says:

    Paper grader for teacher mom but only 5 cents/ spelling test
    Babysitter…sweet gig we watched ATeam and Greatest American Hero
    Babysitter for friend of law prof friend who turned out to be major drug dealer. Most terrifying night of my 12yo life. Quit babysitting. Mom told me I was being lazy ?
    Grocery store cashier. It looked fun. Sold beer to friends but the polyester orange jacket….ugh.
    Diner waitress in college town. I rocked that job. Learned organizational skills, made a crap ton of money I wasted on….um…stuff. Great friends. Gotta show up and get it done.
    Receptionist at PR office. Taught me how the other half lived and great skills in kindness and gratitude.


  19. k elliott Says:

    Never had shitty jobs. And I always considered a privilege to be able to do academic science. My jobs prior to academia were not high-paying jobs at all but very enjoyable.

    1. Worked as a translator ($2-3/page) during my last two years of college.
    2. As a graduate student I worked as Biology Teaching Assistant at an International Pre-University School.

    However, if I had to start right now my professional career, I would certainly choose to be a physician, seeing and treating patients the whole day. I’d certainly try to find the time to be updated in the field, as far as clinical research goes. I think that seeing and treating patients is one of the most rewarding professions in the world both intellectually and emotionally. But of course, it maybe that in the future attending physicians are just “robots”.


  20. AcademicLurker Says:

    Babysitter/paper route/movie theater (grab bag of jobs from cleaning to usher to concessions and ticket sales)/TA/paid undergraduate researcher –> grad school-postdoc-PI.


  21. eeke Says:

    1. babysitter
    2. factory worker – I was on an assembly line
    3. cleaning lady
    4. temp worker (secretarial)
    5. staff worker in a home for disabled adults
    6. staff assistant in a marketing firm (data entry, etc)
    7. short order cook

    Some of these were held simultaneously – weekend job vs weekday. I made the most money at the temp job. The faster you got one job done, the more in demand you became and the more you were paid. There were other jobs not listed here (such as the tech job after graduating from college). I needed the fuckin money and worked after school (high school), during school (college), during summer and other breaks. Had to pay tuition somehow.


  22. Grumble Says:

    1. Paper route (junior high)

    2. Data entry job that morphed into full-time computer programming during the summer (high school and college)

    3. Grad student

    4. Research subject for a medication study (this earned me several thousand dollars to take a placebo for a few years. For some reason they were running an unblinded control group. So I said, “I want to be in that one!” and they agreed. Still scratching my head over that one. So far I have collected little evidence to counter my initial impression that MDs running research studies tend to be idiots.)

    5. Research subject for a toothbrush study (this earned me $75, but hey, I bet that’s more than you ever got paid to brush your teeth!)

    6. Post-doc.

    7. Glorified post-doc (aka research adjunct assistant professor or something).


  23. Ass(ociate) Prof Says:

    I am sure I learned a number of things, but the biggest is that being a professional takes similar skills across professions. I do agree with DM, the students who do best in the lab tend to have other sh*t job experience. One of my current grad students said it’s the best f*cking job he’s ever had.

    My running themes in the end (I counted 15 jobs to tenure) are carpentry and science. I made it almost to what I would call graduate student level as a commercial framer, maybe near postdoc level (i.e. mistakes on my independent work could cost thousands of dollars). I have friends who are construction contractors and our jobs aren’t that different. They involve a lot of managing people and ideas, making sure everyone has the materials they need at the right times, dealing with regulations, and “bidding” for jobs. Though the odds of getting a construction job you bid for appear far better than the odds of getting a grant.

    1. Construction labor
    2. Oil-changer at Jiffy lube
    3. Bike mechanic
    4. Construction labor-carpenter
    5. Apartment complex maintenance/carpenter
    6. Cook and burrito roller
    7. Carpenter: residential wood framing of big prairie castles


  24. Coldone Says:

    I worked for years between high school and college. Sometimes worked 3 jobs at a time, because I married at a young age, to someone still in undergrad (we paid for all our own ed, etc). Nearly all were minimum wage, and starting college felt like a vacation in paradise. I’ve never forgotten how much the daily grind at an uninspiring job sucks compared to doing science; even undergrad lab grunt work was worlds better than any of my prior jobs.

    I too have noticed a difference in the attitudes and behaviors of people that had “real jobs” versus those who haven’t (entitlement, work ethic). My spouse did super hard and crappy jobs too and was lamenting it recently. But then I pointed out that I have never once seen him be anything but kind to a server, clerk, etc. We agreed that it’s harder to have so much kindness if you haven’t had personal experience with crappy customers in the past. You just have sympathy for anyone who has a crap job and/or a crap wage. And manual labor builds other types of character as well.

    We also reflected on kids who make it to “adulthood” not having been required to pitch in much around the house or struggle with a small budget. That’s a disaster for everyone. Doing chores, working hard jobs, running out of money, and living in ugly apartments with annoying roommates are rites of passage for teens/young adults. We certainly won’t deny our darling children those experiences, haha. NO YOU MAY NOT MOVE BACK IN, MAN-CHILD!

    When I started college I counted how many jobs I’d had and it was something like 16. Since then it’s been 4: undergrad lab, grad lab, postdoc, and now prof. Let’s hope this is my last!


  25. jojo Says:

    I’m def one of those priveleged kids who never really had a shitty job. I do think this is a weakness of mine and I will encourage my kids to get a shitty job at least once. I also have a bias towards taking on students who have had work that was gross and monotonous in some way.

    I did a tiny amount of babysitting – not enough to bother talking about

    I instructed karate for awhile, which was easy and fun.

    Then in college I didn’t have work study because my scholarship was too large (basically because my dad was a prof).

    I had 2 jobs in college related to science – lab prep/cleanup for micro was probably the grossest job I ever had and whatever that was no big deal. The other one was to TA the labs for another course which was easy.

    I then worked as a tech for a year before grad school. Then posdoc now finally I’ve got the cushy professor job.

    I don’t know about your concept that only by having a shitty job will I understand just how worthwhile being a prof really is. I’ve always basically thought it was a dream job to some extent. I mean anyone that can whine too much about getting to do interesting work that has some societal benefit that is in the bottom 10% of emotionally/psychically/physically damaging, have their own hours for the most part, and get paid a better salary than most… Oh and also basically job security after 7 years. Ungrateful is not really the word TBH…


  26. drugmonkey Says:

    I did use probabilistic phrasing for a reason jojo. I think of it as a “more likely” rather than an “only able” scenario. .


  27. Arlenna Says:

    1) Babysitter: quite a lot of this, from about age 11 onwards. Used to take care of three boys ages 1.5-7 all by myself when I was about 12. They were awesome. I used the money to buy Breyer horses.

    2) Retail: worked at a local shoe store in the mall, started when I was 15 because they had a special permit to have under 16s work for them part time. Eventually got some responsibility–was kind of a junior assistant manager with another guy my same age. Got to dye the bridesmaid shoes, that was awesome.

    3) Retail: Abercrombie and Fitch, oh yeah–this was the 90s, though, it was less creepy than it is now. Lots of flannel shirts. I was very not popular, so it seemed weird that I was the only one from my high school working there.

    4) Lab dishwasher: Simultaneous with starting at Abercrombie, started washing glassware in a soil science lab at the local MRU and making article photocopies for the PI. Awesome to get to go around campus with a copy card, before the days of PDFs. Eventually was responsible and reliable enough to get to do other stuff which led to experiments, and ultimately a science fair project. Also built the department’s first website in old-school HTML–very early days of the internet (1995/1996).

    5) Lab dishwasher: Started working in a chemistry lab at my undergrad institution freshman year after finding a professor who did research there and asking if they needed one. Also eventually led to experiments, and a long term undergrad research experience in that lab (all four years). Notably: we got paid hourly the whole way. It was a SLAC, and the PI did a great job of getting money from local companies to pay all of his researchers (and there were no grad students or postdocs, just usually one full time lab manager who was a BS or MS chemist).

    6) Server: worked as a server at a restaurant inside a fancy grocery store for about the last 2.5 years of college. Lots of grandmas and grandpas coming in for their coffee, family groups, breakfast hotspot. Simultaneous while also doing undergrad research.

    7) Babysitting again: Not counting being a grad student, I babysat for one of the profs in my department and loved their three sweet kiddos. Their little boy passed away suddenly and shockingly when he was about three and a half, after I’d been his babysitter for about two years. It broke my heart, for them, and also for me.


  28. Ola Says:

    I’m amazed by how many of the answers here include working in labs or other work that might prepare you for (or put you off) a career as an academic scientist. I did all the usual crap jobs growing up (bar-tending, table-busing, dish-washing, delivery driving), but nothing portending a career.

    I always knew from about age 7 that I wanted to be a “scientist”, but with no clear idea of what that entailed, and no role models in the family. Eventually I decided forensic science would be cool, and so went with Biochem undergrad to keep my options open, and then just kinda fell into grad school because it seemed like the thing to do.

    Y’all seem to have been a lot more focused.


  29. Craig Says:

    Ignoring the really short term gigs (e.g. spraying beans for a week or two to earn some spending money), here’s what I stuck with for months-years.

    1) Lifeguard/camp councilor
    2) Dishwasher @ hospital/nursing home
    3) Fry cook
    4) Cashier/ice cream server
    5) Undergraduate researcher (REU/work-study style support/other summer programs)
    6) Grad Student
    7) Postdoc

    I’m 100% with you, DM, about how valuable these early working experiences are. Earning your own $$ teaches you the value of a buck early on. It’s also good to know what manual/minimum-wage work is really like as you go ahead in life.

    Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to mix with people who are outside of your immediate sphere. People are too damn siloed. This applies to entitled children up upper and upper-middle classes who don’t work a day in the lives until they graduate with their final degree, but also to people who don’t leave their small town, farm, or inner city for their whole lives. Having an opportunity to spend some significant time with the “other side” help develop some perspective about the world.


  30. ROStressed Says:

    1. Fast Food – for a summer. Respect for all who do this a strong desire to never do it again.
    2. Office job – billing, answering phones, ordering paper items. Another summer of don’t ever do this either. Although, it definitely pushed my comfort zone of interacting with people.
    3. Blue collar job – lots of sweeping and clean-up while others fixed large machines. A real taste of the real world. They offered to keep me on, I went back to school and never looked back.
    4. Flower delivery – part time during college. Had set number of tasks to do, and independence to plan my own routes and get it done. Enjoyable, but low pay.
    5-6. Lab dishwasher (x2) – Did this in different labs at the same time recommended from one to the other. Worked under different pay scales and conditions. Learned you could do the same job and be paid very differently.
    7. Grad school. and beyond, beginning of the good life.

    The beginning definitely set a foundation for the rest. I always think that learning what you don’t like or want to do is very valuable.


  31. jmz4 Says:

    Ignoring hauling stuff, landscaping, or painting houses with my brothers for various family members:

    1) Pizzeria cashier/prep work
    2) Barrista/catering/dishwashing (same job, I ran one of those corporate cafes for a catering outfit, learned how to make muffins)
    3) Canvasser for the HRC/PIRGs. This was awesome to do just before college. When you can walk up to strangers on the street or door-to-door and ask them for money, socializing becomes much less intimidating.
    4) Cosmetics lab, making knockoffs for Walmart by color/consistency matching fancy brands. This was actually the first job that let me put “lab” on my resume, and so it surprisingly helped a lot with getting biology lab jobs, with a little creative wording on the resume. It was also a lot of fun.
    5) Workstudy lab assistant undergrad lab. Dishwashing, pouring plates, setting up intro genetics labs.
    6) Government lab internship
    7) Pharma internship

    Those last two were quite well stipended, which gave me the false perception that there was adequate money in science. From there it was all science jobs, with the exception of a summer waiting tables (which everyone should have to do).

    I do think that having to interact with a broad array of people (and some truly obnoxious customers) has helped me cope with the sometimes difficult personalities one encounters in science. This, in turn, has helped keep the stress levels to a minimum, and probably enabled collaborations and opportunities that would not have been there if I had been a more type-A, sheltered person. During my interviews for grad school, a professor indicated as much, noting that my willingness to take seemingly any job I could indicated I would be less likely to flame out during the arduous career path ahead of me.


  32. ImDrB Says:

    I’m amazed at how many people had babysitting experience as children/teens. That one doesn’t show up on my list at all. (Possibly the reason I prefer my own quiet space to one full of children to this day. Hm.)

    1) Birthday party clown. I was 11, and my two best friends had gotten involved in “clown ministry” at church camp. (Yes, that really was a thing. I’m just as traumatized as you are.) They decided to do appearances in full clown makeup and suits for kids’ parties. They dragged me into it. One of their moms made us matching costumes. (I hope you can hear my horror at recounting this. I can’t make this up, folks.)

    2) Accounting office receptionist. Small town accounting office with 5 CPA’s and 2 assistants. Learned how to do my own 1040, and have never paid someone else to do my taxes.

    3) Editorial assistant. College advisor was managing editor of a national journal and needed someone to manage manuscript intake and sorting. I wrote bullet points on sticky notes for each submitted paper, grouped the categories together, and left them on his desk each day. Turns out I’ve got a knack for dissecting writing. Serious turning point for me, have never looked back. Academia became my drug of choice.

    4) Lab worker. Summer job at a veterinary school where I spent uncounted hours breeding, feeding, guillotining, and dissecting juvenile rats, making slides of their reproductive tissues. Learned how to administer a pregnancy test to a very unwilling female rat, and how long a severed head will continue to twitch. Decided working with animals is NOT for me.

    5) Research associate. Post-BS job as a lab lackey for a professor nearing retirement. Managed supplies, assisted grad students, maintained equipment, did paperwork. Built a bacterial fermentation unit, learned to repair basic lab equipment, grew many fungi and bacteria with special talents. Decided microbiology/environmental science was the path for me.

    6) Tour guide. During MS work, no assistantship support was offered. Lived in very historic city, so tour guide jobs were fairly consistent and easy to come by. Walking tours, driving tours, tours of historic properties, tours of forts and ships, cemetery tours, church tours… you get the idea. Sometimes in ‘period-correct attire’.

    7) Assistant retail manager. Volunteer job led to a paid job with historic property fundraising organization. Weekend manager of gift shop, occasional tour guide, stocked merchandise, basic accounting, assisted with special events and basically did everything the director of tourism and marketing didn’t have time to handle. Said director is now my dearest best friend.


  33. ImDrB Says:

    Side note – I didn’t have many jobs as a pre-teen/teen because I lived on a farm…cows and horses year-round, and acres of crops during the summer and fall. Driving a tractor, picking vegetables, mucking stalls, brushing horses, herding cows, feeding calves….that was just expected.

    I completely agree with the above comments that students who have had the roughest, most labor-intensive jobs are the ones I generally want to hire for my lab. They know the value of the work they’re doing.


  34. Microscientist Says:

    1) Petsitting/housesitting- Never was one for the little kids. Still true today.
    2) Summer camp counselor- It was a science camp run by my favorite high school science teacher, so that was fun.
    3) Swim instructor/Lifeguard- Started at the local high school, then convinced my parents to let me freelance teaching in the backyard pool. Still the best pay rate I’ve ever had (group lesson of 4 kids, $10 per kid for a 30 minute lesson).
    4) Veterinary Assistant/ Receptionist/ Scutwork- I’m really good a mopping floors from this. Also taught me that vets make their money selling flea spray and kibble. Killed my desire to go to vet school.
    5) Lab intern- oh the days of paid summer internships. The start of the lab path
    6) Lab temp employee- Got hired as a temp from the last internship. More learning how to deal with crazy egomaniac bosses.
    7) Grad student- So I could become my own crazy, egomanaic boss.


  35. I-75 Scientist Says:

    1: Babysitting/Pet sitting
    2: Lawn mower/various outdoor yard and small labor jobs
    3: Lifeguard/pool manager. 4yrs of cos playing David Hasselhoff at the town pool.
    4: Desk clerk at Fitness Gym
    5: Swim Coach
    6: Hardware/paint/plumbing/furniture guy at Meijer
    7: Lab tech.


  36. odyssey Says:

    1. Paper route. Kind of enjoyed that. Ended when the newspaper decided to give all the routes to adult delivery folks. Rag went out of business six months later.
    2. Assisting on construction sites. Hated every moment of it. That summer almost killed me.
    3. Babysitter for my younger siblings. I got paid (and my siblings survived), so I guess it counts.
    4. Sales assistant in an auto part/accessory store. Alternated being busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest and being bored out of my skull. Helped hone my outstanding people skills.
    5. Phosphate fertilizer chemist. That was kind of fun, but the dust was a killer.

    That’s it for the jobs. From there it was grad school and beyond.


  37. Julian Says:

    1: Babysitter (3 & 6 y/o) – patience + child distraction… err…psychology
    2: Godfather’s Pizza kitchen kid – performing under pressure, value of diversity (ppl of all persuasions, incl. ex cons, etc.), honesty
    3: Pool boy – tolerance for disgusting work (converting a pond back into a pool), teamwork, capitalism (small business owner boss w/5 employees did little work, paid us little, but owned a mansion). This was of course after he’d taken over from the original business founder having done the menial work for 10+ years!
    4: IT intern (2 summers) – worked at a major telemarketing company as a networking intern. Learned that interest/obsession w/computers was a useful skill, but jobs in the business are ridiculously mundane.
    5: A/V Tech (college work study) – nothing learned, $ for beer/tuition
    6: Biomechanics TA – learned benefit of group teaching/learning w/peers. Learned that no matter how well you did on exams, you only learn something “for real” when you have to teach it to others.
    7: BME Summer Intern – learned that neuroscience was my passion. Drawn to the unknown and need for quantitatively trained/minded ppl.


  38. B Says:

    I didn’t really have a menial job for a few reasons. Parents had enough resources that I didn’t *need* to contribute. I didn’t really want to spend money on anything (in high school). Parents were insistent that “getting into [a prestigious] college” was my job.


  39. colditzjb Says:

    1. File clerk – Child labor at my mom’s office during summer vacation.
    2. Dishwasher/cook at Boston Market – Stinky, greasy work, but with the benefit of many snacks.
    2. Manager at Boston Market – Less stinky and greasy, better snacks.
    3. Manager at Panera Bread – Even less stinky and greasy. Even better snacks.
    4. Manager at a movie theater – Slightly more greasy, but with free popcorn and after-hours pre-release screening parties (BYOB and turn the speakers up to 11).
    5. Bartender – Doing homework on slow nights, drinking my tips away on nights off.
    6. Research Assistant –> Program Coordinator – The past decade of my working life spent in various full-time academic research roles.
    7. What’s next??? Some days I long for the simplicity of service industry work.


  40. 1. baby sitter
    2. secretary (my worst job–people are so disrespectful to secretaries)
    3. undergrad TA for a programming course not in my department
    4. computer lab assistant (helped the users–was fun!)
    5. research assistant (a summer job–subsidized by my Uni, so pretty much everyone who wanted one between junior and senior years in my department got one. Sold me on grad school)

    Then grad school and my current path.


  41. First time caller Says:

    1. dog sitter/walker (poop, lots of warm poop)
    2. hand-signing junk mail (paper cuts galore…)
    3. bus boy at a dinner theater (I once tried to bus a table’s full plate of fat trimmings carved from 8 slices of prime rib, and was reprimanded by the gentleman planning to eat it… yeah).
    4. concessionaire at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (sold carrot cake to Tracey Ullman during her run with Morgan Freeman and Helen Hunt on “Taming of the Shrew”)
    5. bus boy, then waiter, at a family restaurant (stress dreams about overcharging people’s credit cards)
    6. landscaping/lawn care in Southwest Florida (alligator encounters near ponds and driveways)
    7. science, math, and physics tutor

    It was a nice exercise to remember the highs and lows of these jobs. Academic medicine is a pretty sweet gig in comparison (most of the time).


  42. Nat Says:

    1. Ticket seller/usher at movie theater
    2. Undergrad research assistant in academic lab over summer+
    3. Undergrad research assistant in different academic lab over summer
    4. Research assistant in same academic lab while applying to grad school
    5. Grad school
    6. Post-doc
    7. current job (started at age 41!).

    Jeez, barely seven jobs in my entire life (I mean, 3 & 4 could really be rolled into one). SO yeah, I REALLY would have benefited from a more varied experience throughout. Not only to be more appreciative of how relatively great the day to day work of science can be, but also because so much of my identity was wrapped up in the academic science life. And when that started to go south, it got…painful.

    Still, I’m super lucky to be where I am. And having learned a very important lesson, I have a very different outlook on my work now.


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