From the archives

Here’s a post I wrote late last October, when I was in my receptionist job. I was working on perfecting this when I got laid off, at which point it seemed irrelevant. But I’m posting it now as a record of what that job was like.

I’m six weeks into my new job.

At first I was really happy: having a real job made me feel needed and valued, and it was really good for me to have a legitimate reason to get out every other day. I was no longer isolated and felt like I had a purpose, however minor my contribution.

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I got laid off

In what may be an alt-academic blogger first (?), I got laid off. From my two-month-old, part-time admin assistant job.

It feels a lot like being broken up with by someone who thinks they’re too cool for you. While I’m pretty much over it now, and actually bounced back pretty quickly, it was a huge shock at the time, and an experience I hope I don’t ever have to relive. Here’s what happened:

A couple of weeks ago it was time for all the full-time, salaried employees to get their quarterly performance reviews and attendant bonuses. I knew I wasn’t eligible for a bonus, but I did want to see if there might be a raise in my future. I also wanted a chance to talk about my performance, both to get feedback and to share some of my ideas for ways that my responsibilities could be expanded or altered. So I asked my non-official manager, Endora, to schedule me for a review. Never having had a true performance review before, I was a little nervous—worried that maybe I couldn’t handle the criticism and would wish I hadn’t asked for it in the first place. But in I went that Wednesday afternoon  to meet with the two Big Bosses, armed with my little Post-It to remind me of the things I wanted to discuss.

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Update on my job

I’ve been at this for about two months now, so there’s lots to say about all aspects of my job. So, in the interest of starting somewhere, I’ll describe what I do all day.

I work 8-5, MWF. I arrive at the office at about 7:50, depending on how early or late my bus is that day. My first tasks are to work out that day’s scheduling for the conference rooms, make coffee, and tidy up the conference rooms and the employee kitchen. I finish all of this before 9:00, at which point I’m sometimes given other tasks to do, and sometimes not. In general, I’m responsible for things like answering the phone, buzzing in guests and making sure they know where to go. I prepare and mail packages, keep the kitchen neat and clean, field random employee questions, and refill printer paper. Other projects I’ve worked on include organizing an overflowing closet of office supplies, collecting and editing employees’ bios for the internal website, and (teaching myself how to do) a merge-mail to get addresses from several hundred company contacts. Sometimes there’s not much for me to do, so I email/read/write/whatever. For the most part I can be found at the front desk, separated from the rest of the office by a wall. It’s fairly isolated, especially compared to the open-office plan that structures the rest of the space. I get paid through lunch, so I work through lunch, which is provided by the in-house chef. I do eat with everyone else, but when the phone rings, I have to get up and go answer it.
And that’s a glimpse into my pre-post-academic life. I’m very strongly aware of how I’m not quite in and not quite out of academia. The question “What do you do?” no longer has a simple answer. I usually just say that I’m writing my dissertation, but sometimes I add that I’m a part-time receptionist. I no longer feel like my academic work defines me, since it is far from the only thing I do now, but I also don’t want my part-time receptionist job to define me. These two things have roughly equal demands on my time, and it’s both of them together that make me who I am right now (most painfully in that I won’t have much of a social life until next spring). Being in the middle is hard enough, and for me it’s complicated because of how acutely I’m made aware of the prestige of the one identity and the low status of the other (more on this in a future post). Nevertheless, I feel like one somehow excuses the other. I’m proud that I’m working while writing my dissertation, and that I’m getting “real world” experience while still officially cloistered in the ivory tower. And I’m proud that I’m writing my dissertation while working: I am more than my job.

I’ve got a new job!

By last Tuesday, I’d gotten to the point where I knew I couldn’t keep up my tutoring job past the end of this month. So I decided to get serious about applying to temp jobs. I selected one agency and noticed in their online application that they wanted to know what your salary requirements were. I was clueless about what to put down, so I headed over to Craigslist to check out job postings and see what hourly rates were being offered.

At the top of the list was an ad for a part-time receptionist at an office that sounded like exactly the kind of place I wanted to work at, with almost exactly the number of hours I wanted to work.  Hoping that this wasn’t actually too good to be true, I checked out the company’s website, then looked them up on LinkedIn. As I scrolled down the list of employees, I saw that I was only one connection removed from all of them. I searched a bit more and saw that I had one friend who knew everyone there, and another one who knew three or four.

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