A generation of Degree-stas

Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me?  Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?


Ah, Mulan.  It was my absolute favourite movie as a child and–let’s be honest–is still high on my list.  I saw it three times in theatres, watched it endlessly when it came out on VHS,  my Mulan doll was one of two dolls I’ve ever owned and I listened to the soundtrack on my Walkman…and I’m pretty sure that was the only tape I ever put in that Walkman.  It always hit home with me; not totally fitting in, constantly striving to be as good as the boys and really hating having to look girly (what can I say?  I’ve always been a tom boy).

I’ve always been one to push myself.  I pushed myself hard to do well in school.  I pushed my siblings into taking art classes, math lessons, recorder lessons (the list goes on and on) from me when we were young.  I pushed myself to become proficient on the oboe (but, really, there are certain people who are oboists by nature so, I don’t know if I can really take credit for that one).  I pushed myself into taking more than a full course load in high school every year.  For high school assignments, I’d take the most difficult theme or option and push myself out of my comfort zone.  I pushed myself to go to university even though I was discouraged from doing so.  I pushed myself to do well, to double major and to set myself up for a career in academia.  After my dreams of academia were squashed, I pushed myself to finish the last few months of my degree and then pushed myself into doing a job I hated because I once thought it would make me happy.  Then I pushed away all other options so I’d have no choice but to fulfill my dream of travelling.  You might say I’m a “pusher”.

Yes, that was a Mean Girls reference.

Probably not surprisingly–especially to anyone who knows me well–behind all of this is a very, very high expectation of myself.  I have incredibly high standards and I expect nothing less than the absolute best out of me.  That’s why I’m having a very hard time with the fact that I haven’t scored a half decent job in over a year.  Even more unsettling, I just got a job at Starbucks.  You read that right, I’m joining the many who have degrees and end up working at low-paying jobs, doing trivial things every day.  I am a stereotype.  I am a degree-sta.

It’s taken me a very long time to come to terms with the fact that I’ll have to get a crappy job, despite the five years I spent slaving over my degree in hopes that a great job could come of it.  I’ve received many reassurances: this isn’t going to be forever, something will come along, lots of people in my generation have a hard time finding jobs in their field but I couldn’t help but come back to something a really rich guy said to me–while plugging his website that I was never able to find–“Finding a good job isn’t hard for your generation.  You just need to be creative.”

For a very long time, all I heard from that was “Finding a good job isn’t hard” (I suppose it’s easy to say that when you’re a millionaire) and, damn, I could hardly stand myself.  Fears of judgement from everyone around, even more judgement if my worst nightmare happened and one of my former profs came in all while constantly thinking I should be pushing myself to look more, try harder to find a better job.  Despite consistently hearing “This is just a stopgap until you get a really good job!” and “You have so much ambition that you won’t get stuck there”, I still worry that maybe I’ll enjoy it just enough and it will be too uncomfortable to quit when I have the chance to get a better job and then one year turns into two, two turn into three and three turns into ten.

While I’m desperately praying that I get another interview at the university again soon so I can make some decent money and feel more secure financially (especially since I’ll be moving again in a couple months and rental agencies aren’t a huge fan of unemployed tenants) and I’m trying to believe that ending up a stereotype won’t be for long, as a pusher, I’m disappointed.  I could have had a career in academia, I could have been doing research with a really cool supervisor in BC, I could have been living my third year of university dream but, I gave that up because I was tired, because I didn’t want that life anymore and I wanted to prove that I wasn’t going for it just because I didn’t know what else to do.  Just as I pushed myself into academia, I pushed myself out of it.  As much as a part of me wants to regret it, I know I made the right choice.

One of the reasons I know that I made the right choice for myself by breaking up with academia is consistently hearing that new PhDs are having a lot of trouble finding permanent work, if they can get work at all, because there are just too many graduates saturating the market.  If they’re able to find work, it’s usually in the form of “contract term” positions that pay less than minimum wage and don’t do anything for the academic’s career.  Then there’s a choice: continue to make the rounds of term positions hoping that, one day, all the hard work put into this will lead to a permanent professorship or quit academia and branch out into another field.  I’d have to say that it’s kind of comforting to know that the only thing worse than earning a bachelor’s degree and working at Starbucks is having a PhD and working at Starbucks.

There’s much to be said about why there are so many PhDs being pumped out of universities and why there is a generation of degree-stas among us: the lack of a Ministry of Education, students being at a loss of how to function in the real world, parental pressure to go into university instead of a trade or any one of the other jobs that the world needs.

But who cares?  What happens when the degree-stas feel horribly ashamed of themselves?  Should they be admired for all their hard work and willingness to do whatever it takes to survive?  Or should they be admonished for not trying hard enough to find a “good job”?  Is it really that hard to find a “good job” or are we degree-stas just not thinking hard enough?  I don’t know the answer but I do hope that, one day soon, my hard work of sending out ten million job applications and feeling guilty will pay off.

The view from my usual study spot, back when I sacrificed nights out with friends to study more.

The view from my usual study spot, back when I sacrificed nights out with friends to study more.

For some reason, Internets, I still remain hopeful.

PS  I realize it’s been SO LONG since I’ve posted anything but a bunch of crap happened this month that’s gotten in the way.  Plus, my apartment is usually sweltering so I have little desire to cook anything.  I hope to hit a stroke of inspiration soon, though!


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