By Georgina Barratt-See
Towards the end of my chemistry degree, I got a bit sad. I didn’t think anyone would ever employ me, and I felt like I had no options. I hadn’t done particularly well during my degree, and I didn’t like my degree either. I felt like a future career was a hopeless dream I would never achieve.
Flash forward 20 years, and I am in my dream job at UTS and I don’t know if I’ll ever leave. How did I get there? Here are a few tips I picked up along the way:
1. Every job tells you something.
My first full time job was in a lab, analysing soil samples. I got paid $12/hour to measure out soil and put it through a series of tests. I hated it. But I was desperate for work and I needed to eat and pay my rent.
What did I learn though? I learnt that I like to talk to people in my work. Silent lab work was not for me. I learnt that I didn’t like having to be so precise in measuring, I preferred to answer the phone or type. Lucky for me, the lab saw that too, and they fired me, because my results were awful. It was fair enough. I was bad at the job and I didn’t like it – and honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
2. Look beyond your degree:
So I’d found out that I was bad at lab work and I didn’t like it. And the main skill of a chemistry degree was lab work – eeek!! So what to do?
Well I looked at my other skills: I type really fast (over 85wpm). I’m organised, efficient, and capable. I liked admin and I did several admin jobs part-time while at uni, which I was good at.
So for my next job, I got a job in admin… Building a road… At the domestic terminal.
I really liked the admin. There was always plenty to do. I learnt a lot about construction (things like expansion joints and piles and reinforcement and concrete pours). I liked knowing I was helping achieve something: we were building a road! And I took every opportunity to learn more.
As the job went on, I learnt how to copy drawings (a giant photocopier type thing), I learnt how to design forms, I learnt how to do accounts – I kept learning. I started to understand what I liked, and what I didn’t. Manual work, like copying drawings, was boring, but I liked figures and numbers and writing and talking to people and a job with a purpose.
3. Start to recognise your strengths:
If you’re like me, there’s a lot of things you can do, even do well. Most uni students have plenty of skills and talents. But what things are you *really* good at? What things are you better at than most people?
My third major job was at a university. I’d done some temp work there and I really liked the student vibe and the intelligence of the university community. So I got a job as a secretary working for a psychiatrist in a university hospital. I learnt a lot about psychotropic drugs. I learnt a lot about Medicare. I learnt a lot about mood disorders. But what I loved the most was building the relationship with the patients and the psychiatrists and other staff. I got feedback that I was great with the patients. I started to recognise my strengths of working with and supporting people.
4. Trust your gut:
That job was due to finish because I was covering for maternity leave, so I looked around and went to an interview. In the interview, I wasn’t convinced on the job, but I thought I’d go for it anyway when they offered. Cue one of the most boring and frustrating years of my working career! I hated the job. I had very menial tasks. I had no responsibility. I found the work dull and repetitive. I never got to talk to people. But, oh well! I found out what I had loved at my previous job and then looked for that as I looked around for future work.
5. Find a mentor:
The next job I got was at the university counselling service. It was a great job. During that time, I had a wonderful boss, who gently guided me to finish my degree, and study a relevant postgraduate degree to get lots of additional skills.
I became much better at talking to students, encouraging and supporting them in their time of need. My boss gave me heaps of opportunities outside my role, (investigating privacy and records management issues, updating and working on web pages), and while I was studying my Masters in Educational Leadership, I was given the opportunity to run a workshop on leadership.
Those opportunities led to completing my Cert IV in Assessment and Training, and then running peer mentoring programs and training students. I also started helping struggling students get back on track and eventually landed my job here at UTS.
6. Remember that all work is good work:
It’s hard to think it at the time, but I’m proud of myself for all my years of working. I’ve always worked hard and tried hard and paid my own way. I didn’t necessarily earn a lot of money, particularly early on, but I paid my bills and I lived independently.
A job doesn’t have to be fulfilling to serve its purpose. For me, often the main purpose was eating and having somewhere to sleep. And that’s ok. I was often a bit embarrassed about what I was doing, but I shouldn’t have been. It’s good to work and earn your living, doing whatever you can.
So if you’re getting towards the end of your degree, and things are looking bleak, I want you to know that there’s a lot you can do to make good choices along the way. Be self-aware and honest with yourself about what you really like, and keep making decisions to head in that direction. Know that all work teaches you something and that it’s ok if the job is just giving you money and it’s not your dream job. And hopefully you’ll end up doing something you like and you’re good at – like me!
Georgina Barratt-See has over 18 years’ experience in student support in higher education, and is coming up to her 9th anniversary of working at UTS. She loves working with UTS students to develop their potential to be active, engaged, well-rounded future professionals and leaders.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash