Non-academic jobs aren’t a last resort


Being a student at a small school can be great. At Trinity, we can count on small class sizes, easy access to academic resources and our professors actually know us all by name. The size is something Trinity boasts, especially because it’s something that opens up undergraduate research and internship opportunities. Many teenagers choose Trinity because of the “real world experience” they can gain while here, usually partnering with a professor who mentors them and advances their career before they even graduate.

But with a small school comes intense, focused pressure to take advantage of every possible opportunity. Individualized attention is helpful and rewarding until you take a misstep under the scrutiny of your professors and peers. You don’t want to do undergraduate research. You don’t want an internship this summer that has anything to do with your major. You don’t spend every waking moment shaping a career path that you’re not even sure you’ll want to follow when you graduate.

Sometimes, it can feel like wanting a “normal person job,” even just for the summer months, is a waste of time. When your classmates spend their breaks in a lab, advisers suggest field-based internship opportunities and the university boasts its research-leading students, the pressure to strictly align yourself with a career path feels all the more intense.

This pressure, while well-intentioned to give us experiences that will be advantageous down the line, comes at the cost of alienating non-academic jobs. Students working in retail, at a restaurant or even at a summer camp can feel like the time they spend is less valuable because it isn’t immediately connected to their major or career goals. In reality, you’re still getting ahead when you work at Target or an ice cream shop. Just because it isn’t an internship doesn’t mean you aren’t learning; real life skills like quick problem solving, mental math, time management and more come out of even the most basic minimum wage jobs. Treating them like a last resort only reinforces their stigma when service jobs are considered essential and the backbone of society.

As an academic community, we tend to undervalue non-academic experiences despite our collective reliance on the service industry and the people who work in it to make other interests and opportunities possible. Somebody has to scoop the ice cream you order for a post-lab treat, to take care of professors’ kids at daycare, to stock the shelves at the nearest grocery store. A lot of those workers are students, learning, growing and ultimately making ends meet, just like everyone else. Trinity might have fantastic opportunities to get involved in research or nab an internship thanks to an extensive network of connections, but not everyone will jump on them. This choice must not be frowned upon as some kind of career faux pas and instead embraced as an equally worthy option to grow as a young person in the world.