If you look at period preceding the 2008 recession, and the period after that, a term or a word that is removed from the usage of a MS aspirant or a student pursuing his degree is “Grant”. By this word I mean the academic scholarship that becomes available to a newly admitted student in American Universities. I have heard people say that there will be a decline in the number of students flying out of the country to the US to pursue their master’s degree. But time has shown that that is not to happen and American Universities are still a widely sought after option by Indians as well as many students from many other countries. Let me just look in perspective of an Indian. The fact is, post 2008 the academic grant has diminished to the extent that you can say that they are not there up to be grabbed by a master’s student. As a result the financial burden of an American education increases by many folds. But even then people come here with the hope and confidence that they could break even in the future. So for many of the students like me who set foot in an American university, finding an on-campus job for themselves, that would give them some dollars to meet their expenses will always be there on the cards. The living expenses are a considerable portion of the money you will be spending these two years of your education. So every dollar you make through the on-campus job is always helpful. At least you can eat a burger, thinking only about the burger and not the money you spent to buy it.
The system of on-campus job is pretty well organized in the universities over here. Not only the incoming international students find it useful or even necessary, the undergraduate in-state students do find one to support themselves to an extent. Wide variety of jobs is there for the students to take up. You have the research and teaching assistantships where you help out a professor in his research or the course related tasks. Here at USC these jobs are available mostly to doctoral students. In my perspective of being a master’s student, this is something that is almost out of my reach but the idea behind preferring doctoral students for these jobs is that, if you are expected to help out a student in his academics you have to be more knowledgeable than him. And on the similar lines you should be fit enough to aid a faculty in his research and a sensible decision for any researcher is that to go for a doctoral student if you are searching for someone to aid your research. I wouldn’t completely rule out that the master’s students are deprived of these two options, but in reality they are very grim.
Master’s students do manage to get the grader positions where you would be grading the assignments of the students and also their exams. There are lot of assignments and they do carry a considerable portion of your grades. The faculty do not have time to go through them and grade them. Many of them are part-time faculties and have a job in the industry to concentrate on. So they do go for a third person to help him out in this regard. Mostly students who have done that course under the same professor and have managed to get some good grades and with some luck factor included land in these jobs. You have to be a familiar face to the professor if you need to find yourself one such job and they are limited in number when compared to other jobs. But this one really does pay considerably more than other jobs, excluding the teaching and research assistantship.
Mentioned above are most established academic related jobs available for a student. There are also some technical jobs and these are mostly associated with coding and software usage. Computer science students have some good opportunities to find themselves a coding job and few of them pay pretty well enough. Few other technical jobs which require expertise in a particular technical area are also there. This may also include knowledge of particular software. But these well paid coding and technical jobs are not easy to get. They don’t fall into the category where “I need a job, you have job and so I work for you, you pay me”. The majority as a result, try to land themselves in the wide variety of non-academic and non- technical jobs that are relatively large in number compared to the academic related jobs. The most popular one in this category is the cafeteria jobs as they have more number of openings. Students are involved in all kinds of clerical and table works also in various locations within the university. Just get into any building, you will find at least a few students working there. The organisational structure is designed in such a way to include student workers in it. You have students working in libraries, offices, fitness and physical education department and all other offices located in the campus.
So there are jobs and you are there who needs a job. All you have to do is to connect the dots but it is not as easy as it sounds. The important thing is to be at the right place at the right time. And for an Indian or be it any international student, you are an outsider in this country. So there is always a preference for the American students in these jobs. There is something called the work-study grant available to the American students. This is a kind of federal aid, where the government allots a student, a work-study grant amount. The students with this aid, work in the campus and the get paid by the government for the work done. So a considerable portion of the available on-campus jobs are assigned to work-study students. So the international students have to find jobs that are outside this work-study classification. And many times the jobs are inherited. Someone who is currently working refers another person when he leaves the job and the other person gets the job as a result. If you manage to be that other person, it is good for you. But as I said earlier the important thing is to be at the right place at the right time. And it mostly works though recommendations and references.
Now coming to my story, after settling in here I started my job search. I was pretty late actually. When I started looking for jobs people have actually started working and the number of available jobs started going down every day. I went to the cafes, bookstore, physical education department, and some of the other offices in the campus, mostly to hear them reply, “Sorry we are done for this semester and you can try for the next semester. If you wish you could leave your contact details, we will call you if there is a vacancy”. The point is I don’t have a job there. Days went like this, until things turned around for me. I got introduced to a person through another person. I met the first person in this link during a trip to Long Beach. He mentioned about his friend who happened to be in the same department that I am in. So I got introduced to the actual person involved in the chain on grounds that we belong to the same department. He was at that time and even now working in the admissions processing department of the university. So I just asked him if there is any job available there to be taken. At that time, I used ask this very same question to many of them. However in this case, the result turned out to be positive and within a week I found myself having a discussion with the manager in the admissions processing. Ten days or so after that, I started working. Technically this is the first job in my life. I should say I was lucky to an extent, because there was only one vacancy at that point in time. They were looking for someone to replace another guy who is graduating at the end of the semester. And another reason that I consider myself lucky is because this job pays a dollar or more higher per hour than many other jobs.
I mentioned a 10 day gap between my meeting with the manager and my actual start of work. This is due to some of the administrative processing that has to be done and more importantly, to work in US you need a Social Security Number (SSN), which is a unique identification number assigned to the individuals. You may need this number in many places and it may times serves as an ID whenever you need to get some service for yourself. Having an SSN makes things simpler and primarily due this reason people look out for jobs so that they can get an SSN. So once I applied for my SSN I started to work, which was pretty surprising because many others I knew had to wait till they receive their SSN before they can start working.
So what Am I expected to do in my job? The answer should be almost anything and everything that happens in that department. I do not literally do everything that happens there, but I do involve myself in many types of tasks. I am involved in most of the tasks that happens from receiving an incoming application and before it is sent to the appropriate department. All the other activities that are related to the admission such as the fairs conducted by the university, interviews of the prospective students go through this channel and I am a part of the processing involved. The student workers form a considerable share of the work force in the USC Admissions Processing and they help out the department in many jobs involved in processing the incoming applications. It is almost two months now and I have had a reasonable stint in all the different works done by the students and also at the same time got quiet bored of the repetitive nature of many of the tasks. A student worker is allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours a week during the regular semester and a maximum of 40 hours during the winter and summer vacations. They, however have to put in a minimum of 10 hours of work every week. Something quiet catchy about working in the USC admissions processing is that unlike many other campus jobs, you can go at any time when the office is functioning. This allows us flexibility in choosing our work timings. In many of the other jobs you will be allotted weekly slot depending on our availability and if you are caught up in some other job or you find something else interesting happening during that time you are left with the option of choosing either your job or the other one on the cards. Giving the job a miss quiet regularly will not leave a good impression. And in that same way if you have a slot of 3 hours you can work only for 3 hours, even though if you are free for an extended period on that day. This is not the case with me and other fellow students who work there in the admissions processing. The office is open from 9 to 5 during half of the year. During October and November it is open till 9 in the night and starting December and at least till the end of January it will be open till 11 in the night. This being the prime time for the incoming applications the quantum of work goes uphill during this time. One additional thing is that many of the campus jobs that are associated with the functioning of the university are not there during the university vacation but the job in the admissions processing is there throughout the year. So to cope up with the increased volume of applications to be processed, they hire students temporarily during the winter break and now is the time that is happening. You have many students knocking on the doors of the admissions processing for jobs during the winter and quiet interestingly they are all Indians. The reason for this is that all the Americans go home during the Christmas season which creates a situation where you need to fall back on the international students to help you out. When it comes to international students it is primarily Chinese and the Indians and I don’t see many Chinese taking up the job here so it is left to the Indians during the winter break.
Having said that I have started to work on campus, the sole intention of doing this is to support myself financially to an extent. However this brings up other challenges. The time that you spend working is actually taken out of your regular weekly calendar. This calls for a better organization from the part of the student. The primary objective after coming here is to focus on our studies and we have to make sure that the on-campus job doesn’t disturb us in our academics. It does make things a bit hectic, but that is something one has to accept and be prepared for. It does take time that is available to you, but you do have to make some sensible trade off. Time management becomes even more crucial and you have to adjust yourself for that. If it reaches a point where your campus job is affecting your academics, dropping from the job will not be a difficult decision to make and more importantly it becomes an inevitable decision that has to be made in that situation. One has to accept that life at times is not simple and you have to wade through it. So far things have not gone out of my control and in fact I have to say that it is pressing me to become more efficient and try to make use of every tiny bit of time available to me and put it into use in some useful manner. I am not completely successful in this aspect. But I keep on trying to improve and don’t want to stop trying.