The Perils of Seeing a Job as Your Endgame

This is part of the ongoing ACRLog/HLS collaboration. Check out ACRLog for Elizabeth Lieutenant’s post on “Practitioner Engagement in LIS Education” Read more about the project here! 


Callie Wiygul began her position as Social Work Librarian at the University of Southern California in March 2015. She graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with an MLIS and a certificate in Archives and Special Collections in August 2014. Her academic interests include information literacy, assessment, teaching, library interventions for first-generation college students, and biographical analysis of the writer William Faulkner.



Picture this all-too-familiar tale: You enter graduate school bursting with energy and excitement about focusing on a career in librarianship. You may have chosen graduate school as part of a career change, a natural continuation of your undergraduate work, or even in pursuit of a director or management position in the library where you’re already employed. Whatever the case, you are pumped. You dive into your studies, throw yourself into student and professional organizations, and, perhaps, even embark on an internship. Maybe you are also working part-time (or full-time) to off set the costs of living the Spartan-like gradate school existence. Hopefully you also find the time in your hectic schedule to seek out mentors to help you navigate this experience.


Before you can take a deep breath and cultivate a non-graduate school related life, you are well into your second year. You present at a conference or two and frantically compose your thesis or master’s project. With graduation looming, you begin to look for jobs or prepare yourself for the application process. You solicit reference letters, and send out countless cover letters, resumes, or CVs. If you are lucky, you get a telephone or online interview. You may receive one or two telephone interviews out of twenty submissions – or maybe not. You hope you’re granted an in-person interview – if not, it’s back to the drawing board. But then you discover that the in-person interview has its own unique set challenges: presentation preparation, worry over what to wear, how to spring for transportation and hotel costs if the institution does not pay for them up front, and so on. And if being on the job market wasn’t trying enough, you probably still have coursework and thesis-writing to complete in the meantime.


But then it happens; you finally get a job offer. You accept it and prepare for the transition from graduate school to the work force. Thrilling! You find yourself telling people that hard work pays off. Then your first day arrives, and you realize that you are absolutely exhausted.


Does this sound familiar? Maybe not, but this is precisely what happened to me. I was so focused on being an overachiever during graduate school, hoping that it would pay off exquisitely with employment as an academic librarian, that I have spent the first ten months in my new position trying to strike a sufficient work/life balance. Meaning, I have spent a significant portion of my daily life trying to recover from graduate school, the job search, and a cross-country move (for the new job). Instead of focusing exclusively on acclimating to the robust teaching and outreach opportunities in my new position, I have spent much more time trying to recover on a fundamental level from graduate school and the job market without burning out.


I knew that a career path in academia, especially in librarianship, meant that I would have to hustle during graduate school just to have a chance at getting my foot in the door. And I could argue that everything I did  (including working four library-related jobs simultaneously) led to receiving a job offer at a leading R1 university. But it came at a price. I was sick regularly during my last few months of graduate school. Rather than connecting with friends and colleagues, I often trudged home and engaged in solo self-care. I developed migraine headaches for the first time in my life. It was not a good time.


I wish I had been thoughtful about the conferences and professional development opportunities I chose during graduate school. Some were useful, but others were not.  And I’m not convinced that “applying for everything,” which is the advice I was given, is sage wisdom (applications take up a lot of time, so it’s probably better to “apply smart, not hard”).


Yes, you should be cognizant of the job market while you are in graduate school. Think about the opportunities out there for students, and how you fit into them. Internships, voluntary library work, publishing – these endeavors will give you the experience you need to get a job eventually. But set realistic expectations for yourself. Take time for you. Everyone says it, but few people really commit to it. Contemplate each opportunity, especially those that require a great deal of time on your part.


Don’t perceive a job as your endgame. Don’t expect to sit back, relax, and hit cruise control once you get a job because, really, the job is the beginning of a brand new journey without the graduate school net. If I had been more self-aware, I probably wouldn’t have burned out by my second year of graduate school. In turn, I probably would have been better prepared to take on the rigors of my first job after navigating the job market, too. Instead, after moving across the country and beginning a new job at a university almost four times the size of my alma mater, I was exhausted – and I was just getting started!


I am still grappling with this sense of exhaustion (physical and emotional) even now, ten months after I started my new position. It has inevitably affected my work and my personal life, but I am fortunate to have colleagues and a reporting officer who are quite supportive of and vigilant about achieving a work/life balance. Start this practice during graduate school. You don’t need to volunteer for every committee or submit a proposal for every conference. Your will become overextended and unhappy before you know it. Pace yourself. Your career is merely beginning.

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