Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why is everyone so determined to give me money?

It's weird. I haven't been going out of my way to look for employment other than summers of research where the great pay was a less important consideration than the lab experience, but people in authority keep offering great opportunities.

Last semester, I was co-TAing a University Physics I lab section (unpaid), and then my advisor asked me to consider tutoring a student in the class who needed some extra help. The student was a joy to work with, helped make me a better instructor for my class, and paid enough to cover my grocery bills for the semester. Funding from a state research grant I received enabled me to pay myself to do thesis research this semester. A fellowship that didn't even require an additional application means I'll get a signing bonus this summer.

I've just received an email offering me a job I didn't know existed and can't take. The math department offers one partial TA position to a student in the master's program in teaching, paying him or her $3,000 a semester in exchange for teaching a two-hour-a-week remedial evening class and spending four hours a week providing algebra help in the tutoring center. The professor who offered me the position knows (or at least knew) I'm going to do Teach for America, plus I'll only have a minor in math, so I'm quite surprised I was considered at all. I'm drafting a polite note letting her know that if I didn't have other plans I'd jump at this chance but I cannot accept the job.

Is it normal to feel a bit guilty about my good luck? People keep talking about how hard I've worked, but it doesn't feel like it. I haven't really sacrificed. I have certain aptitudes that prove useful, and I'm a hedonist whose preferred pleasures tend to be academic in nature. Yes, I put in time and effort; this is just what I do. Some of my activities have put me in contact with people who share my interests and are in a position to guide me toward interesting opportunities, but I haven't made an effort to network, it just happened. There are a lot of people around me who really strive for success, and it doesn't seems fair that I can just drift along and achieve the same results.


DogAteMyFinances said...

$3000 a semester for 6 hours a week. Couldn't you make more at a business?

E.C. said...

You may be right. As I was perusing my small-town weekly newspaper this afternoon, I came across just such an opportunity, along with the Bible verse of the week, information on vaccinating heifers against brucellosis, and an article on the Civil War reenactment that will take place in December. There's an ad in the classifieds offering $100 an hour; the only downside is that they're seeking "Escorts, Companions, Dancers," a line I personally wouldn't consider crossing unless it was the only alternative to watching my family starve.

In all seriousness, no, I almost certainly couldn't make more at a business working part-time. I have experience working in physics and molecular biology laboratories, but there isn't much demand for that in my area outside the university.

I've done teaching and tutoring, but my ex, who had a similar background and experience, was able to make a paltry $9 per hour working for a tutoring company, and I don't think striking out on my own as a tutor would have been likely to provide a reliable income stream since the demands of the master's program wouldn't leave me tons of time for marketing myself.

Even if you assume the math department position would require 10 hours a week during the 16 weeks of the semester to allow for prep time, the hourly pay is still double what tutoring companies are offering. The point is moot since I'm leaving to do TFA instead of sticking around for the master's program.

Incidentally, $3,000 would cover my rent for seven months and would have been enough to make staying in my apartment much more feasible.