Balancing Acts

By

illustration by Natalie Sicher

Conversations with Students Who Have On-Campus Jobs 

 

By ALAYA AYALA

 

According to the Harvard Student Employment Office website, 78% of students have had a part time job at one point during their time at Harvard, on or off campus. 39% of graduating seniors began working during their first year on campus, and the average student spends ~8 hours a week working during their senior year. In 2017, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 43% of full time undergraduate students in the country had jobs, which was purportedly lower than the percentage in 2005, when 50% of the students surveyed had jobs. Statistics like these pose an interesting question: why do students choose to have jobs while they’re in school, especially considering the impact it could have on their social lives and education? 

The Indy was especially concerned with students who have on-campus jobs, as they are an integral part of the working community that helps to make Harvard a home for its students. We wondered what it was about on campus jobs that made students choose to work where they learn, eat, sleep, and play. We also had questions about how these students are impacted by having to find a work-life balance, and how they feel that their various jobs contribute to how they are perceived by other students on campus. To get some insight on these questions, the Indy reached out to four undergraduate students who stated that they were employed on Harvard’s campus.

Alyx Britton, class of 2021 in Leverett, stated, “I decided to get a job when I first got to campus because I desperately needed the money, and have had jobs since then to supplement income that I get from scholarship refunds because I’m completely financially independent from my parents. So if I want something, then I have to make the money to get that thing. And especially because after my first year at Harvard it got a little harder to get things like grants and things like that.” Alyx ‘21 has worked several jobs on campus, including Dorm Crew, working for the FYRE program, working in the Leverett House Building Office, serving as a Peer Advising Fellow for Harvard first-year students, being a Quintern in the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, and as an Intern in the Advising Programs Office.  

Harvard reports that 55% percent of undergraduate students receive need-based Harvard Scholarships, and estimates that a student whose family contributes $11,650 to their education in a year would be expected to earn at least $2,850 while working during term-time to contribute to the cost of their education. While these numbers aren’t meant to imply that only students who need financial aid have jobs while they are enrolled at Harvard, it does provide some context for why so many of Harvard’s students are in need of means to support themselves with a job during the school year. 

Anna Cambron, of the class of 2022 in Quincy House states that her reasons for getting a job are “primarily a financial thing; I really want to lessen the burden on my mom. I don’t want her to have to pay for anything for me, so I want to have my own money and buy things for myself so that she doesn’t have to.” Audrey Pettner ‘21 in Winthrop also cited wanting to alleviate the financial burden of college on her family, stating that “I needed the disposable income. I knew that if I wanted to go into Boston or do specific fun campus activities and things like that, I needed to be able to have my own money that I could spend, and I wanted to be able to take care of tuition so that my parents didn’t have to worry about it.” Abigail Gabriel Ory ‘21 also stated that she wanted “more control over my finances, I wanted to have financial freedom and I wanted to be able to save money while I was in college.” 

When asked why each of the students chose jobs on-campus versus off-campus, the responses varied. Abigail ‘21 said that “ I decided to get a job on campus for a number of reasons. I was actually working off-campus for awhile and the commute was just too much. It wasn’t even that long of a commute by job standards, but by time-out-of-my-life-as-a-student standards, it was a lot of time, and then it costs money to transport yourself there. I could get a job on campus that pays the same amount except I don’t have to pay two dollars for a bus ticket.” Abigail now works for the Lamont Media Lab and is employed as a sound tech at the Queen’s Head Pub on campus. 

Audrey ‘21 stated that she “wanted something that was close to classes, and I didn’t want to have to wander all over Cambridge. I also felt like everything would be a little more streamlined if I worked on campus, like they might be a little more understanding of the life of a college student.” Anna ‘22 cited “flexibility and convenience” as reasons for wanting to work on campus as well.

Alyx ‘21 responded that “Honestly, on campus jobs were the ones that were the most readily accessible to me. It seemed like basically wherever I went on campus, there were already student employees there and I could just ask ‘Hey, how can I work here?’ if it was something that I really wanted to do, or even before I’d ask, it would be said to me like ‘Hey, if you want to work here, here’s what you can do.’ They were presented to me before I even got to consider off-campus jobs.” 

The Indy was also interested in how having jobs had affected the social lives, schedules, and education of each of the students. 

Anna ‘22, who is a course assistant and a tour guide, responded that “It makes timing a little bit weird, for my course assistant job, I’m basically attending and planning for an additional class, and for my tour guide job I have to take hour-and-a-half long chunks of time out of my day and dedicate them to working at random times when I have space in my schedule. It can be kind of hard transitioning from working to going to class straight after, especially since my class persona and the persona that I present while being a tour guide are so different. The only thing that really impacts my social life is that any time I’m at these jobs is, by definition, time that I’m not spending with my friends. It’s not too bad though since I’m usually done working by five and I see my friends in the evening. The only other thing is that it can be hard having to squeeze in school work during the day in between having to go to work and class, work cuts into it so I spend a lot longer doing classwork in the evenings.” 

Audrey ‘21 said that “I try to fit in work during times when I know that I’m not going to be productive academically, it’s really hard for me to work in the afternoon, so I try, when I don’t have class, to schedule work at that time. I have a variety of jobs, some are more flexible and some have more of a fixed schedule, so it works out well, so that I can fill in the time when I’m not productive, as it comes up.” 

Alyx ‘21 responded that “I think the key thing with jobs on campus is finding something that you can work well in between your studies and your extracurriculars. For me, one benefit of getting jobs that don’t pay hourly (a lot of my jobs pay me with stipends) is that I can work basically whatever hours I need to as long as it meets a given deadline.” 

Harvard is primarily a campus that strives to support academic endeavors, and applauds efforts toward academic achievement. As such, we were interested in finding out more about how students believe having a job on campus contributes to how they are perceived by other people in such a rigorous environment. 

Audrey ‘21, who works for Lamont Library, the Art History Department, and teaches yoga for the Harvard Recreation System, responded that “I think in my friend group, normally it’s a non-factor because a lot of them have jobs. Otherwise, the response is usually something like ‘Oh my gosh, how are you working so many hours?’ — I normally work 20 hours a week and take five classes, so responses are normally positive coupled with a general concern for my well being. The only thing is that sometimes it can be hard to articulate to people that I have a finite amount of funds, so I can’t do everything that I wish I could.”   

Anna ‘22 also expressed that the general reactions she receives concern how she manages her time, and also stated that “I don’t necessarily feel looked down on for my tour guiding and class assistant jobs, there’s an understanding for why I’d want to to those jobs, either for the money or prestige, but when I worked with Dorm Crew I would get responses like ‘why would you want to do that?’” 

Alyx ‘21 stated, “I don’t think there is a negative attitude to jobs generally on campus, I think any issues of stigmatization come with certain types of jobs on campus. Those jobs that have less professional development opportunities are the ones that I think receive more negative reactions. Jobs that are more competitive to get into and pay well and provide professional development opportunities are the ones that more people regard as more of an accomplishment to get, you’re kind of looked up to for having those jobs. I would feel weird telling people when I used to work for Dorm Crew, I never got overtly negative responses, at least, not to my face, but with a job like that it becomes very apparent how people live differently than you, and that made me really uncomfortable at the time.”

Abigail ‘21 stated that “The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is stigma that other people face, things that other people, especially in food service, get told when they share that they work on campus. I’ve heard people make assumptions like ‘oh, you must be on financial aid, that’s so awful that you have to work at the grill and fry things all the time.’ There are a lot of reasons why someone might want to do a particular job, and it’s not your place to judge.”   

It is clear that having on-campus jobs is something that students do for many reasons, and that the experience of working in such a prestigious environment comes with its own benefits and challenges. 

Alaya Ayala ([email protected]) was grateful to have conversations with fellow student workers about their own experiences.