Life as a Recent Grad

In my final thesis presentation on May 9th, 2017, I talked about how when I graduated from college, I was lost. I’d devoted three years of my life to a major that didn’t inspire me, and when I switched tracks to design work my fourth year, I didn’t have enough skills or experience to find a job in the field. I talked about how I took a gap year, to figure out what I wanted to do, which was how I chose my graduate program at The School of Visual Arts.

After I graduated from college in 2014, I spent an extra month on campus to work on my portfolio, meet with professors for advice, and begin the job search. My ergonomics professor, who mentored me through my independent research project on computer/tablet use posture, recommended me to a recruiter at Apple for a position as an ergonomics researcher.  I did a few interviews with them, but was not surprised when I didn’t receive a job offer – my degree wasn’t in ergonomics and from the job-posting page it looked like they wanted someone with a PhD.  Ironically, the other interview I got during this time was with Herman Miller, also for an ergonomics position.

The first month I was home after graduation, I was stressed, constantly looking through job boards for openings. My mom told me it was ok to take a month off, and then keep looking. She said it’s not often that someone can take several weeks off to rest and recuperate, and that I should take advantage of it.  After that, I took her words to heart, and perhaps took off too much time. I’d lost hope in the job application process, after sending out heartfelt cover letters and resumes to companies I adored, only to receive a generic “thank you for your interest, however” email several months later, or no response at all.

I switched from researching jobs to researching graduate programs, and contacting previous students that had gone through those programs. If you’re looking for graduate school programs, I highly recommend contacting current students or alums; I found someone’s portfolio and email for a program I was interested in, and we talked on the phone a few days later. He then connected me to a friend he knew at another program I was looking at, which saved me from filling out an application.

The circumstances as a MFA grad felt different than as an undergrad. It seemed unreasonable to go back home for an indefinite period of time, perusing through job boards. I had a degree in the field I wanted to work in, so there was no excuse. Before I joined the program, I had this rosy picture painted in my head where I would have a wonderful job lined up several months before I graduated, offering stability and certainty. That didn’t happen, and based on the precedent of the year above, I wasn’t surprised. (Our program pushes for students to focus exclusively on the thesis, stating the job search can wait for later).

I was talking to one company on and off for a bit over a year which was promising, and did a few interviews with them, but I hadn’t had much time to look beyond my immediate contacts. Talking to some of the first years that were looking for internships, a few told me they typically send out around 70 applications to get a job. That was the approach I’d taken in undergrad, and I didn’t have fond memories of it. I decided to focus on my thesis for the time being, and save the anxiety and uncertainty for later.

Now that it’s been a few weeks since graduation, and the first week without course requirements, I’ve had time to think about alternatives to the “graduate to get a job” route. There’s still uncertainty, but with that there’s a certain sense of excitement – there are far more options than I ever considered. At some point (in six months), I will need health insurance, but for right now, I have options and choices.

If there’s one thing that my program did well, it was establishing a network of people in industry (one of the benefits of having instructors who are active practitioners). I’ve had some casual coffee meetings to talk about what field I want to go in to, and I never quite know where the conversation will lead, which is part of the fun; some are leads for different opportunities, some impart sagely advice; many do both.

I'm still exploring what’s next, and that's part of the excitement.