navigating the future at brown
“I’ll figure something out,” I heard myself say. I stared at my toes. I wiggled them—just to make sure I still knew how to do that. I did.
“I’ll figure something out,” I told myself, wondering what it was, exactly, that had gotten me into this mess in the first place. The chair was cold against my back. I wished I was wearing a sweater. But that didn’t change anything, in the end. Most wishes don’t.
Then the topic of conversation changed—quickly, all too happily—and I sat there disconnected from the ebbs of talk around me, pretending to chew a bite of my food long after I had swallowed it.
I remember that dinner specifically, that feeling of being unable to be present, lost in my own anxiety about life in general and where mine was going. We were supposed to be celebrating my friend’s recent job offer. Like many of the people I knew, he was going somewhere great; he deserved it. And I wish I could have more properly celebrated.
But I was lost. The rest of the world had it together, and I didn’t know what classes I wanted to take, much less where I would be at the end of the semester. I felt stateless, confused, and, worst of all, alone.
I wasn’t alone, of course. Not just because I had friends and family to support me, but also because I wasn’t the only senior going through this moment of personal crisis. Yet it was hard to open up, especially when the numbers of other jobless students around me were fast dwindling.
That is one of the things I wish I had been more prepared for at the end of last year. I knew, of course, that my job search would be different than that of many of my friends. I knew that as someone not set on a track towards working at a big bank or tech firm, I wouldn’t be recruiting in the fall, and I likely wouldn’t have any offers before I went home in December. What I didn’t fully realize is how my isolation would feel and how few resources I would have to change that.
After the dinner, I attempted to make an appointment with CAPS, thinking that they should be familiar with this particular brand of senior stress. But after four unanswered and unreturned phone calls, I gave up.
I remember deciding in the fall that, although I would be attending few, if any, recruiting events, I would start my job search early. I revamped my resume a dozen times, wrote draft upon draft of cover letters. And then I went to the CareerLAB.
During my time at Brown, I have had blissfully few interactions with CareerLAB. I made an appointment once during my sophomore year, I believe, during which I got very little advice. An advisor read over my resume, declared it “fine,” explained that CareerLAB has students who do that kind of thing, thereby implying that I didn’t need to have taken up her time, and sent me out of her office.
My appointment in the fall was scarcely better. I chose the next appointment I could attend—which was a month out—and showed up with my resume and a list of questions. The advisor I saw gave me some solid pieces of advice on my resume, at least, but they were tailored towards my graduate school applications. He noted at the end of our talk that this revised version wouldn’t work at all for my job applications, but rather than answer my questions about what would work, he just said to come back in a few months. It must have been his lunch break. When I asked what resources CareerLAB had for humanities and social science students looking for jobs, he asked if I wanted to work for a hedge fund or be a consultant. “No,” I said. “Then basically, we can’t help you,” was his reply.
So I asked him how to contact former Brown students in my field, but rather than direct me towards Brown’s own tools, he told me to search LinkedIn, saying it was “sometimes accurate” and that Brown’s databases were, to put it more nicely than he did, pretty useless.
He also suggested I talk to professors, as if CareerLAB itself shouldn’t be bothered to help students find careers unless they were tracked, fitting perfectly into recruitment and interview schedules already set up through the organization. I should note here that the professors whom I have talked to have been invaluable; I just wish that the burden did not fall entirely upon them.
I wish that someone had told me years ago how little support there would be for students like me at this stage. Why doesn’t Brown have more easily accessible ways for students to find alums in their fields? Why isn’t CareerLAB prepared to offer students (at least, students outside of the CS and econ departments) support? Why isn’t job counseling in general more available and more useful?
For me, the question of where I will soon be is now, fortunately, settled—mostly. I was lucky enough to get into several Ph.D. programs, which I had been hoping for all along. Now, my hardest decision will be deciding between my options, and I am infinitely grateful that that’s the case.
While the news of my graduate admissions has certainly diminished my stress, it doesn’t improve the situation at Brown overall. The important thing is that there are still seniors who don’t have jobs, and juniors who won’t have jobs right away next year, and so on, and so forth. Where is the logistical and emotional support for these students, the support that Brown promised us we would have when we arrived?
For those seniors who are left wondering what the future holds, I just want to say that, even when it seems like everyone else has had their plans set for months, you’re going to be okay. You will find something that works for you. You will be happy. To those of you who will be going through this process soon, know that it can honestly be difficult at times. Like anything worth its weight, it will take effort and strength. But you’ll get through it. And I hope that, by then, Brown is more prepared to stand behind you than it was for me.