We are inextricably defined by our career. It is where roughly half of one’s waking life is spent. It determines income, which in turn determines the type of lifestyle one has. It affects one’s circle of acquaintances — or, at least with whom one spends forty hours a week. Most importantly, however, it indicates what society thinks one can do well enough to be compensated for.
Three weeks ago, I finally got a job — this time, one that I didn’t quit after the first day (read my post #7 if you missed that adventure). For the first week and a half, I edited patents for a translations company in Chelsea by meticulously comparing computer files on esoteric topics about which I can only pretend to understand, in a variety of foreign languages. Last week I got transferred to another department for which I’ve been helping develop a new software program that the entire translations company will use. After this project, I’ll be transferred back to editing patents. The pay is fairly low, and there are skills in my possession that I wish I could utilize more, e.g. my creativity, social awareness, appreciation of the arts.
The world of patents, i.e. the right to claim ideas and exclude others from using them, says a lot about our society’s values. The tens of thousands of dollars it costs to obtain a patent in the U.S. clearly influences who can ultimately afford the privilege of being deemed “inventor,” considering who has the luxury of time and resources to invent. Thomas Edison did not invent the motion picture camera; he merely worked the patent system to his advantage. Albert Einstein’s first job was an assistant at a patent firm; I highly doubt he’d be the great genius that he is remembered as today had he not had that experience. However, before I get into a full-on Foucauldian “power determines knowledge” rant, I should admit that I am new to this world; our society has reasons for its use, e.g. incentives to research, invest, and develop.
It’s no surprise that I’m not completely satisfied with my job, which is why I don’t see it as my career. Perhaps, as a mere 22-year-old who lacks sufficient experience, clear direction, and a graduate degree, I’m not ready to settle into the career in which I plan to remain for the next thirty years. Maybe I shouldn’t want that yet. In a previous post, I explained what I did want right now: “to wake up slightly excited to go to work every morning, and to use my brain and the knowledge and skills I’ve accumulated over the years to create something fairly beneficial to the world in a relatively comfortable environment.” I do wake up excited to see what type of patents I’ll be handling and which languages I’ll be reading (I’m still anxiously awaiting an opportunity to practice my Russian!). This job does take advantage of my ability to edit and scan text quickly. I have a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned office and am surrounded by pleasant coworkers. This is my first long-term, full-time professional job; the coffee is free, and I finally get to make use of all my pencil skirts and silk blouses. Some days drag on, other days fly by. This job is perfectly fine. For now.
Last week, I bought Anthony a GRE practice test book because he is planning on applying to NYU for a Master’s in history. Unsurprisingly, buying that book reignited my own desire to go to grad school. Sound familiar? I was in this exact same stage last year, except I had my heart set on urban planning at any school in New York. A trusted professor dissuaded me from doing so; apparently he could tell that I was over-applying to a program for which my passion seemed contrived.
This time, the programs of study that I have in mind are much closer to home: Columbia’s Sociology and Education, NYU’s Sociology of Education, and Columbia’s Higher and Postsecondary Education. All three are Master’s programs that prepare students for careers in education research and policy analysis, and all three are clearly relevant to my bachelor’s degree in sociology and the thesis I wrote during college about the inequalities of our current education system.
Editing patents will soon be helping me pay for grad school. I may not define myself by my current job, but a vague idea of my dream career — working to improve the education system and, in a way, decrease the exclusivity of knowledge — has determined at least the next step of my life. That’s all I ask for right now.