There once was a man from St ‘Drews,
Who had no career skills to use.
He got a two-one,
And had all kinds of fun,
But he ended up polishing shoes.
I’ve been an undergraduate student now for almost four years. I arrived here as an awkward, nervous, introverted fresher, and I’ve blossomed into an arrogant, irritating twat of a 22-year-old. I’ve handed in a hundred assignments, read two whole textbooks and written two dissertations, and I’ve learned and promptly forgotten more about mathematics and computer science than I ever thought possible. Now, as the end draws near, I turn my gaze towards the future, towards the things that will happen to me after I’ve finished my exams, tossed my mortarboard, and taken my first step into the world of work.
Work? What? I have to get an actual job that I get paid for and have to go to every day? I can’t just go in for my two hours of lectures and spend the rest of the day watching Jeremy Kyle and eating Dairylea Dunkers? Isn’t there some kind of law against this sort of thing? Everyone got very excited the other day about an old lady dying and I’m not that “into” politics but I’m pretty sure it was something to do with all this. You know, workers’ rights.
Maybe if I’d left school at the age of eighteen and gone straight into a job, I’d be okay. I was already in the habit of getting up at 7:30 every morning, and not getting home until the evening. I should have just become a primary school teacher or a miner or something and I’d never have fallen into the disgraceful sleeping and working habits I’m in now. The problem, of course, is that I hate children and I’m scared of going underground. I’m only really good at maths, and there isn’t much you can do with that other than study it at a university.
So here I am, for better or for worse, preparing for exams, looking at getting a reasonable degree classification, and staring into the abyss that lies beyond. I’ve made arrangements for a summer placement, but when September rolls around, I’m going to need to find something to do. One option presents itself seductively: don’t leave. Do a Master’s or a PhD. It’s perfect, because it looks to everyone else like I’m advancing my career, but it actually means I can stay in the nice warm bubble and not get a job yet.
The major drawback to this is that postgraduate study, particularly at PhD level, is renowned for being very hard work – probably much harder than most actual jobs. Also, unless I get funding from somewhere – which is getting a lot harder these days – I’d have to go through several more years of paying out thousands of pounds a year rather than being paid. And in the end I’d only be putting off the inevitable, because when it’s all over I’m going to have to end up getting a job anyway. Unless I want to become a lecturer, and given how much I hate primary school children now, I can only imagine that when I’m in my forties I’ll feel pretty much the same way about undergraduates.
This only leaves the slightly more eccentric options if I want to avoid working. One thing I could do is learn a new language, move to a distant island somewhere and live off the land. The idea of escaping the rat-race is definitely appealing, and I’d probably go somewhere with nicer weather, sun all year round to warm me up, and just enough rain to water the exotic fruits and vegetables I’ll no doubt grow in my garden.
The problem with this plan, once again, is that it would require quite a lot of self-discipline and manual labour. Being your own boss is all very well, but there’s no calling in sick when there are chickens to feed and plants to water. Half of the lectures I’ve missed in the last four years have been due to my general unwillingness to get out of bed. I can scarcely imagine what would happen if there was no one there to tell me off or send me academic alerts when I didn’t get out of bed. My pitiful holding would wither away overnight.
So when I graduate, it seems I’m doomed to a life of back-breaking labour. But for all that, work isn’t all bad. There are certainly some advantages, one of which I’ve already touched on: getting paid for the back-breaking labour would certainly beat paying THEM at a rate of £9,000 a year. Once I’ve got an income I’ll be able to do all the things reserved only for proper grown-ups. I’ll be able to afford twice as many Dairylea Dunkers as I can now, and I’ll take them with me in my packed lunch, and who knows, maybe I’ll save up and buy an Xbox or something else grown-up. Maybe I’ll even get my clothes from Primark instead of charity shops! And if I’m lucky, I’ll get a job that lasts from 9 till 5, instead of one that keeps me up all night at my keyboard. In a way, it’s a life any student should dream of.
And if all else fails, I can just marry a millionaire or become a vicar.