Balancing Work, School, and Life
Alex Rains, ’20, Arts & Sciences
For me, coming to Vanderbilt as a first-year meant making new friends, taking classes in interesting subjects, trying out extracurricular activities, and one non-negotiable: finding a job. My family does not suffer as a result of our financial situation, but the cost of my attending Vanderbilt definitely made money tight around our home, especially as my mom is back in school to receive her degree in nursing as well. I needed a job to offset the costs of being a college student- not just helping to cover tuition, but things like textbooks, fees for programming and trips, and general costs like groceries or the occasional meal off campus with friends. I didn’t view having a job as a bad thing; in fact, I was excited to experience the independence that came with having my own source of income, and wanted to learn what being a part of the professional world was like.
I was using HireADore and had sent emails to a number of prospective employers before I had even set foot on campus. When I arrived, I had an interview at the Vanderbilt Center for Human Nutrition, where I would soon begin my job as an undergraduate research assistant. I felt lucky to receive a job and even luckier that mine was in a field that interested me. Even more, fortunately, it could contribute to the strength of my medical school applications down the line. Upon my starting, I learned the ins and outs of working alongside doctors, dieticians, graduate students, and other undergraduates to accomplish what seemed like a never-ending slew of projects.
About a month into school, the first wave of midterms hit. I wondered why it felt like my friends had so much more time for studying than I did, and realized that 15 hours working in an office is not something that everyone has to commit to each week. With time, I learned how to maintain a better balance between time spent working with time for studying and socializing. However, there is no perfect solution for this sort of thing. I still struggle with balance as a junior: as my involvement with campus organizations increases and I take more challenging courses, I have to continue thinking about where in my schedule I can build in time to go to work, and how I can still accomplish what I need to outside of my job. At times, this has even looked like letting go of some commitments about which I’m not as passionate. I do not have the time to pour hours into things that don’t matter deeply to me, so I pick a few non-negotiable commitments and try to really involve myself in those outside of my time at work.
While there are obvious issues with time management that accompany working a job on campus, there are also times when social pressures can make it difficult to be in my position. I can’t always go out to eat at nice restaurants or to the mall with friends, and sometimes I need to put in extra hours at work to make sure I can cover that month’s expenses. While it can be awkward to navigate conversations around socioeconomic status and financial inclusivity, I am lucky to have a close group of friends with whom I was comfortable disclosing my financial situation. My position allows me to act as a change agent on campus, and to make small changes in the way I make plans, whether it be suggesting dinner at a restaurant covered by our meal plan or a walk around Centennial Park. I know that I am not the only person at Vanderbilt in my situation, so it is important that I help to model the behaviors that I know would make me financially comfortable.
On a number of occasions throughout my time at Vanderbilt, working a job has felt like a burden. However, it has also been such an important part of my Vanderbilt experience and has changed me for the better. Not only do I feel prepared for my life after college as a result of my work experience, but I also know that my experiences have made me a better, more inclusive friend to others. There is no singular “Vanderbilt student”, and I hope that sharing my story with others can empower them to embrace diversity of all kinds on our campus.