Working for a Living (And Going to Grad School, Too)

Talkin' money.

I arrived in Chicago about a month before I enrolled in the Interdisciplinary Book & Paper Arts MFA program at Columbia. I was nervous about being in a new city (a bigger city than where I came from—Memphis) and nervous about making money. A lot of the positions available at school hadn’t been posted yet. So, I preemptively found a job out in the world just about as fast as I could. I ended up keeping that job through my first year of graduate school and into the summer. And then, I quit.

I thought today I would share some of the work experiences I’ve had during school, what’s worked for me, and what hasn’t. Financial stresses in graduate school seem to be somewhat inevitable, but there are so many choices and opportunities that can ease that anxiety.

So, I worked outside of school for about 20-25 hours a week. I really liked my job, but at some point, I started to feel stretched. Switching from school mode to work mode, asking off time for conferences and lectures—it all started to add up. It was doable, but I just wasn’t loving it. For the summer after my first year, I got awarded a studio assistantship with one of the summer residency artists at the Center for Book and Paper Arts. Getting that meant that I had to be at school working for 8 hours a day for two weeks. It made it impossible to keep my part time job. Not wanting to have to pass up that awesome opportunity, I quit and decided that I would only work at school from then on.

There are a lot of opportunities for jobs in the Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts MFA program. We have Graduate Assistant and teaching positions in all three of the main studios: book, paper, and print. We also have general studio assistants that float between studios and work for Jessica Cochran, Curator of Exhibitions and Programs. There are also opportunities in other departments. For instance, two of my classmates are Teaching Assistants in the Television Department this semester.

There are a lot of perks that come with working on campus. I’ve held both graduate assistant and teaching positions at this point. They are great learning experiences in and of themselves. Graduate assistants are responsible for overseeing the undergraduate students open studio hours, and nothing makes you think and learn faster than having to answer questions from newly trained printers or papermakers working on their projects.

This whole post is not to say that holding jobs off campus is not possible or equally as awesome. I have several classmates that make it work. For me, working for Columbia College Chicago has been the best option for making money and still being able to devote a lot of time to making work.