Sunday, 31 July 2011

Graduate Myth #2: Saving The World

With your shiny new degree, you are now officially capable of bringing your calm analytical thoughts and youthful exuberance to saving the world. Whether it's fundraising for a children's charity, building houses in Guatamala, or swabbing the deck on the Sea Shepherd, many graduates want to help make the world a better place. Nothing wrong with that! Perhaps in university you volunteered for a charity. That'll help, right? And you can look at all of the wage slave graduates and feel smug that you are Helping The World.

True story: I have a friend who runs a charity shop. She has always aspired to work in the charity sector, and about a year after graduating she got the dream job. She is paid a reasonable salary, and works for a charity that helps disadvantaged children, using the money she raises in her shop. She assures me that she is glad of this, and does occasionally get a little weepy after a few pints if she's been out visiting one of the projects she helps. So the warm fuzzies do, in fact, exist for graduates.


Saving the world is still work. My friend is the only paid member of staff in her shop, and regularly works twelve hour days. She has volunteer staff who are erratic at best, and she has to deal with all of the HR, all of the paperwork, and most of the retail side of thing. And the health and safety. Don't forget that, it's important. She is currently dealing with a flasher who enjoys coming into the shop and revealing himself to female staff members. (They can't identify him, mostly because they don't focus on his face when he, ah, reveals his identity.) Basically, she has a job that is three times more difficult than most other people and she is emotionally tied to it on the basis that it does, at least, give her a small amount of the fuzzies. The fuzzies, it turns out, are not all that glamorous.

In conclusion: yes, you can get a job that will help you Save The World when you are a graduate. The myth is that it is in some way different from being a job. Nope, sorry, still got all the same problems and indeed a slightly higher percentage of the problems. On the bright side, you do at least get a slightly brighter sense of job satisfaction.

(Don't get me started on 'charity' internships. That's a post for another day.)

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Regrets - I have a few?

In between all of the whinging about graduate life, I think it's important to balance it with one very simple fact: I don't actually regret going to university. Not one second of it, not even that time I threw up in my bin.

(Maybe that time.)

I would even still encourage people who want to go to think about it seriously, albeit weighing up the terrifying financial aspects.

I do believe in the importance of learning for the sake of learning. I think that university imparts important life experience on those who choose to go. I also think that some university courses are designed to make you a better fit for the job market (or at least a specific job market). I think that the real problem is believing that simply attending university can give you all three through some sort of osmosis. Osmosis doesn't work past the cellular level. It's not university that taught me that, it's GCSE biology, but the point is roughly true.

Firstly: universities are places of learning. That is what they are designed to do, and it would be a great sadness if that central aim was lost. It is in universities that some of the greatest discoveries and minds have been nurtured, and that should still be the case.

Secondly: university imparts life experience, of a sort. Living imparts life experience, frankly, but the university experience is a special one. All life experience is valuable, and the university experience is right for some people.

Thirdly: some courses will get you a job. Medical degree, anyone?

I was talking about this in the pub the other night, and we were all agreeing very seriously that university was brilliant and learning is ace. “We are all intellectual arseholes, though,” someone said. I'm not sure who, but the fact remains it is true. I am an intellectual arsehole, so yes, I am very biased about learning for learning's sake. It was the most fabulous four years of my life. However, there was no real reason to think that a history degree would enable me to walk into a great job and I think tricking graduates into that was a terrible mistake. With £9,000 per year at risk (plus living costs!) it is morally wrong to tell students that a degree in classics, or hospitality, or biology, will ensure them a leg-up in the job market. You are better working if that is the priority in your life.

Lest I come off a demented Daily Mail reader, I DO NOT think that the amount of money you earn is the most important thing in life. The important things I learnt in university – don't mix lager and Irn Bru, Charles II was awesome, how to actually love someone, that talking about books and films and politics is a really good thing – was something that I wouldn't trade in for the world. Would I pay £9,000 for it? Here I hesitate, a little. I was the last generation on what are now called 'low' fees, just £1,025 a year. That was a lot of money to me then. It is a lot of money to me now! But at £9,000 a year...

With a lot of thought, the answer is that yes, I would. This is because I was trained into university since I was about 11, and academia was what I was always best at. University worked for me, and it would probably work at £9,000 a year. To have had to work this out at age sixteen, when I left school, would have been terrifying. So it should have been made clear to me – and my god, I hope they're making it clear to school-leavers today – that it will not guarantee you a job, or a future. It may do, but it probably won't.

Of course, this all makes a rather large leap of logic – if, in fact, there is currently another option for young people in which they can find the skills to work. I would argue there isn't, which will probably make the prospect of university far more tempting, £9,000 fees be damned. That's an argument for another day, though.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Graduate Myth #1: The 'Graduate Role'

And now, in a new section for this blog: GRADUATE MYTHS. All those things you think are true, and to my mind really deserve to find out long before you pick up the bit of paper declaring you to be university educated. We start with the big one - the 'graduate role'.

Look at this woman. Look at her.

She's calm! She's in control! She's wearing a business suit that she probably didn't get in the sale at Marks & Spencer! She might even have disposable income! You can just bet she goes to work meetings and doesn't quietly fall asleep! She uses her graduate skills in the real world! Before I graduated, I imagined this might have been me. Less blonde, yes, but striding around London with a Starbucks in one hand and a briefcase in the other. (Actually, I wanted to work for the civil service but I rather appreciate this is currently impossible.)

It turns out that the lady in the picture is basically a model and therefore doesn't exist. There are people with those kinds of jobs, and there are even recent graduates with those kinds of jobs, but there aren't many. One day I still hope to stride around looking professional and have a job that challenges me, but it won't be soon.

(There are recent graduates out there with high-powered professional work that challenges them and they enjoy it. If you're one of them, let me know, as it would be nice to know that they aren't up there with unicorns and reputable landlords in terms of myth.)

I am exceedingly lucky. I haven't been out of work for about four years now, taking my university job into a full-time role in a new city when I left and then falling into my current role now, which was described as a 'graduate role'. It's not all bad. I am paid a salary. A SALARY! With SICK PAY! Like I'm a REAL PERSON! That's really very exciting.

It really isn't exciting, though. My role in my job has some seniority (translation: more people shout at me) but mostly involves administration and talking to the general public. And making the tea. I make the tea a lot. I don't even wear a business suit.

One day I will be that lady, but the most important thing I have found in the graduate world is that it doesn't happen immediately, and at the end of the day work experience is the most important thing. That is the most important graduate myth that I feel it is important to break.

{Any suggestions for your own graduate myth that needs busting? Let me know in the comments!}

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

On Saturday, I went out with a few friends and Mr Disorientated Graduate. This is not unusual behaviour. Having recently moved to a new town that's slightly away from the base of our friends, I volunteered to drive, and spent the night drinking lemonade. It was a great catch-up, and even better not too late, as I'm not very good at late nights.

On the way home, passing through the country lanes that link Seaside Resort to the outside world, a thought passed through my mind. I glanced at Mr DG. “Do you want... you know..?”

His eyes lit up, possible under the power of a couple of cheap pints of lager. “Oh yes. Oh yes I DO.”

I put my foot down on the accelerator.

Stop it you filthy creatures, what I'm obviously referring to is going to McDonald's Drive-Thru on the way home and then vegging out in front of the telly. Don't let it be said our relationship is without romance. I then realised that having watching Mr DG drink cheap lager all night, I fancied a drink. I looked at out drinks supply. I shrugged.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I ate a McChicken Sandwich a small glass of port at 11.30pm on a Saturday night.


There is also a fascinating piece from The Guardian about graduation. Obviously this blog is superior. Ahem. But if you're looking for some real advice, it's not a bad read.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The problem with fellow alumni

Many prospective university students look at the people who have successfully (or perhaps unsuccessfully) attended said university. As a graduate of St Andrews University, I stand with a great many wonderful and often famous people. I also stand with a great many anonymous office workers, failed writers and so on, but people don't tend to talk about them quite as often.

People therefore assume that you are of a similar quality and ability of these figures. I assume this is true myself, actually. I reckon I could hold up in a conversation with Alex Salmond, up until the part we have a blistering argument about bridge tolls. I imagine that I could share a witty bon mot with Crispin Bonham Carter and wait for literally three minutes before squeeing that he was in Pride and Prejudice. And yes, I think the education is a certain part of it. I can imagine that one day perhaps I will be a politician, an actor, a bishop (maybe not that) or many of the other wonderful things that St Andrews graduates have become. Maybe I will be a famous writer.

Unfortunately, there's a big roadblock for current St Andrews graduates. They skew the perception of the university, of the graduates, and what our achievements should be. That's right. I'm talking about:

Okay, that's a lie, I'm not actually talking about Ben from Big Brother. (Austen to reality TV is three paragraphs? Why not.) He is, however, part of the problem. I am of course referring to:

Kate and Wills. Or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as I believe you're meant to refer to them now. They mean that all St Andrews graduates are expected to somehow be able to operate on a royal level, and I quite simply can't, and neither can anyone I know.

From a strictly republican level, I could point out that many of my fellow graduates are on a similar career path as William; on essentially a graduate scheme, working hard, become a pilot or a doctor or whatever. I could point out that I know many, many graduates who are staying at home without a job just like Kate, although possibly they are not being supported quite so well in it. Both I and Mr Disorientated Graduate could aspire to this, although frankly we'd both agree that he'd be the one staying at home.

From a less republican level, well, buggar. As a nominal Catholic, I'm actually barred from the throne, so there's that one scotched. They've led to assumption that all St Andrews graduates are posh, Move In The Right Circles, and know what knife to use at a dinner party. I've never even been to a dinner party and I don't think watching a lot of Come Dine With Me counts. Whatever I do in my graduate life, I will never ever be the future king/queen of the United Kingdom. When Mr Disorientated Graduate and I marry next year, it certainly won't be in Westminster Abbey. (We can't even afford flowers for the church, let alone trees!)

Still, it could be argued that the education has very little to do with it. This notion that kings need to be educated is a very new one. If you'd told William the Conquerer that he would have been a better monarch with a politics A-Level, he would have nutted you. William was, rightly or wrongly, born as the future king of Britain in the way I was born was a truculent Northerner; some things are just a quirk of fate. He was the future king before he came to St Andrews and he still is.

Kate's a bit of a problem. I mean, they seem to like each other, and I reckon this is what she wants to do with her life, and it's not my prerogative to argue with another woman's choice. I am a strident feminist, and I don't think that subsuming your will and life to your husband's is necessarily a wise choice, and I also think it's a particularly dim view of the St Andrews woman. We weren't all posh girls, and I certainly didn't go there to get a bloke. Just because I did IS NOT THE POINT. Yet it was her education that got her where she is today.

And deep down, I think that's the really aggrieving thing. I do, in fact, have some similarities to them on a surface level and people therefore assume more similarities, and tend to not believe me when I say that no, I really do work in a office for a small family firm for a small wage and I don't know the queen. No, honestly, I don't!

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Real World(tm)

The main problem with the real world is that, in a sense, you are protected from many of its little vagaries when a student. Now, as a student I had to pay bills, and one week I ran out of money so lived off a loaf of bread and a box of Tesco Value eggs. (Okay, that’s a tiny fib. I still had some herbs, and after three days a housemate took pity on me and gave me half a cup of rice.) At the same time, though, I didn’t worry about, say, council tax. That was nice.

The depressing part is that you don’t realise that you’re free of all this nonsense. In fact, you bewail how difficult life is and how completely fucking unreasonable British Gas are. That is still true. What you don’t realise is also how completely fucking unreasonable the council tax people are. And the water board people. And don’t get me started on that family below me with the child that’s teething. No one’s fault, sure, but the child seems to have an uncanny knack of stopping crying approximately 0.1 nanoseconds before my alarm goes off in the morning. If that’s not completely fucking unreasonable then I don’t know what is.

Before anyone comes in on their high horse and whinges at me that this is just the real world and what everyone has to put up with, and not everyone gets to spend four years faffing about on the government money ETC ETC BLAH BLAH can it please be noted that the above statement probably applies to everyone. At least I moved out at eighteen and learned about the whole British Gas thing, and that you can make a variety of increasingly desperate meals with naught but eggs, bread, and seven inventive tricks with oregano. My younger sister often tells me that I lived in fairyland or four years and never dealt with the problems of THE REAL WORLD and NORMAL PEOPLE. That might be true, but she still lives with our parents at the age of twenty-one and works part time in a takeaway. I was talking to my mum about water bills, and she piped up in genuine confusion that water was something to be paid for.

This is less a disorientated graduate problem and more of a disorientated twenty something problem, I realise. Still, university tricks you into thinking that you’re dead worldly and capable of taking on everything so it’s rather a shock when you work out that they really are all still out to get you.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Heads-up in the Guardian

Like so many graduates, secretly all I want global fame where the whole world knows my name and reads the things I write in newspapers and marvel at my wit.

I've managed to get a comment mentioned in the homepage of the Guardian liveblog for 'The Apprentice'. I post as 'hathycol' on the Guardian, and I'm pleased to see that a pithy comment I made regarding Inception and Jedi Jim was mentioned in the main page. Hurrah!

... yes, that's about the high point of things right now. Well, it's a start.

Undercover Boss

Last night I watched 'Undercover Boss' on Channel 4. The premise of the show, for those of you that don't spend the evening on the second-hand sofa like the Disorientated Graduate, is that the boss of a company that isn't doing as well as they would like (and would like a lot of publicity) goes into the business under disguise as a new start to see what problems they have on the floor.

Now, I work in quite a little company so my boss is pretty much constantly on the shopfloor, so the idea of being caught out by him by not recognising him is a strange one. I think I would need to have suffered from sort of major amnesia and frankly if I did at least I would get some time off work. I digress.

Last night's episode was about Ann Summers, the high-street store that introduced Rampant Rabbits to the high street. Sales are slightly down, to the sister of the M.D. went overcover. She was the assistant managing director and had never worked in a shop.

Alarm bells starting ringing. The Disorientated Graduate worked in retail whilst a student and then for a while after graduating; Mr Disorientated Graduate still does. I would argue the basic for knowing how to run a shop would involve some experience of being on the floor. Instead, you get random directions from on high, which make no sense to those trying to make the place profitable. In all fairness, I think a bit of head office experience is also good; maybe there should be job swaps in place? When I rule the world, etc, etc.

Anyway, the sister of M.D. was shocked by the policy of staff only being taken on for eight hours a week unless they're managers. Hint: you can work four hours without a break. Two four hour shifts a week mean that you can have a large workforce to swap and change as necessary. It's a good system, but only if you want a lot of students. You lose a lot of older, great staff, meaning you get demotivated and unhappy staff with no experience, but such is life. Economics wins agains!

At the end, the undercover boss gave some of the women she met the chance to be 'brand ambassadors' and 'help the buying team'. There's no mention of a pay increase there, or permanent full-time hours, which is the thing they actually need. The point of the show was to make sure that the business was helped to be turned around, and not to help the workers out, so I understand that there was no vested interest in helping the workers en masse. Still, it stuck in the throat a little. As the recessions grows, a lot of businesses are suffering and there's a need to try and help them, I get that. But it just makes me sad that it takes a TV show and a lot of free publicity to even think about listening to the people on the ground who actually keep the business running.

Also, the Undercover Boss wore a really daft wig. That was just silly.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

An introduction of sorts

So this is how it goes.

You spend fourteen years or so in school. These are mostly miserable years. Still, you persevere. You work your socks off. You spend years studying for exams and working hard. You probably manage a part-time job of sorts, and if you're really keen you do some sort of valuable volunteering type of thing.

Then you apply to university, and glory of glories, you get into your first-choice university. After a few more months of studying and sweating and peering out of the window to the glorious sunshine that inevitably accompanies final exams. Results day comes around, and the results are what you want. Your normally reserved father buys champagne, and sends you off to the other end of the country where he quietly hopes you'll survive the first week.

A few years pass. You make new friends, lose some of them, probably sleep with some unwise people, eat some very unwise food combinations, but generally cope. Your liver may or may not recover. All things considered though, you worked hard, and now you're at the other end. Officially speaking, you are A Success.

And then real life socks you over the head.

The Disorientated Graduate recognises herself in the potted history above. Hi. I graduated from the University of St Andrews in June 2009 and have been trying to forge myself a life ever since. All things considered, I am technically a success. I'm typing this in my sunny front room in my rented flat in a converted Victorian mansion by the sea, on my weekend away from my 9-5 office job. I share this flat with my fiance, and we're desperately saving for a wedding next year. We have a group of disparate and interesting friends, and we drink a lot of red wine.

As I said, technically speaking, I am a success at graduate life. So why do I feel so lost?

Like many graduates, the path for my life was set out in front of me. School, sixth-form college, university and then some sort of mysterious but awesome future. University will sort out everything they assured us at careers talk. My parents, neither of whom attended university, see my graduate life with an equal sense of bewilderment. There's a sense that I should perhaps be wearing a power-suit and earning awe-inspiring amounts of money, or at least be serene and creative. Instead, I have a perfectly good life, but the markers I had previously – exam results, a sense of something to work towards – were taken away the day I graduated, and no careers service in the world can tell you how to make sense of that.

Plus, there's a whacking great problem with the economy.

So graduates like me continue in our little hamster wheels. But not any more!

The Disorientated Graduate is here to take you by the hand and reassure you that yes, graduate life is a horrible, awful shock. Not 'The Real World'; let's face it, most of us have worked throughout university, we didn't really expect to get a job straight away and we can just about throw together a meal by now. It's more the crushing moment of “... is this it? Really?” Whether it's the mundane frustrations of the daily grind, or the distressing moment when you realise you really can't drink the way you used to, this will at least tell you that it isn't just you.

(Unless you've graduated and immediately bought a house, paid off your debts, and found the ideal job that gives you a deep sense of satisfaction. That really is just you.)