Honing your professional skills through campus employment

January 11, 2019

The summer after my first year at UC Berkeley, I looked for a summer job on campus that would give me the chance to both learn a new skill and earn some much-needed cash. Despite having no experience in coding or web development, I was lucky enough to be hired by Digital Humanities @ Berkeley as a Digital Communications Assistant. DH staff trained me in back-end website management and basic website code debugging, and by the end of the summer, I was able to assist in the copying and migration of the redesigned website to a new address. The skills I learned that summer have been useful in organizing and hosting data relevant to my own research, and looking at large volumes of digital data in new ways.

Thanks to these new DH connections, I was hired the following year as Digital Humanities Program Assessment Fellow, a paid position that also allowed me to enroll in the Center for Teaching & Learning’s Graduate Student Assessment Fellowship (GSAF) program. Through the program’s biweekly seminar meetings, I learned different methods for assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of course offerings within a program, department, or workshop. These skills have allowed me to be more aware of long-term learning goals and how to measure them in my own lesson plans, and have also stood me in good stead as I have graduated to planning larger-scale academic workshops and panel sessions at conferences.

This year, after returning from two semesters of research abroad, I applied for a position as Graduate Professional Development Liaison (PDL) with the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley, one of ten graduate students from different departments chosen to help promote and expand professional development efforts and offerings across a variety of graduate programs at the university. Through this internship, I have built on, honed, and elevated my previously existing skills in communications, project management, needs assessment, academic program development, mentoring, leadership, and event planning.

From my experience in the above programs, I have learned that searching for a paid position that offers professional development opportunities does not have to be intimidating, and can easily allow you to earn a bit of extra money working an additional five to ten hours per week while simultaneously learning new skills and developing capabilities that will make you a stronger job candidate, regardless of whether you go on the academic job market or pursue an alternative path. Here are a few pointers to help you get started:

  • Look for positions within extra-departmental academic units on campus. Organs like DH @ Berkeley, the Graduate Assembly, the Center for New Media, the Graduate Division, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Academic Innovation Studio, or your field-specific institute usually look for a few new graduate interns each semester, and some programs are quite competitive in their selection process. Keep your eye out for emails advertising positions in September/October (for the Fall term) and December/January (for the Spring term).
  • Seek positions with flexible hours or distance work opportunities. Keeping your work flexible will allow you to do the work during times you are not occupied with teaching, and enable you to keep your favorite work slots open for your academic research and reading. Discuss flexible options with the position’s supervisor or administrator right when you begin and they may be willing to accommodate you, even if that flexibility was not listed in the original job description.
  • Apply early and often. A wave of positions tend to open up cyclically at the beginning of each term, so it is good to submit applications to several organizations at once (with a good resume that shows your previous work experience and skills as well as a carefully customized cover letter) and have your pick of the positions afterwards. Once you have several offers in front of you, you can reevaluate them in the context of your academic schedule for the semester and see what combination might by the best match for you.
  • Do not bite off more than you can chew. It can be difficult to manage more than your standard academic duties as a student and GSI, so know your limits and make your availability clear to your on-campus employer early in the interview process. As a general rule of thumb, an appointment below 12.5% (5 hours per week) may not be worth your time, while an appointment above 25% (10 hours per week) may make it difficult to meet your teaching obligation. Most campus positions pay between $15 and $25 per hour, so check which pay grade classification the position has (I through IV) when applying.
  • Clear everything properly with the history department and Campus Shared Services (HR). Once you’ve been officially hired, make sure to get the position approved by the Head Graduate Advisor if adding the hours will put you at over 50% time, and run your hiring paperwork by History Human Resources to make sure that all positions have been officially entered onto your payroll and associated with your SID.

Good luck!

Maelia DuBois is a Ph.D. Candidate in European History specializing in German History at UC Berkeley. Before attending graduate school, she worked as an ESL teacher overseas with the Fulbright Program in Germany.