The grand plan

I’ve recently had conversations with several of my f’list about what kind of work I’m looking for. They’re generally pretty unsatisfying – I’m very bad at explaining what I’m looking for, and my opinion of what job I can hope for varies with mood from “I can do anything” to “cleaning toilets is the best I can hope for”. I’ve told lots of you that I don’t know what I want, or that I just want something to pay the rent. Which is part-true, but not really.
So, I’ve finally tried to put it into writing. At least now I can point people at my LJ before muttering gloomily to them about the latest rejections.


There is no specific career path I’m aiming at. I have an idea of some of the things I’d like to do over the next few years, but I don’t think they lead naturally into any one career.

Some of them are things I’ll do in my free time rather than at work, but I don’t know which. I’m looking for jobs that will involve doing some of these, and let me get on with the rest outside of work.

1) developing skills

I’m very aware that I’ve not had any training in anything scientific or mathematical since the age of 16. This holds me back from doing or understanding a lot of interesting things. So I’m planning to change that. One option is to find a job with a numerical, economic or scientific component (but those jobs, naturally enough, require you to have an appropriate background in the first place). The other plan is to take some Open University courses; I have a grand plan pinned to my wall which involves beginning with a maths course in a couple of months, and expanding into chemistry and biological psychology in the new year.

Various economically-illiterate activists have a while had a little project of trying to teach ourselves economics. It didn’t really work out this year because we were all busy with other things, but it was a good idea and I’d like to carry on with something similar.

Similarly with technical skills. I have a lot of little pockets of knowledge – basic C/Perl/Python/Java, linux administration, web stuff – but my knowledge is broad and shaky, and I’ve never applied it to something substantial. Again, that’s something to develop either in a job (although I don’t have the skills to do a purely computery job), or by getting involved in, say, an open-source development project in my free time. I’m also thinking about getting a basic certification, as a way of putting on paper things I can do, but can’t prove I can do.

Something I’ve considered in the past is looking for work abroad, as a way of improving my language skills. I’m not thinking about that at the moment, partly because fiona-kitty would disembowel me.

2) politics/international relations

As you’d expect, I’m planning on carrying on with this. I want to get up to speed on Iraq (in the run-up to exams, I stopped reading the news for several months, and I’ve not got back into it yet). I’m also getting quite interested in the Caucasus and Central Asia, as an area which is under-analysed and interesting, sandwiched between areas I know a bit about (Russia, South Asia and the Middle East), and discussed in languages I can read (English, Russian and French). At the moment, I’m more interested in CASI-type analytical work than colourful, shouty campaigning, and more interested in international than domestic issues, although that’s likely to change in the future.

But — I’m not sure I’d really like this as a career. I’m worried that if I was working at an NGO, charity, or campaign group, my work and free time would blend together, and I’d end up completely dedicated to one issue. That would probably lead to me being worried and upset. If work and life are separate, it’s more likely that when one is going badly, the other will be going well, and in any case it’s frustrating to do the same thing all day every day. CASI was very good for this – serious and worthwhile, but completely separate from my academic work.

Despite that concern, I haven’t ruled out working at some kind of NGO-oid body, doign lobbying, campaign work, or whatever – but I don’t have the inclination or financial resources to do an unpaid internship, and paid positions for inexperienced graduates are few and far between.

3) Ethics

Connected to the above, I’d ideally like to be doing something ‘good’ or ‘useful’. My thoughts are as vague as those two words, but they aren’t limited to politics: a company producing an innovative product would be good and useful. Similarly, I would rather work at a small company than a big one.

I wouldn’t be happy either working for an unethical company (arms dealers, telephone sales and the like) or being involved in a zero-sum game (this rules out quite a lot of advertising and sales, for example. But I think market research is OK, as a lot of it is working out what people want, so you can give it to them)

4) Flexibility and workload

Since I’m planning on doing quite a lot outside of work, I’d like to be able to bend my schedule a bit to fit it in. That needn’t mean working from home or odd hours: it’d be enough to have managers who are understanding, and willing to do a bit of give-and-take on work schedules.

For the same reasons, I want to avoid jobs with extremely heavy workloads. A lot of people with serious City jobs seem to be working much longer hours than I’d be comfortable with

5) Interesting work

yes – but I don’t have the faintest idea what would seem interesting. Something with an element of research, analysis or writing would be good. But beyond that, I’d be content with anything not completely mindless.

6) Location

First preference Cambridge. Second choice London. After that, any city not obscenely distant from Cambridge (where fiona-kitty is) – so Oxford, Birmingham or Peterborough are all OK. Jobs in small towns or villages only if there’s an interesting city nearby.

7) Things to avoid

Sales, advertising, and anything else that involves being persuasive in person. Jobs where personal appearance is crucial – I don’t mind wearing a suit, but I’d be hopeless as a receptionist or a media spokesman. Conveniently, long hair and a stutter rule out many of the jobs I’d really dislike.

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