My Pre-CV: Fifteen Jobs I Held Before My First Grad Research Assistantships/Fellowships

Recently, Johannes Haushofer, inspired by Melanie Stefan’s 2010 article in Nature, published his CV of failures. Reactions to Haushofer’s CV have been mixed. Some have commended transparency about failure. Others have pointed out that it’s one thing for a Princeton faculty member to publicize his failures, but it would be another thing entirely for those who are languishing on the academic job market year after year. Still others have suggested that Haushofer’s list is a bit of a humblebrag. One section could be read this way: “Harvard, Berkeley, and MIT turned me down for faculty positions after interviewing. Only Princeton would have me.” I don’t feel that strongly about Haushofer’s CV of failures, but I will say that mine is longer.

Haushofer’s CV of failures did get me thinking, though, about the broader category of things that just don’t show up on our CVs. For me, that includes all the jobs I held before my first graduate research assistantships/fellowships. Just like a CV of failures might get us thinking about the role of, and our response to, failure, a “Pre-CV” might get us thinking about the role of all the other jobs we’ve held along the way. So, without further ado, my “Pre-CV,” which includes all 15 jobs I can remember, roughly in order, between December 1993 and August 2000.

  1. Grocery store porter at Klein’s. “Paper or plastic?” You know when you go to the self-checkout line and you have to get the plastic bag to actually open? Believe me when I tell you that no one can get that next plastic bag open as fast I can. I enjoyed carrying people’s groceries to their cars, if they wanted assistance, but my favorite part of the job was recovering carts from the parking lots. Eventually, I was fired when my car broke down and I
    couldn’t get to work for a week or two.
  2. Short order cook at Friendly’s. You do not want to know how some of the stuff at Friendly’s was made. Certain things have no business even being on the menu. But my favorite part of this job was making my own chicken quesadilla and ice cream sundae at every break.
  3. Home demolition crew. I only worked this job, taking a house down to the studs for renovation, for a few days. It paid cash that I needed for a summer trip to Mexico City. My last day on the job, I cut my hand badly and needed stitches. A week or so after landing in Mexico City, I sought out a retired nurse – a friend of a friend – who took them out in her apartment.
  4. Student assistant for study abroad trip to Mexico. This job involved arriving in Mexico City, where I had never been before, two weeks before my classmates and professor, and figuring out the public transit system, among other things. I was utterly unqualified, but I learned a lot.
  5. Videographer for Wheaton College football team. After shattering a bone in my ankle during an Army ROTC Leadership Lab, and after two subsequent surgeries, I was medically disqualified from ROTC and could no longer play football. The coaches were kind enough to offer me a job filming games and breaking down the film in their offices, which allowed me to stay involved with the team.
  6. Junior high ministry intern at Mountain Christian Church. When you go to college interested in four things (two or three too many for those of you keeping track at home), and those things are taken away, otherwise unavailable, or suddenly uninteresting to you after three semesters (see #5, above), you may go through a period of vocational disorientation. If you’re a student at Wheaton College in the 1990s, you may assume for a time that you are supposed to go into professional ministry. You may be wrong. Summer internships in junior high ministry are one way to figure that out.
  7. Child care worker at Wheaton Sports Center. Entertaining children – toddlers to late elementary age – while their parents played tennis. Basically, the kids liked to use me as a jungle gym.
  8. Equipment and facilities assistant for the Wheaton College
    Athletics Department.
    I worked setting up before and tearing down after wrestling tournaments. This job mainly involved me wrestling with wrestling mats. The good news is that I did not get staph.
  9. Weight-room monitor/personal trainer at Wheaton College. If the monitor’s own bag gets stolen from the weight room, maybe they’re not such a good monitor. Just sayin’. In any case, soon after I took this job two new faculty in Kinesiology took over supervision of the weight room staff with the goal of turning us into personal trainers. I didn’t stay in the job for long, but I did learn a lot about exercise during that transition. You wouldn’t know it now…
  10. Server at Front Street Cocina. My manager gave me the following advice: “Memorize their orders, don’t let their glasses go empty, and never serve them cold food.” It worked. I saved all the money for my wife’s engagement ring by earning tips at this job. 
  11. Day-laborer for an electrician. A very generous friend of my wife’s family employed me on occasion to work for his company in Michigan. A lot of pulling wire to outfit remodeled buildings for their new purposes.
  12. Youth lacrosse referee. I enjoyed this job, but I was only okay at it. I made a lot of parents angry. In lacrosse, many defensive penalties draw a flag, but the whistle is not to be blown, and play is not to stop, until the team with possession loses the ball. I had a bad habit of blowing the whistle as soon as I threw the flag, thus depriving the offensive team of one chance at a goal.
  13. Network administrator for rudimentary social/collaboration
    network used by community development organizations in Delaware.
    Before there was Twitter… Before there was Facebook… There was Diamondnet. Diamondnet was a dial-up service, a bit like AOL, that supported community development organizations in Delaware (mostly Wilmington). It provided space for organizations to collaborate and network. I administered Diamondnet – another job for which I was probably completely unqualified. One part of the job involved weekend and nighttime trips to a locker in a server room in an old factory or tannery in Wilmington whenever the server went down. 
  14. Intern at Geneva Global Performance Philanthropy. I had two terrific managers. They played good cop/bad cop – probably without planning it at all – and I needed it. I learned to work a lot harder.
  15. High school substitute teacher. History? Check. Math? Check. Spanish? Check. Chemistry? Check. Teachers, please leave a plan for your subs if you can. For me, there was nothing worse than bored students and no sub plan. Some students got so bored that they invented a game in which they would affix thumbtacks to their pens and take turn smacking each others’ hands with these miniature halberds until one student bled enough to cave in and go to the the nurse’s office. I sent them all to the principal, anyway.

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