Grad student summer gig?
April 23, 2012 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I am a grad student who needs extra income, but my department frowns upon outside work. Ideas?

I am not explicitly prohibited from having an outside job by any formal policy, but my advisor thinks that the meager amount of my summer funding is enough and that nothing should distract from research. I agree, to a point, but I can't trim my budget any further and I will have a few hundred in uncovered medical expenses coming up, and will also probably be in for a major car repair in the next year, and being broke and racking up credit card debt will keep me up at night and impact my work. Already applied for every fellowship I know I qualify for, so that's out.

I want to spend a few hours a week over the summer building up a savings cushion, but I can't TA, can't wait tables or sling coffee anywhere I might be noticed, and I'm having a hard time coming up with other ideas for working 10-15 hours on the sly. I've trolled craigslist part-time and gigs in my city, not much. I suppose I could tutor since that's the obvious thing for an overeducated person with my skill set, and I'm sending out applications for online tutoring, but open to other ideas, especially ones where I won't need to provide academic references. I might enjoy some non-intellectual work and I'm open to any wacky idea at this point, but probably not capable of hard manual labor and nothing dangerous or illegal, but odd, gross, whatever else will be considered. Mid 20s, female.

- what things could I do from home/online? some kind of content farm writing? Mechanical Turk? what are reputable companies to look into? I don't have an Etsy-able skill.

- what places could I work seasonally where I won't be noticed? (assume I'm in a mid sized college city where everybody is about three degrees of separation from everybody else.)

- any other ideas for making a few hundred extra? even one-time things instead of regular gigs are fine, as long as it's not too public. my time is very flexible for the next four months.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (25 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I'm known a couple of people that worked as tutors online. It's possible to tutor high school kids and such in a variety of subjects, but I math/science usually offers the best chance of being hired.
posted by Winnemac at 6:04 PM on April 23, 2012

As an intellectually easier alternative to tutoring, you could proofread for an online service. I had a few friends in college that did that.
posted by erstwhile at 6:05 PM on April 23, 2012

I've heard that security guard work can be a good gig for some students.
posted by analog at 6:07 PM on April 23, 2012

I've seen job listings from banks for people to do the night shift, tabulating bank machine dollars. No one would see you there, and it'd be a regular gig, though I'm not sure how many hours a person typically gets.

Check out the undergrad career centre listings if your university has them. Chances are, someone looking to hire a PT undergrad over the summer would be thrilled to have a grad student work for the same wage.

You could offer to edit undergrad essays, if you have a high tolerance for that kind of thing.

If you have a neuroscience department at your university, you might volunteer for studies. (I say neuro vs. psych or marketing, because those experiments tend to last longer and pay better. Most of them probably just involve you doing mundane cognitive tasks in a scanner, without anyrisk to your health.)

Though honestly, if I were in your shoes, I'd just nab whatever job I found, and not worry too much about what my dept. thought. If I need money, I need money, regardless of what they might think is "enough". If they want to see a spreadsheet of my finances to prove it, so be it. I know many grad students that have taken up PT work outside of the university, and no one's ever gotten into trouble for it. Granted the departments in question were relatively relaxed, but seriously, what are they gonna do to you? You need to pay rent and eat, for godsake.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 6:08 PM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are you at a relatively large university and/or one with a large population of international students? If so, they need some editing for the dissertations they're trying to finish this summer. Contact department secretaries in business, any computer-related fields, and the hard sciences and ask them to pass your name to advisers working with those students. Or contact advisers directly. Trust me...they're tired of editing their students' work (or are just refusing to do it) but know it needs to be done for the students to pass. I made many hundreds of dollars in the summer doing editing for subjects I knew basically nothing about. Make it clear you're not a professional editor, but most of them just need to get things sounding more like a native English speaker, so you'd do fine with that. If there's a writing center on campus, let them know you're looking for editing work, too. They often keep lists of possible editors on file for students who need them.

But really, I wouldn't worry too much about people finding out. I wasn't supposed to have another job in grad school, but I worked as an office worker for a while (about 10 hrs. per week during the school year, even, for a few months; up to full time one pre-dissertation summer). I also did elder care (companion care rather than medical--a family hired me to keep their relative comfortable and distracted--I'd read the paper to her or go run errands or just be there doing reading to keep her company). People knew. My adviser didn't really approve, but she wasn't offering to pay my bills, either, and she never said anything about it to me directly.
posted by BlooPen at 6:15 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites], maybe, to find dissertation-editing clients?
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:19 PM on April 23, 2012

Leapforce is a legitimate work-from-home website evaluation job. You can work when you want (as long as there's work to do) but they pay you as an independent contractor so your taxes will be all wonky next year.
posted by jabes at 6:32 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a grad student and I'm paid by my university to tutor students in intro classes in my field. Does your university perhaps have anything similar? The pay isn't great, though, and if I really wanted to make it a more profitable venture, I would do some outside tutoring (which my husband does for much better pay).

When I started tutoring I thought it was going to be really hard and I worried a lot about reading every single lecture the students had heard, I brought all my own notes, I looked up tons of extra facts I had forgotten, and so on. While being prepared is of course a good idea, I found that my students almost never have questions about details and are almost always confused about general concepts I feel well-equipped to explain. So maybe it wouldn't be as hard as you think. Also, nobody asked for my references. The professor who teaches the class knew that I'd done well in the subject and that all the background they wanted.
posted by Cygnet at 6:39 PM on April 23, 2012

Oh, and my husband and I have found that by playing our instruments on summer days at farmer's markets we can make up to $50/hour. If you're a reasonably competent player of any portable instrument, check out any kind of outdoor summer festival-type thing. (You might need a permit; we did.) It's super fun! We especially love playing tunes for the little kids, and taking requests.
posted by Cygnet at 6:41 PM on April 23, 2012

Do you speak any languages that are used for academic work in your field or a related one? I do some freelance translating for professors editing books and conference proceedings; at 10 cents a word (which is standard as far as I know), that's a few hundred bucks per chapter/paper.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:44 PM on April 23, 2012

A lot of my classmates sell plasma.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:54 PM on April 23, 2012

Not sure if they still do this but a few years ago Pearson offered positions for scorers for exams - no recommendations required, you just had to pass a test, I believe, to show that you could grade according to their rubric. I also picked up a few odd jobs via CL - translating, proofreading. All remote.
posted by sm1tten at 7:03 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite] will pay you as an independent contractor to tutor high school and college kids. You have to pass subject exams, however.
posted by imagineerit at 7:16 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Night-shift at a parking garage -- lots of time to read or study in the little booth, not a lot of cars to check in and out.

I worked as a (live-out) nanny in grad school, for pretty little kids. It was nice to rest my brain by playing physically with young children, and then when they napped or after they went to bed, I could study. My hours were pretty regular and the pay was pretty good, and then whenever I worked nights for them they paid me extra.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:24 PM on April 23, 2012

Another independent contractor position if you're at the right school:
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:44 PM on April 23, 2012

How frowned upon is "frowned upon?"

I'm a grad student now (granted, in the physical sciences, where grad student funding isn't all that much of an issue), but I make a few bucks here and there singing, tutoring, whatever. If your department isn't giving you a livable wage, it's up to you to find it. Let them know. If your department is anything like mine, if you have a legitimate claim to insufficient funds and seek them elsewhere, it's none of their business. The worst they can do is nothing.
posted by chicago2penn at 8:14 PM on April 23, 2012

Participate in sleep studies, the sort where you spend a long weekend in a sleep clinic where you are monitored. There were signs for this all over the place at my university when I was in grad school.
posted by deanc at 8:21 PM on April 23, 2012

Think about limited target service populations. You could work as the desk clerk at a homeless service center or home for emotionally disturbed boys.

You could do hospitality work that serves out-of towners I'm assuming your bosses won't be staying at a local hotel. Or if they were, well... Come to think of it, you could work anywhere that nobody will 'fess up to having run into you, e.g., as an ID checker at a strip club. :)

Certain jobs, you could convincingly claim are infrequent, e.g., "oh how funny that you'd come to the museum on my monthly volunteer day."

There are also just tons of non-public jobs: any office temp job, mail clerk, cook or dishwasher. You could babysit or nanny. Hope you find something!
posted by salvia at 8:59 PM on April 23, 2012

I mean, maybe it's crazy, but have you considered trying to sell eggs? It's not easy, but especially for someone highly educated (and presumably intelligent) it might be worth it, and with a flexible time schedule then that might be something worth considering.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:27 PM on April 23, 2012

You'd be lucky to achieve minimum wage on Mechanical Turk unless you are qualified for some of the specialized tasks that show up there.

Is the car important to your daily life? Why is the car repair urgent? Can you get a usable car for less than the repair would cost?

Are you eligible to take out a student loan, or a regular bank loan?
posted by germdisco at 11:52 PM on April 23, 2012

Sell items
Join focus groups (pay is higher if you do them locally rather than online)
Donate Plasma
Apply at a few temp agencies for part-time work
posted by KogeLiz at 4:57 AM on April 24, 2012

3rding I'm also a grad student and work about 8 hours a week in Physics and Essay Writing. I get paid $12/hour to explain vectors and comma splices to students whilst wearing pajamas. Memail me if you want a referral.
posted by permiechickie at 6:42 AM on April 24, 2012

Where I am some academic departments pay their postgrad students to update their websites. It's good to have someone familiar with the department and the student experience doing this work. Usually it's just one person per department - but maybe it's worth asking. (I'm assuming that if it's for your own department they *would* notice, but wouldn't object).
posted by SuckPoppet at 6:52 AM on April 24, 2012

I have a grad student friend who's made a significant amount of money buying valuable things at resale shops like Goodwill, then reselling them on Ebay. You need to get/have a knowledge of your interest (she's done well with jewelry, handbags and shoes) and the market for it, but I've been impressed.
posted by ldthomps at 7:35 AM on April 24, 2012

If you know any HTML, freelance web design -- academic departments as well as student groups on campus are always looking for someone to maintain their online presence. You can charge between $10 and $20 an hour.

Babysitting and pet-sitting.

Museum docenting.

I've found that tutoring takes too much time and energy to justify the pay, but YMMV.
posted by redlines at 11:04 PM on April 29, 2012

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