Help me make this semester a success
August 26, 2013 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm going into my fifth year of college and I still have had no jobs, no internships, no relationships with my professors and no references/recommendations. I don't think I'll be able to get a job with the current state of my resume. Please help me figure out what I need to do to change all that this semester.

I live with my parents and travel 30 minutes to my university. I have a lot of outside obligations - my mother is sick, my younger brother is disabled and my father works - so I take care of everyone and everything at home. I have to constantly drive them/accompany them to doctor's appointments, help with meds, help with my brother's home physical therapy, cook meals, etc. This is where part of the issue lies; I don't have the time to get a part-time job. I have only had one part-time job in high school and it only lasted a few months. So I have no job experience at all.

The other bigger part of the problem is my social anxiety/avoidance. I don't really know if it is social anxiety because I'm not afraid to talk to most people. I just don't want to get close to anyone. I'm only afraid to speak to professors one-on-one; office hours seem terrifying to me. I'm also afraid to try new things. I would like to volunteer but I'm too afraid. I've been getting much worse over the last 4 years, to the point where I barely leave the house now unless it is necessary. There are things I want to do, but it's easier to just stay at home.

Things are changing this semester because we now have a home health aide who helps around the house. I really need to work on getting one or two references this semester so I can get an internship for the summer. I need some advice on how to do this. I have two classes (40 students, 75 students) taught by graduate students - these two classes are for my social science major which isn't as important as my other major. I have two classes (100-150 students each) taught by professors (one who is very well-known in the field) - these are for my math major. I rarely have questions that can't be Googled and I don't want to waste the professor's time, so I'm struggling figuring out how to do this.

Here are some numbered questions so it will be easier to respond:

1. How do I go about getting to know professors when they make me nervous? I'm in the most advanced undergraduate classes for my majors and there are still 100+ students in class, so it's not like I can make myself known during class (they aren't any discussions in math lectures anyway). I feel like I would be wasting their time in office hours if I don't have a legitimate question.

2. How common is it for internships to not require or check references/recommendations? I will be looking for statistics and data analysis internships.

3. Should I bring up my home situation in interviews, on my resume, anywhere? I would hate to have someone think I was slacking off and partying this whole time, but it just doesn't seem like an appropriate thing to bring up.

4. How can I push myself to just go out there and do what needs to be done? I've been putting off talking to professors and volunteering for YEARS now. I can't believe it's been 4 years and I haven't made one new connection at my university.

5. I would appreciate any other advice you can offer about getting references/recommendations, landing an internship and dealing with a resume that is mostly blank.

Please don't mention therapy. I'm looking for a different suggestion. My health insurance doesn't cover mental health, and I will go to a therapist as soon as my insurance company covers it this January. The cheapest therapist I could find wants $80 a session, which I can't afford. I've been to the 3 free sessions my university's counseling office offers and they were awful (the therapist asked me how it is possible to not have a single friend and said it is impossible to not have spoken to any professors in the last 4 years). I know I need therapy. I WANT it! It will happen once I am covered this January.
posted by anonymous to Education (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think therapy is that useful here. You're basically setting yourself up to fail. At the end of the day, your family either wants you to succeed at college and in your career, or they don't. If they do, they will give you the space and the resources to concentrate on college and preparing for your future. The impression you give is that they pretty much don't, because they seem perfectly happy with the arrangement in which your college career is a part time job you engage in while you take care of them.

A good start may be to make some friends in your class who themselves go to office hours and go at the same time they go. That will take some of the edge off. You're going to have to figure out how to move closer to campus, get a job (even volunteering at first) working with a professor on a project, and start seeing who is hiring for summer internships now.
posted by deanc at 1:12 PM on August 26, 2013

A) use your campus's resources: they should have a career development office and/or a branch devoted to internships. They can help with your resume (and you should do a mock up as soon as possible) and they may be able to shed light on how to present your at-home work. Your department or college may also have someone for major-related internships.

B) If you can, work on campus in some vaguely-related job. Be punctual, be precise, and they will be able to be a clerical/work reference at the least. I give references for academic internships when my student workers need another person even though they're rarely related to library work and if nothing else, it's good practice for an office environment.

C) go to your office hours and ask about graduate school/related jobs. Ask your major advisor about the kinds of jobs your department peers go to. Talk to them about recommended reading/problems/extra work or how to fix anything that you haven't gotten a perfect score in.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:17 PM on August 26, 2013

Came in here to give Dean's suggestion: if you're scared to go alone, go to office hours with a friend. But go.
posted by nat at 1:30 PM on August 26, 2013

I've met some college professors. They're just people like you and me. Some of them are fun and nice, some are class A jerks. Just act as IF you weren't intimidated, go meet them. You'll suss out the menches and you can leave behind the assholes.

Don't worry about wasting a professor's time. They are paid to educate you, including discussing your future with you. Shit, make an appointment to pick your professor's brains. "If you were to do it all over again, would you pick your specialty?" "What other avenues are there for folks like me?" "I have an interest in X, but I'm baffled where to take it, what are your thoughts?" Invite your teachers to open up, the more they talk, the more they like you.

Try to get a campus job or even a burger flipping job. Hell, get certified as a CNA and then do give care for pay. The more well rounded you are....

Lots of people go through college and don't have jobs, so don't think too much about that. What work will you be wanting to do when you graduate?

Do you want to teach math as a profession? Where do you see yourself with your degree in Math and your other degree in Social Science (tm)?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:34 PM on August 26, 2013

Do you have an academic advisor? These are the things that academic advisors actually deal with such as, helping their students in researching internships and doing more outreach.

For job that is willing to be very flexible and lets you outreach, have you considered being a student worker?
posted by jadepearl at 1:44 PM on August 26, 2013

Cal Newport has written a lot about study methods/ how to approach a career.

Are you eligible for Federal Work Study? If so, look for those on campus jobs. Even if you aren't, there should be some sort of university wide databases of available jobs. It might be ideal if you can keep a job the summer after graduation.

I would also suggest talking to various administrative assistants in both your major, and closely related fields. See if they know of any professors who need (statistical) support from undergrads, or anyone else who is hiring. At my school, I know a lot of students who got hired, simply because they asked.

You might also want to look into becoming a peer tutor/ working in the department "help room."

Have you done any computer programming? Are you familiar with the various statistical software packages out there? If not, then you might find taking a class that covers "programming" of some sort helpful.

Finally, does your school offer the option of an independent study?
posted by oceano at 1:45 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Sorry this answer is so fragmented)

1. How do I go about getting to know professors when they make me nervous? I'm in the most advanced undergraduate classes for my majors and there are still 100+ students in class, so it's not like I can make myself known during class (they aren't any discussions in math lectures anyway). I feel like I would be wasting their time in office hours if I don't have a legitimate question.

"Dear Professor X, I'm confused on problem 1. Googling it helped me understand the specific problem, but not the theory behind it."

You are probably a better mathematician than I am, but I'm rarely able to google proof-related problems. Also, show up to exam reviews, even if you don't have any questions.

Email is a great way to start making connections. I rarely actually attend office hours due to scheduling conflicts, but frequently email the professors directly. I wouldn't rely on email solely, though.

Don't be afraid to make connections with the social science professors. They love math students, especially if you can go "I really was only taking this class to fill a Gen Ed, but I'm really glad I took it! Let's talk about Kant/De Bouviour/the book, because I don't get to do that very frequently with professors." You can also go in and discuss your essay, etc. Having connections with any professor at all is more important that having contacts with only professors in your field, especially since you have little work experience.

Recently, before I had an internship lined up this summer, I started cold-emailing my previous TAs to see what they were working on. Nothing panned out, but two of them referred me to professors directly.

Finally, at the end of the quarter, email all the professors whom you got good grades from. My personal favorite (though it doesn't really work for math classes) is telling the professor you won't be selling the books back. At my university, we frequently email our final essays, and it sets up a great place to thank them for the instruction. Throw in a quick question (or very specific compliment) to help them respond.

I'm not very amazing at making connections, but I do make it a goal to connect, at least somewhat, with at least one professor a quarter. It's hard, and I always feel like my friends do it better than I do, but the above comments have really helped.
posted by obviousresistance at 1:46 PM on August 26, 2013

Hi. I'm a college professor. I love it when students come to see me, even when they don't have a particular question. Not that many actually take advantage of the opportunity to just ask me questions. I am always delighted to answer questions about extensions of what we talked about in class, as well as career prospects, grad school, and jobs in my field, and I think in many cases I have (hopefully useful) advice that is very different from what career services might tell you. I'm also glad to meet with students who I have had in class previously but didn't know very well, strictly for the purpose of getting to know them so that I can write a good recommendation; so if there is a professor who you liked who you had previously, it's never too late to try to make a further connection with them.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:00 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a couple ideas for you:

-Recommendations. You mention that you do not know an profs. Step back a minute. What about grad students for lab sections (i.e. maybe you had the top grade weekly, etc.). Ask if he or she would be willing to recommend you for internships and/or cowrite a letter of rec with the class prof (I did this frequently as a grad student when I TAed courses).

-I don't know if this will help you, but rather than directly set up an appt and walk in, start with an email. Do you really like the research areas of your professors? If you do, you can look up and see if they have a paper or two and read it. Then email about how you are interested in topic A and you would like to set up an appt to pick his or her brain. Write out your questions in advanced. Also ask if they have volunteer opportunities - it may really help to get this under your belt before you graduate. There may even be opportunities to gt your name on a poster or publication. But if this works, someone will know both your grade, how you work, your potential, etc.

Feel free to memail me if you think having someone walk you through the second scenario will help.I have been and still am very shy ... I barely talked to anyone as a grad student, but did learn to get things/learn things through email.
posted by Wolfster at 2:05 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. How do I go about getting to know professors when they make me nervous?
5. I would appreciate any other advice you can offer about getting references/recommendations, landing an internship and dealing with a resume that is mostly blank.

Have you considered doing a short research project with one (or two!) of your professors? A dual major in math and social sciences opens up some very interesting possibilities.

If you were open to this, I'd start with one of your social sciences professors - look up what they're working on, what they've published in the last two years, and then approach them to just chat about research. Tell them that you'd be interested in a math-heavy research project, and that you'd like a pointer - if they can't offer you something, they should be able to point you to someone else in the department who has something for you to work on. Then go talk about this research project with one of your math professors, and ask for help. You see where this is going? A math-heavy social sciences project where you've worked with two professors in the two fields you're majoring in - the resume practically writes itself.

(If I'm approached by an undergrad, I'm happy to get them started on a short project of some sort. The problem usually is that undergrads are too busy with classes (and class projects, and partying) to spend much time on a research project, but I've written very, very nice letters for the handful of students who've worked on projects with me for more than just a summer.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:37 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would gently suggest that you focus on establishing relationships with your instructors and perhaps finding a campus job right now, and wait to take advantage of volunteer opportunities until you feel like you've made progress on these fronts.

Volunteer work can be wonderful and rewarding in so many ways, but it's not clear from what you've written here that you have a particular cause or organization in mind, or that you know yet how much time and energy you could commit to it, realistically. It sounds more like it's something that you'd like to do in order "to try new things" or connect with new people. This is totally valid, but you can achieve both of these goals through part-time work, using the "buddy system" approach to office hours, or working on a special project with a professor, as others have suggested. These kinds of things are more likely to propel you towards the recommendations and internships that sound like your highest priority right now.

Plenty of organizations will still be there, and thrilled to have you, once you feel more like you're on track with the other goals you've mentioned here.
posted by Austenite at 4:04 PM on August 26, 2013

Nthing research project. Just go talk to some professors, tell them you'd like to do a project would they help you figure out who/what/where/etc.

Professors (almost by definition) are generally happy to talk about their own work, so you can always use that as an opening.
posted by lab.beetle at 8:31 PM on August 26, 2013

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