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Job Hunting on the Spectrum

By Dmitri 

Hello again dear readers, 

Congratulations, we’ve made it through 2020! Does that mean there is no longer a global pandemic along with a slew of economic and political problems? No, it just means we’ve survived this far, and that should count for something. Personally, I’ve been dealing with my own adventures this past month or so that I’ve been simmering on the back burner for you all, but I think it’s ready to be brought front and center; job hunting on the spectrum. Now I’ll be honest, little gives me more anxiety than job hunting/interviewing/that whole mess. Yet, in the past month, I’ve secured two jobs. How did I do that? To answer that I’d like to take these next two blog entries diving into each job and dissect it a bit so as to make some conclusions and suggestions. 

We’ll start with the one that I started looking for earlier, got an answer back later, yet all and all was much more important for my future career path; the famed Drexel co-op. One of the largest draws to Drexel for many students, the co-op program works by having students in classes for half the year and working for the other half. There are many structures in place to make sure students participating in co-op find jobs seamlessly if there wasn’t a pandemic going on. But in a way it was lucky for us students, we had the rare advantage of both ourselves and our potential employers all being thrown into new situations. Everyone has trouble with Microsoft Teams and it can be a good way to break the ice by bringing up such a topical issue. 

Just looking for jobs within the system was stressful enough. Being a physics major doesn’t necessarily bring in as many opportunities as computer science, engineering, or bio-med. Finding somewhere I wanted to work on top of that was an extra layer of challenge. Some of the top employers for the department are weapons and defense manufacturers that work with the government. And not to get too political here, but I personally don’t want my brain labor going into devices meant for harm. It’s important to keep your own wants and needs into consideration while job hunting if you’re in a position where you can do that. Out of the 15 or so interviews with positions I actually wanted that I requested, I got three back. Two were in research, which is what I was mainly looking for, and one was with the math tutoring center on campus. 

I count myself as very lucky because one of the research positions was with a professor in the physics department who I had done some work with the prior summer. And although he was looking for a student with some more experience in higher-level physics courses, he still offered me an interview. Going in I placed my bets more so on the other research interview, this one was in the math department and could have been a nice branching out for me. For each interview, I made sure to prepare thoroughly beforehand. Have pdf’s of my relevant info easily at hand, read up on the position/research, think about potential interview questions, and look professional from the waist up with a sleek background. That last part may only apply to online interviews but you get the picture.

The first two interviews, for the math tutoring position and the physics research position, went pretty well! The woman who runs the math resource center was nice and asked me expected questions about my resume. And the interview with my prior mentor in the physics department also went well, less of a traditional interview because we already knew each other and he had already seen what kind of work I’m capable of achieving. In both interviews, I got the good sign of the other person explaining the position in-depth to me, a type of pseudo-training where they can judge based on facial expression and general demeanor how a candidate feels about a job. How nuanced is the neurotypical guidebook to life? How many hidden rules do we have to guess based on trial and error? Luckily I was prepared for these two interviews, so they went well. But the final interview was a different story. 

It was the one that I was most excited about, it was still research but it was something new. I think I blame the fact that this interview took place after finals were over for my lax attitude. I mean, I had already done two interviews by this point, how different could this one be? I didn’t really prepare as thoroughly, and it bit me in the butt when the math professor started asking me in-depth questions on my summer project with the physics department. What had I done that summer? I had used a lot of calculus and linear algebra and somehow it connected to electrons. I could recount the analytical and people skills I gained from that experience, but could I recall the techniques used and the project plan for the physics professor’s research? Considering I barely understood what was going on during that summer, it’s needless to say that the interview went a lot rougher than the other two. I reconciled my disappointment by shrugging it off, if it didn’t go well, then it wasn’t meant to be. 

After the interviews, I got the joy of waiting for 4 weeks to get the results back. I contained my anxiety leading up to the day and was relieved to see that my old mentor offered me a solid position. I took it without hesitation and now I have a great opportunity lined up for me in the upcoming spring and summer! I hope you were able to glean some messages out of this and next time we’ll tackle the job I’m currently working at and a monster of its own; retail foodservice. 

Till next time dear readers, 

~Dmitri