Thursday, June 22, 2006

You’re going to study literature and get a job doing what? Literaturizing?

Back in February, when I was fiercely dumping my resume into the enigmatic e-mail depth of publishing HR departments, never receiving a single goddamn response, I started applying to anything and everything I could get my hands on. Now it is the month of June and I am finally hearing back from a company that produces informational posters for medical waiting rooms. I thought nothing of it until I clicked on their link and read the following sentence, from an article about a psychiatrist who treats her patients through brain music therapy:

"The treatment was born when a group of clinicians, researchers, mathematicians, and musicians translated different ratio of brain wave rhythms into musical frequencies by using 18 transformation algorithms for 120 musical instruments."

What does that sentence even mean? Why 18 and not 19 transformation algorithms? And what in the world is a transformation algorithm? It sounds like witch’s brew, complete wackos. I had to meet these wackos.

And so yesterday I went on a job interview. Wait. Let me rephrase that: Yesterday I went to an interview for an internship, at a medical poster company. But give me some credit, I’m not cheating on my new job, that I started only three weeks ago; I just had nothing better to do on my lunch break.

I thought, at the very least, they would send me away with a goody bag of various prescription drugs to use at my own disposal. I had imagined an office full of new age hippies, oriental rugs, and employees wearing mahjong tile earrings and thinly veiled layers of boho gear.

When I arrived for my interview, I was sorely disappointed. It was just a normal office, with average-looking employees and no sign at all of free prescription meds. And my new, fake prospective bosses were kinda cute. One of them had this Christian Bale thing going on, except with curly, blond hair, and the other had a slight resemblance to Dermot Mulroney, except with less hair.

Once we began the interview, I realized that they were serious: they wanted me, a 24 year-old, post grad, to intern for their poster company. They offered a small stipend, heaps of “experience” and a metro card.
“Is it an all access card?”

They explained to me that there were over 200 applicants for the Mediabistro listing they posted back in February and that they just now narrowed it down to a ten lucky few. They made it seem like it was an honor for me to be there.

Now. What in the hell is going on around here? This is a sad state of affairs for all the post grad English majors floating around this city. There were 200 of us applying for the same internship. This is not an internship at The New Yorker; it’s a 36X48 inch poster. So, someone asks what you do for a living. Oh. I work for a poster, for free. Consider your readership: Every week, your writing would appear in waiting rooms across the country, where phlegmatic hypochondriacs and Alzheimer patients would read your articles if only to be distracted by stale issues of Newsweek. (Need I insert the quip here about how the Alzheimer patients would only forget your writing after about twenty minutes?) And what these guys were telling me is that over 200 people wanted to work for them, for free. Really.

Let’s back up for a second. Before we were all pegged as the "Entitlement Generation," before the influx of English majors in the workforce made it socially acceptable for employers to enlist desperate graduates as slave labor, and before parents agreed to support their precious babies in this time of dire need, there were no internships. My parents never did an internship and the same could be said for the Baby Boomer Generation. This is because the only people originally meant to do internships are the doctors. Doctors do internships because once they complete their internships, they are fully prepared to save lives and they get paid a lot of money to do so. That’s real money, not metro cards.

One only has to examine the role of the economy in relation to that of the intern. For the Baby Boomers, they had no other choice but to find valid jobs. As a result, they were able to build substantial incomes and raise children who would be able to afford the luxury of doing other people’s grunt work for free. Maybe also it is a question of work ethic? In the olden days, perhaps, the executives were more willing to spend longer hours doing their own grunt work? I don't know.

And yes, maybe I do feel a little entitled. Yet I consider it more a matter of pride than entitlement. I did everything the right way; I held three internships throughout my college career and now that I have been out of college for over a year, I feel that I deserve a real job that pays me real money. If I’m not getting paid for it, I do not feel I should have to stand at a copy machine for twenty hours a week while a couple of spoon flipping 30-somethings take credit for my work.

So anyway, that’s how I feel and that’s why I thanked them for their time, grabbed a sandwich, and went back to my real job. Maybe, though, maybe if they had offered me some pills in addition to the subway pass, I would have accepted that internship.


Blogger Gigi said...

And you wouldn't even believe what a psychology degree will do for you!

"Do you just want the well vodka, or do you prefer Grey Goose?"

5:27 PM  
Anonymous anon said...

You know, you missed a potentially great opportunity to test your negotiating skills. why not negotiate for a free medical exam? free counseling sessions? hell, why not some free music therapy sessions? that could've at least helped to console you for taking a non-paying internship.

just an idea.

oh, yeah, and you've been Gawkered (

5:46 PM  
Blogger The Daily Sally said...

ha. well put. we're constantly being labeled 'entitled' and 'spoiled' when really we are just trying to maintain our dignity and self-esteem. and the internship thing is totally out of control. just a manipulative way for the powerful to legalize slave labor.

I was once told upon a post college visit to a headhunter that the only opening in my field was a Spanish speaking receptionist at a metal company.

That was the low point.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did my senior thesis on undergrad and post-grad internships, like the one you mentioned. The worst thing is, that most students have absolutely no qualms about taking on free work, even though there is a potential to drive down everybody's incomes. I profiled a 23 year old who wanted to work in publishing, was on her 8th unpaid internship, and had no issue with this at all.

What's worse, is that many adults are showcasing the problem that is the Unpaid Internship- and are usually sympathetic. But then a ton of Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers give the "entitled generation" speech.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Kat said...

music therapy is bullshit.

--an actual neuroscientist

8:44 PM  
Blogger Toby Shuster said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Toby Shuster said...

oops. yeah, it's true. kat is a real neuroscientist.


8:50 PM  
Blogger Matterial Boy said...

Dude, I'm all over Mediabistro job postings like politicians and donations. And like you--many applications and so far two responses: part time work stuffing envelopes and "admin assistant."

High five!

Oh yea, that's how you put a Brown and CU degree to work!

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

um, your solution is simple: leave new york.

the new york job market is flooded with qualified entry-level, top-20-ranked-college grads. omaha, not so much.

the unpaid internship is the premium you have to pay for the new york brand, plain and simple.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Toby Shuster said...

leave new york???! i just got here.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:13 PM  
Blogger Toby Shuster said...

i hereby declare that all disgruntled entry-level employees of new york go to the windows of their cubicles, tomorrow at noon, raise their fists in the air and say, I'M MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

and then get over it and get back to work.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Screwsan said...

Agree with the poster who said leave NYC. There are too many Ivy grads here who are willing to work for $24,000 a year as editorial assistants. Who can live on $24,000 a year? People whose parents supplement their income.

Also, if you want a job that pays you real money, don't work in publishing.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an Ivy League literature grad who now writes medical advertising for a living, I think I'm the living example of what would have happened had you taken the internship.

Can someone please tell me how to get out of this mess?

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you didn't get it due to your ill-perceived sense of entitlement and your lack of a positive attitude

3:18 PM  
Anonymous alpinex said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha ha, those d-bags! Did they offer you the job? That must have felt sweet to shove it back down their throats! We literature graduates are worth more, damn it! Maybe we could all get some kind of government subsidy for just Being.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh, please. Try being a biology graduate, in Canada no less, land of the closed union shop.

Biology grads can't get jobs selling Grey Goose, can't get internships writing medical posters (there's almost no such thing as an internship in Canada, which is really a mixed blessing - meaning you don't have to do internships but also there's no way to get a job in an area without first doing a degree in that specific area, be it journalism or advertising or office administration, seriously).

As a biology grad without a grad degree, I was qualified to ummmm... well, I did see this ad to mix paint at Dupont. Which has nothing to do with biology. Sadly, in high school we were told to laugh at English majors while pursuing the more practical science. Silly us - at least I see actual job postings that hire people with English degrees, which is more than can be said for a BSc in biolgoy.

3:08 AM  

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