Written by Callie Blumberg, edited by Laura Schaefer
I am an administrative assistant at TDS Telecom. I have been here since May of 2011 and I am technically still a contractor, meaning I actually work for the employment agency. This was not a job that I sought out specifically, but my husband at the time also worked at TDS and had a connection with the employment agency. He found out they were hiring admins, put in a good word for me, and I submitted my resume.
I enjoy the work that I do. In this position, I have been able to do a variety of things, working with different teams and holding an assortment of responsibilities. It keeps my work life interesting and it's fun for me to learn different aspects behind the construction and engineering of projects. I do not feel 'fulfilled' by what I am doing, exactly, because when I think of what it means to have fulfilling work, it means having a more meaningful impact on the world than I do. However, it makes me happy to know that my work directly assists my co-workers and makes their projects go more smoothly. It makes their lives less stressful.
One of the best parts about my job is that it is usually not too stressful. I have a manageable work load, the work itself is not too hard for me, I like my coworkers and boss, I have regular work hours, and I when I leave at the end of the day, I do not take any home with me. I have the time and energy to maintain a social life, home life, and hobbies. My paycheck is decent and I work eight minutes from home. That part is also really nice.
The biggest challenge of this job is that even though my boss says they want to, the company will not hire me and provide benefits. They do not have the 'headcount' and keep telling me they are working on it, but I think it boils down to being able to pay less for contractors overall. It makes me wonder how much they value my work and the expertise I've learned over the years that I have been here. Do they think they can easily teach someone else to do what I have been doing? Maybe. I was not anticipating this situation. I thought I would be hired years ago. People have asked me why I stay and even though I have done some job hunting, it is hard for me to let go of the good deal I have going. I like all other aspects of the job.
The other challenge has been getting over the fact that I am not doing anything 'impressive' with my life and that I am not 'using' my college degree. This job did not require a college degree and the natural thought is that it was a waste for me to have worked so hard in school if this is the job I was going to get. (Obviously. I know that I am not stuck in this job forever, and that I gained skills, knowledge, and experience in college as well.... it's just hard to remember those things when having a job that doesn't require a degree is a pretty tangible thing that you can see on paper).
I came from a community where becoming a lawyer or doctor would be ideal and almost expected of a good student like me. Many students in my high school went to Ivy League schools and some people questioned me when I said I was going to UW-Madison. (What a ridiculous attitude because it's a great school!) I have had to get over the idea that I do not have a career for the time being, and I knew when I took this job that I would have to justify my work to myself. It has not been too hard, though: I am working at a less stressful job, I am enjoying my life, and I am happy. I also feel like the routine and ease of this job is what kept me sane when my marriage fell apart. When my personal life went to &%@, my life at work stayed constant. Thank goodness.
I don't think there is anything I wish people knew about my job. I do my work and fly under the radar, mostly, and it's just fine that way.
I would love to be hired. I would love to have a title aside from Administrative Assistant, because I do more than what an admin does (but I do not know what title I would give myself...). At some point, maybe I will break into actually engineering some projects. I half already been able to do a few aspects of it and I know the people I have assisted believe I can handle it.
DNA Analyst and Crime Scene Investigator
Written by Jennifer Vogt, edited by Laura Schaefer
I was a forensic DNA Analyst and Crime Scene Investigator. I went to school for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and had anticipated entering the research arena…until I discovered that I hated research. I’m definitely glad that there are people who WANT to do research; I’m just not one of them. Maybe it’s immature of me, but I needed more immediate satisfaction than working on a project for years, possibly decades, and then maybe discovering that the project simply wasn’t going to pan out.
I had always been interested in the criminal justice system as well, and being a forensic scientist definitely married my interests in science and criminal justice beautifully. It also allowed for that instant gratification that I was looking for: you start working a case, examine the evidence, develop the DNA profiles, make comparisons to the DNA standard profiles (known profiles belonging to victim(s) and/or suspect(s), write your report, then move on to the next case!
The ten years that I spent as a forensic scientist have been the most incredibly rewarding and fulfilling years of my life to date. The sense of satisfaction that you have when you’ve been able to help achieve justice for a victim of a crime is indescribable. It is also incredibly rewarding to be able to exonerate and free a wrongly convicted individual.
The power of politics
The biggest challenge of my career as a forensic scientist has been trying to accept the politics that go along with the job. Now, I know that every job has some sort of ‘office politics’ that go along with it, but most forensic scientists work within a governmental branch (whether it’s local, state or federal), so there are actual POLITICS politics that go along with the job. That wasn’t really a surprise, since I knew going in that I was going to be working for a state office.
What did come as a surprise (five years into my career) was that state employees in Wisconsin were soon going to be demonized on a level that had never been seen before, thanks to Governor Scott Walker’s war on public employees and public sector unions. That came as a total shock, and ultimately drove me (and thousands of others) from civil service into the private sector.
What I wish you knew
It is nothing like you see on TV. It’s much less glamorous and much harder work. And most of us don’t carry guns. In addition, forensic scientists usually have very defined roles (as opposed to on TV, where one individual is responsible for crime scene processing, fingerprint analysis, DNA analysis, questioning the suspect, arresting the suspect, and notifying the families of the victims – that just doesn’t happen).
I have moved into the private sector, and now I work in the pharmaceutical Quality Assurance field. However, I truly hope that forensic science units throughout the country are able to obtain the funding that they require to function, and that civil servants will once again be appreciated and valued instead of demonized.
Written by Angie Fadness, edited by Laura Schaefer
I am a Graphic Designer and Social Media Coordinator. I chose Graphic Design in college because I had always been good at 'art' and wanted to do something with art. Art Education didn't appeal to me and I knew Fine Art didn't have much money in it, so Graphic Design it was! Social Media came only recently (in the past 4 years). I chose that after taking some web design courses at our local tech school. One of my courses was web design in social media. I loved the social media information and learned I didn't need that many classes to get a certificate.
Being creative at work
I love being creative at work and getting paid for it. It's satisfying when I can take raw content and turn it into something appealing and eye-catching. For social media, I love when I can push the information out in such a way, usually through messaging, that people engage through sharing, commenting, etc.
Like any creative job, you will always have someone who will tell you how to do your business, even though they do not have a degree in it. Creative fields are harder because what people like and respond to is usually subjective. Another annoying thing is that the graphic designer is usually near the end of the process, so sometimes has to make up the time lost earlier in the project process. Every job I have had in GD has been this way, so at this point it is not a surprise to me. No major regrets at this point, but I think adding social media helped keep me interested in my career later on. I can now make graphics specifically for social, which uses my graphic design skills.
What I wish you knew
You really do need a degree to do the work. It drives me crazy when someone in the organization just 'whips something together' in Microsoft Word like it's not a big deal. Nine times out of ten it doesn't look professional enough for the use they intend it to be.
I hope that companies continue to realize the value of having in-house designers. When you invest in them, they also invest heavily in you by knowing and promoting the brand they work for.
Director of Marketing
Written by Angela Hall, edited by Laura Schaefer
I am Director of Marketing for outdoor multi-use shopping centers in Fort Worth, Texas. I didn't really choose this industry, it kind of chose me! I have a strong event planning background combined with a marketing degree, and I was referred to this specific company for this specific job by an acquaintance. It's been a terrific fit for my skills so far!
Fulfillment through community building
Through my work, I get to be heavily engaged in my community and partner with local non-profits on events. Giving back and being involved is what gives me that sense of fulfillment.
The biggest challenge of my job is working with the tenants of the shopping center. Some are great to work with but others are a challenge. Those challenging tenants treat me like I am either working against them or I am their personal marketing expert, when my job really is to elevate the shopping center as a whole. I honestly didn't expect this kind of push back when I started because I know I am here to help them succeed. No regrets, but I do have to be cautious in the way I handle these tenants and try to re-build a great relationship so that I can help.
The value of an advanced degree
I got a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship. It followed a lot of the same path/basic coursework of the professional MBA but was more targeted to small business (starting one, running one, et cetera). I do think that having a master’s level degree has helped me stand out among competition and helped me to garner higher pay than someone without the degree. After I completed my degree, I saw a significant salary increase when I switched jobs – almost a 75% increase.
At Southern Methodist University, I also made great contacts between my cohort members and faculty. It's always good to know people, especially others that are driven like you. I can't really say that my current job has a whole lot to do with the new skills I learned in graduate school – related to entrepreneurship – but I know that my company views me as someone who is a strong self-starter, smart, and adaptive because I completed my degree successfully.
What I wish you knew
I do a lot of events, and event planners have a glamorous reputation for getting to do really amazing things. We do, I won't lie – I have great contacts and get fun access to things happening in my community. But, the thing most people don't know is that on event day, it's all hands on deck and you work your butt off! I usually tally over 20,000 steps on an event day, have scuffs and scrapes, am covered in dirt and sweat, and still have to look good because I might have to do an impromptu live television interview for the local news station! It's tough but the reward is so worth it when you see off a successful event.
The other thing I want to share is how burdened I am by advertising media. I get calls and emails every day from people wanting my money for advertising. They think I'm just a fountain of money! On one side, I want to build relationships with these outlets for possible partnerships and sponsorships, but I also can't advertise every month with them. Don't get me wrong, I wish I had a budget where I could advertise in all the local outlets every month but not many people are as lucky as that! I've learned a lot about media buying since starting this career.
This industry is fairly new for me, less than five years. I do like it and consider it a good mix of my skills in marketing and event planning. My career goal would be to be able to handle marketing for a bigger budget shopping center or possibly take on a role as a regional marketing director, overseeing the local marketing directors at each shopping center. Perhaps my company will acquire enough properties over the next few years to make that a reality.
Written by Margo McKenna, edited by Laura Schaefer
What is your job? My job is a Traffic Reporter (on the radio). I choose it because I used to get a lot of comments on my voice and Atlanta was such a big media town. I used to go up in the helicopter but am now in the studio. When I was up in the helicopter, it was for two hours in the AM and two hours in the PM, but I still worked more hours on the ground. I flew until I was six months pregnant with my first child!
This is a full-time job. During my shift, I report traffic for multiple cities and I also produce traffic. That means I gather all the info that will be broadcast, via listening to police scanners, calling police, and checking their Twitter feeds. We get cell calls and check cameras and radar on the interstates.
Does your job bring you happiness, moments of joy, or a sense of fulfillment? It is nice to be able to warn people about what problems they need to avoid on the roadways. Some days it's fulfilling and some days it's just my job.
What are some of the biggest challenges of your job? The biggest challenge is keeping up to date. Traffic can change in an instant. You can anticipate some traffic flows but you can't predict crashes or stalls.
Do you have any regrets? I regret not taking a management position years ago. They weren't going to pay me more so I turned it down. I should have taken the job, gotten experience, then moved on to a different manager job with more pay, even if that meant in a different field.
What do you wish more people knew about your job? We can't talk about every incident – Atlanta is too big – and not everyone is in the helicopter. Most are in the studio.
What do you hope for? I hope to get more pay, simple as that.
Food Scientist and Entrepreneur
Written by Ian Ronningen, Ph.D., edited by Laura Schaefer
I work as a food industry consultant specializing in how food companies can better use data to improve their food quality. I work with them to better understand how ingredients and processes work together and how they can tweak these to make better food. I ended up being an entrepreneur because I was motivated to do my own thing and to find and understand my own customers, business case and value proposition, rather than working for a single food company.
The pace of change in the world of food
The food industry is wild and complex. In an odd way, it can be really slow moving but also dynamic. There are companies of every size in it, and this allows for some strange dynamics and expectations. When consumers want a food reformulated, it can be a massive challenge. Small companies might not have the skills to make a product using different ingredients or processes and still have the consumer like it as much.
Large companies need to change so much about their process, sourcing and production – and then tie it to communication plan to make sure customers know something has changed. I think it is interesting to see how consumers interact with these slow and fast moving companies, because it really has created some interesting consumer expectations.
The challenges of bootstrapping
Getting customers and working in a nebulous space is really challenging. Working in a bootstrapped area is really challenging because what will make or break my business is effectively communicating with the people I work with. As a small player, it takes a lot of communication and engagement to get projects and buy in from companies, so if anything is off or not exactly where it needs to be that is on me. The impact of shortcomings and failures is much more immediate.
I knew that communication strategy would be important, but I did not expect it to be a significant part of my job. I do not have any regrets because it is just something else to continue to improve on. I think scientists really need to get better engaged with communication and engaging the public, and this has really allowed me to practice my communication at all levels.
I feel very proud if I've done some really innovative data analysis, but I get even more excited if I have excited a customer about what we've done together. From my perspective, having something I've spent time and energy on embraced is really fulfilling because so many things had to happen right for us to get there.
An evolving industry
I really hope that the food industry evolves to equally support consumer desires, purchasing habits, and health. What I mean by this is over time, food companies can make food that fits the wants of consumers and is healthy. A lot of food has healthy aspects to it, but is bad in other ways to make consumers like it.
I'd like to see food companies get to a place where whole grain products can be formulated without added sugar, where distribution systems are optimized so fresh produce is affordable and accessible in old food deserts. I would also like for consumers to be more connected with their food and nutrition; diet has a long-term health impact, so I think it should be taught younger to increase the chance of impact.
Principal Software Developer
Written by Raymond Lam, edited by Laura Schaefer
I had originally gone to graduate school at the New England Conservatory of Music with the intention to train to be a professional musician. For various reason, however, after I finished up my Master’s, I decided that the professional musician’s life was not for me. One of my undergraduate majors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was in Computer Sciences, so I decided to go back to that field and become a software engineer.
I watched the Internet grow up as I grew up myself
Music aside, I have always had a natural affinity for the engineering and science fields. I was sort of a “computer nerd” growing up (I guess I still am one), so software engineering was a natural career for me to choose. When I was a kid, the World Wide Web was a thing the only hobbyists and researchers tinkered around with in, and now we live nearly every moment of our lives online.
Do you remember when you actually had to pick up a telephone if you wanted to talk to someone, or actually had to get up and go to a library if you wanted to know who wanted to know who the 23rd President was? I write web applications for a living – in particular, I work on the cloud-based electronic health records product at athenahealth, Inc., which doctors use every day to treat patients more effectively than they could in the “pen and paper” days – so my job feels very relevant.
Tracking actual impact in real time
Tens of thousands of medical providers use the software that I have written every day, and this does not include their medical assistants and other staff – not bad for a web application that isn’t a consumer web site like Amazon or Google! When you walk into our office, the first thing you'll probably notice is the many large screens everywhere displaying various dashboards, graphs, and tables. We’re a metrics-driven company, and because our software is web-based, we can track in real time the actual impact that our software is having on the productivity and effectiveness of medical practices around the country.
“Fulfillment” is a great way to describe the feeling I get when I patch out a change to the application and see the next day how it made the various lines or numbers on our dashboards go up or down. Maybe it means that my change saved doctors time so they can see more patients, or maybe it means that I made it easier for them to accomplish some task, like record blood pressure, so they do it more often — insurance companies will pay doctors more when they do this sort of thing. Seeing the impact of your work so quickly and at such a scale is great fun.
I have no regrets
When I was in college, I spent my summers as a student at music festivals like the Aspen Music Festival, so I didn’t have any internships on my resume, and I did not originally intend to pursue a career in software engineering. I missed out on all the career fairs and such. I was a fresh graduate of a music school applying for software dev jobs, so it was a little weird! This was in 2009 too, and that wasn’t a great time to be looking for a job in the first place. At least my resume was pretty memorable, though!
My CS background at Wisconsin was pretty solid, though, so it wasn’t as hard as it could have been. After I was hired for my first job, my career has been pretty smooth. I’d do everything the same way again.
What I wish you knew
For so many reasons, the more diverse a workplace is, the more enjoyable and fulfilling it is to work there. It’s actually win-win, because studies have shown that workforce diversity has a positive impact on profitability. These facts aren’t exclusive to my field, obviously, but the software industry, especially the startup scene in Silicon Valley, has a reputation of being dominated by young white men.
So, if you are a person of influence at a software company, I want you to know all the benefits of a diverse workforce. If you love to code and are thinking about making it a career, whether or not you are a young white man, go for it! Don’t be intimidated! Software engineering is a fun and fulfilling career, and even more so when you bring to it your unique background and perspectives.
As my career has progressed, I have built bigger and more complex applications and components of applications, and even frameworks upon which other software engineers build their applications. I like what I do and I like how my career has evolved, and in its current direction I hope to have formally the title and role of “Software Architect”, whose job it is, among other things, to design systems and make high level technical decisions. I like to have influence and I like to make a large impact – who doesn’t?
Writer, editor and author
Written by Georgia Beaverson, edited by Laura Schaefer
I am a freelance writer, editor and author. I chose it because my one true love/skill is writing. I love words and always have.
I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had a long career doing what I enjoy. It’s been a constant source of challenge, fulfillment, and, yes, joy. As a writer for children, it’s an honor to provide stories a child might love – what I write might even change his or her life.
Weathering the storm
The economic downturn was a huge challenge for me as freelancers are the first to go in a bad economy. I lost all of my clients but one, most because they were print publications that went under. It was an unhappy surprise, as I had always had more than enough freelance work to keep me busy before that. I’m not sure I could have done more to anticipate that or to have done something to get out of the situation. Sometimes you just have to weather the storm.
My biggest regret is having my first novel published and being too naive to make the best decisions surrounding it.
What I wish you knew
One of the most frequent responses I get to being a writer is disbelief. “People pay you for that?” is a common one. When my novel came out, I also heard a lot of people claim, “I have a novel in me." I wish people realized that writing and editing is a highly skilled, technical expertise. I am not a glorified clerical worker. Just because you’re able to type a sentence or read a novel does not mean that you could be a writer. It’s a calling, not a just a job.
I am nearing the supposed end of my career, but I do not plan to retire. I will write on no matter what. It gives focus and a level of meaning to my life. The constant challenge it gives me keeps me sharp and interested. Why would I let that go?
I just finished a rewrite on a manuscript I’m hopeful about. I’ve come very, very close to selling a couple of things but they fell through late in the process. I keep telling myself that if I don’t try then it can’t happen. So, fingers crossed for 2017!
Office manager for a home health and hospice facility
Written by Rebecca Heob, edited by Laura Schaefer
I run the entire office: I schedule nurses, bath aides, physical therapists and therapy aides to go into a patient's home to care for them per doctor's orders. I answer a multiple phone system, order all medical and office supplies, try to help all the staff with their computer work and answer questions.
I think the job choose me. I was a secretary at the hospital 73 miles away and this opening came up only 35 miles away. I feel very useful, appreciated and needed, which does make me happy. When a patient is well and/or is able to be independent again, it gives me a great feeling of accomplishment.
What I wish you knew
The biggest challenge is to get all the patients seen as ordered, when they want to be seen. Everyone wants to be seen first thing in the morning, which is not possible with only a staff of 13 to work with. These problems are always anticipated, but solving them is the biggest challenge. I wish more people would understand that they can't always be first – we always try to work around the patient's schedule, but it’s not always possible.
I have no regrets for my choice of work. The pay and benefits are very good for this depressed area.
As time goes by, I hope more people get to be home to recuperate than in hospitals or nursing homes. Getting well, or – in the case of hospice – dying at home is very important. I think with healthcare cuts more will have to recuperate on their own or in nursing homes. The baby boomers are most affected by this.
Hospice, the word, scares the hell out of most people…it means someone is dying. Hospice cares for the patient with nurses, aides, a social worker for any financial or legal concerns, and a chaplain. The whole team cares for the patient and family. Volunteers come in for respite for the caregivers too.
The focus is on a good death. All pain concerns are addressed as an emergent problem; no one should suffer as they pass. Patients can also go to a hospital or nursing home to give the caregiver five days respite every month. We always encourage patients to get out as much as possible for as long as possible.
You have a choice
My advice for those who need home healthcare or hospice care? Call around to different home health and/or hospice companies. Ask what they offer. You have a choice. People think they have to use the hospice the doctor orders, but it is all about choice; most people don't know that. The company I worked for encouraged asking questions any and all the time.
The younger the work force is becoming, the greater the need to remember patience and compassion. The hardest part can be watching someone die and taking care of patients or family as you would want to be treated.
Ph.D. Student, Sociology
Written by Alisha Kirchoff, edited by Laura Schaefer
I am a sociologist. I am currently Ph.D. student and am building a new career as a scholar in my thirties after spending my twenties traveling and working in an administrative capacity in higher ed institutions. After a while, I realized that while I was making a good wage and using my degree in a stable job, I did not feel a sense of intellectual fulfillment. Learning and acquiring knowledge has always been important to me, so I realized it was time to go back to school and get a Ph.D. I am now at Indiana University in Sociology.
My job absolutely brings me happiness and a sense of fulfillment. When I was a kid, my mother would get concerned because I would often close myself into my room for hours on end to read and write. Now, that behavior is seen as a productive contribution to my field. However, now my writing does not live in a notebook. I get to write things that people read. I get to present ideas that people think about and might learn from. I place learning and education above all other values except kindness and compassion, so this is pretty close to a dream job for me.
Scholar and mother
I think that my generation was the first where little girls were told they were just as smart and strong and capable as their male counterparts, but while I believe that is true, our institutions, attitudes, and structures have not necessarily adapted to accommodate the specific needs of women in traditionally male-dominated space. That is changing, but that change is slow and it is interesting that we have not sufficiently normalized the idea that women can be parents and spouses and still be successful scholars.
I underestimated how important it would be to my colleagues and students to see me simultaneously performing the role of scholar and mother. I have been told that it makes them feel as though they can have that life for themselves as well, if they choose. I did not expect to be influencing social change while simultaneously studying it.
I anticipated that it would be difficult to balance the demands of daily family life with the demands of a life-consuming career path, but I have zero regrets. The pay isn't great, either, but that's not what I am here for. I have no regrets. I genuinely love what I am doing and the flexibility of academic life allows me to be available to my children more than I would be otherwise. It's not easy to juggle everything, but it's possible.
What I wish you knew
I wish that more people appreciated the value of understanding how the world works. While not all disciplines lend themselves to this, sociological methods and research can help influence effective policy measures and help us better understand why things are the way that they are. I think that scholars are often dismissed as occupying only the ivory tower and as inherently unwilling to engage with those who are not part of the intellectual elite.
My experience is that, while scholars are often highly specialized in their particular area, the key findings of their work often has the potential for broad relevance and appeal. Some of the work of my colleagues has helped change standards and practices in the fields of education and medicine. A lot of the information that we have today and knowledge that we may regard as common is the result of a discovery by a scholar. I wish we placed a higher cultural value on research and education, particularly in the social sciences and humanities.