Shelving dusty books, dishing up grill orders, leading patrons through Harvard’s art collections — in the coronavirus era, job-seeking students have found that campus mainstays are now defunct.
As students wade through an unfamiliar fall term online, they are also adjusting to a sparser campus job market. Some undergraduates lost employment and struggled to find alternative opportunities; others supplemented the gap with off-campus positions. For a lucky group, formerly in-person positions have effectively translated to virtual format.
During previous semesters on campus, Noah D. Dasanaike ’22 said he worked for Dorm Crew and as a shelving assistant in Widener Library. After classes moved online, Dasanaike said navigating the search for alternative job opportunities has been a “fend for yourself” kind of situation.
“Usually, there are a lot of research opportunities through various mediums at Harvard. And those seem to have dissipated,” Dasanaike, a Crimson editorial editor, said. “Maybe not in biology or chemistry or anything that involves actual lab work, but I feel as though they are very easily adaptable to an online format, so I'm not really sure why there's a lack.”
“It might be funding issues,” he added. “Some of the professors that I spoke with said that Harvard and a lot of universities right now have limited funding, and they don't really want to onboard any new employees.”
For those positions he did apply to, Dasanaike said he encountered irregular response rates or didn’t hear back at all.
After undergraduates abruptly evacuated campus in March, some said they struggled to secure remote employment to supplant their lost jobs, finding few available opportunities on the Student Employment Office site.
At the time, Harvard announced it would continue to pay students who can perform their on-campus jobs in a remote setting but asked students who cannot do so to seek other employment opportunities through the SEO.
Like Dasanaike, Liz E. Hoveland ’22 lost some of her on-campus jobs as the University transitioned to remote work — going from four Harvard positions to just one.
Hoveland’s former positions were highly varied: While on campus last semester, she bartended events through Harvard Student Agencies, assisted Leverett House’s building manager in the mailroom, ran social media for the History department, and worked as a digital media coordinator for the Harvard College department of communications. Now, based at home in Montana, she is working only the latter job.
“I am so lucky that I still can keep that,” she said. “It is the most phenomenal job ever. I love it.”
Hoveland said her hours dropped from 20 to 15 hours each week because the College made new student hires. Still, she said she appreciated the reduced workload since she is shouldering an extra class this semester. In normal times, she said she would “definitely” continue all four jobs.
“I wish that I could be bartending again. I really enjoyed it. The pay was phenomenal, and I got to get off campus and explore Boston,” she said. “And it's sad that I don't really get to be working for the Leverett building manager, who I love.”
While Cecilia Y. Zhou ’22, who has worked as a student tour guide at the Harvard Art Museums for a year, said she has been able to keep her campus job, though she noted that her billable hours dropped from 10 to seven this semester due to hiring freezes and budgetary restrictions.
“We obviously can't create as much or I can't be actively producing as much content as before with this kind of reduction in hours,” she said. “But other than that, though, the program has remained mostly intact.”
Some students reacted to the dearth of campus jobs by finding employment outside Harvard, though they have struggled with less student-friendly hours.
While she used to work at Lamont Library, Elena S. Vietri ’23 said she is now bouncing between classes and six-hour shifts at a Boston bakery.
“As soon as I understood that Lamont wasn’t going to reopen and we weren't on campus, I decided against a Harvard provided job,” she said. “Harvard jobs are kind of few and far between, especially with my field — [Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality] — and being a sophomore and having no research experience.”
“So I decided to make my job somewhat more of a passion as opposed to something that's going to further my resume,” she continued. “I've been baking for a long time and I really love the owner of these bakeries.”
Vietri said her schedule at the bakery is far more demanding than the one she maintained at Lamont, which allowed student employees to work anywhere between four to 20 hours per week. Vietri started off by working 24 hours each week at the bakery, which she said took a toll on her ability to complete coursework.
“I was able to get it back to 18 just for my own mental health and I have been okay with coursework since,” she said.
Other students have had smoother transitions, securing alternative Harvard employment or adapting their previous positions to the remote format.
Molly B. Goldberg ’22, who used to work in the materials acquisition department of Harvard’s library system, said she found a new remote research post.
“Obviously that's the kind of thing that you can't just do remotely,” she said of her job in the library. “You need to physically touch all the books.”
Goldberg’s new research post is a continuation of work she started with a History professor this summer. She is working 10 hours a week to help him make the works of Francesco Patrizi, a Renaissance philosopher, publicly accessible.
“There aren't really very many scholarly editions or translations that people can read, and so that we're trying to fill that gap,” she said. “The research job is really great, because I'm really interested in being an academic.”
Zhou also said her work at Harvard Art Museums has translated “smoothly” to an online format. Rather than give traditional in-person tours of the museum in person, the guides now lead guests through virtual visits.
“We've actually had a lot of success in embracing the affordances of the online format,” she said. “We've also been able to expand and grow our online presence.”
Student tour guides now offer informal online talks about different works of art. Zhou said one guide recreated a painting of a bouquet in person using real flowers. Zhou herself has filmed several make-up tutorials based on different works of art.
“It's certainly disheartening to not be able to be physically present in museums and to work with the art in person,” Zhou added. “But the attendees actually seem to be enjoying the virtual tours, and we seem to have a different and bigger audience than we did in person because the online format has the benefit of being accessible to anyone around the world.”
—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.
—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.