by Naomi Graves
Graduating feels like a heaving suitcase is placed right on the weak point of your back, and you’re just stuck with it. Not sure what’s in it, but it’s definitely there and it’s bloody hard to lug around. This could be a metaphor for pressure, the feeling that you must live up to expectations. For me, this baggage is a big ol’ identity crisis. Not only do you have to get to grips with no longer being a student; a title you’ve been clinging to for 3+ years; but along with that, you now have to somehow learn to keep your head above water, and keep visible. Being a student equals visibility: you announce it every time you’re shopping (gotta grab that 10% off), you can protest and be politically visible, your action is covered in newspapers and TV, you are the ‘next generation of leaders’, you’re slapped with a title that gives you a little inkling of importance. But, post-graduate? Not the type still in education (I see you), but the type who has just left university and is now a little less visible, and has no institution to prop them up.
What is your identity now?
Although the physical act of me sat writing this down right now does seem awfully dramatic and egocentric, in reality the drama of the matter isn’t really there. I’m not sad, and I’m not happy. I recognise that post-graduate depression is real, I’ve seen people dragged down by the slap-in-the-face existentialism triggered by finishing university; luckily I’m managing to keep afloat. Personally, I’m just suddenly aware that my presence is a grey blob right now, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this as a recent graduate. This is truly a problem of the privileged, but a problem nonetheless.
It’s got to come down to institutions, doesn’t it. I’m 22, and I’ve been rolling smoothly from one institution to the next since I was 4 years old. And what does it do for us? Provides a purpose-built community and a solid identity. ‘What do you do?’ – and you define yourself by the current qualification you’re working towards. Institutions give us order and collective conscience (big ups Durkheim) and they try to keep us from chaos. Of course they don’t always work, people’s mental health is commonly thrown out of whack at university, and people are not immune to personal struggle, yet we are united by a daily sense of purpose. Retrospectively, this sense of purpose is incredibly short-term, yet you are sold that *THIS* is your identity, *THIS* is who you are, *THESE* are the best, most defining years of your life.
A few years institutionalised, only for it to suddenly disappear with very little transition at the end. Again, left to discover who you are without this built- for-purpose community-based identity.
What next? Am I allowed to have a job now, please?
This is causing me to reflect on university aftercare. Who experiences good career advice at university? Who is realistically told what is out there, the routes you can take, the time it will take, the prerequisites you need for certain jobs, what further training you need to take, the impending doom and depression you may tumble into? (Pls run with the drama). I’m sure it’s different for STEM and arts students, but my experience comes from the social sciences which, to those with no experience in this field, is seen as a bit ‘wet’ or unemployable. Even university sold us this agenda. In first year, my close friend went to the careers service in the hopes of being hyper-prepared, and ready to work towards a goal. She was told that the university had no contacts with any charities or the public sector. No contacts! In the beginning of my second year, I spoke to my tutor because I wanted to do a year or term in placement, or at the very least secure an internship over the summer. I was told not to bother, because the public sector has no funding and social science students “never” do placements in our university.
I didn’t feel anything but bitter when I spoke to someone in final year who had interned in research for the civil service in her second year. So, the social sciences are in fact employable? Extremely employable? People work for the bloody government with a social sciences degree?
And currently, I feel resentment for the lacking careers service at university when, daily, I am spending hours discovering hundreds of incredible charities and research institutes who offer internships, graduate and entry level roles. So why did university not tell me this, point me towards this, or even suggest that so many options are out there, and that I do not need to be in limbo after
This ramble is not a detour from the identity crisis I was speaking of. This problem of careers advice at university, or lack of, is a big weighty chunk of the crisis I am encountering. Once graduated, how do you stay visible when your university has chewed you up and spat you out without even pointing a finger in any direction for you to take?
Now, ‘unemployed’ is the title you probably won’t be screaming from the rooftops every time you go shopping, and after the debt-filled, tears-filled, incredibly demanding 3+ years of attempting to make yourself employable and give yourself a level of worth and visibility, this grey blobbish area you sit in is a bitter pill to swallow.
left to right: Justin, Tom, Naomi, Kyle – taken @ Camden Bar, Westbourne on 31 August 2018. Photo credit to John.