Pay Me My Coin
The other day, I sat on a panel for new graduate students who are entering the College of Education at my institution. The room wasn’t that full, but it wasn’t empty either. One Latinx woman in the crowd asked the question, "What are some of the things you would suggest to someone who didn’t have funding? How should I go about trying to find a job or something?"
They asked it to the whole panel, so I answered. But before I tell you my answer, I would like to say that Black and Brown folks, especially women, are constantly doing work that we are not paid for that progresses the field. We do the work and don’t get credit. And when you are in graduate school, receiving credit for your work is the name of the game. I mean, getting publications with your name on them is very important.
With that being said, I answered by explaining the different resources on campuses that list available jobs and how I, when I was un-funded, applied for everything that I possibly could because I needed the money. But I followed that up by saying that even though experience is good, if you need the money to pay your bills, do not do anything that isn’t compensating you. You have to put food on your table and keep the lights on. Graduate school is the time to put you first.
After stating my answer, Suzy (not really their name) next to me says that you should still take opportunities even if they aren’t funded because some of her greatest experiences, and opened doors, came from doing that. I did not respond to this. However, I felt some type of way. As this white lady said these words, I felt a slight sting.
I get that experience is important, but you have a Latinx woman telling you that they need money, not experience. Why is the default to tell folks of color to volunteer their time when you know you wouldn’t? Haven’t we, as a collective, given enough without pay?
I kept my cool and didn’t even address it because I would talk to the lady who asked the question later and send her all the resources I possibly had. But my issue is, again, Black and Brown women do the heavy lifting but yet we cannot even pay some of our bills. We cannot even get the recognition for the things that we do. Hell, we cannot even get cited.
I think the purpose of this post is to say that you should know your worth. You should never sell yourself short for something called an “experience” because you think that will further you, when you really need funding.
I recently did a twitter thread about graduate school being the time that you learn to ask questions. And that includes asking for your money when you deserve it. Know that your effort and work are valuable. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you should never volunteer and you should never offer your services for free with faculty and or staff on a project that you are passionate about. However, what I am saying is that don’t be fooled into thinking that is something you have to do to make it in graduate school or the world of academia.
You need to ask programs and projects and people to run you your coin for the work that you do. To put your foot down and finally start putting your needs first. There will come a time when you will be in a better position to “volunteer” your services. However, if funding is what you need, then now is not that time.
About the Author
Joy Melody is a JTG Contributor. She is a Master's student at the University of Iowa who studies the sociology of sports and health communication within the education system. When she is not busy complete work for class she enjoys writing for her blog , running with her dog, and hunting down guest for her podcast. She is a native of Fort Worth, TX.