Cash Rules Everything Around Me

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Sometimes, for the broke college student, whoring yourself out to paid psychology experiments just doesn’t cut it. To offer some assistance in your job search, we bring you dispatches from five students who tell all about their various engagements in the world of campus employment, work-study and beyond. Compiled by Maryam Parhizkar.

The Library Assistant

       Perhaps you’ve heard about hipster librarians, i.e. the charming types with quiet smiles and no hips who listen to The Hold Steady. These people do not work in Columbia’s libraries. Most of them work in Butler’s basement—the mothership of the libraries—where they rarely see the light of day and physically and mentally reflect the lack of Vitamin D.  My boss, though quite kind, could rarely breathe normal air, wore wrist braces, and spelled words with LittlE oR No ReGarD for CaSe.

            Quirks aside—or perhaps, quirks included—it’s not a bad job, especially if you prefer books to people.  Unless you wo/man one of the circulation desks, you could spend your days shelving books, barcoding books, or doing countless other activities with books. The merits: you can listen to music, though for long stretches, audiobooks and podcasts are key; there is little oversight; you don’t have to interact with people (have I emphasized that enough?). Downfalls: old books are about as clean and nice-smelling as old people, and there are lots of them; books will occasionally fall on your head and bruise you; the lights turn off every 15 minutes.  This isn’t just an inconvenience to those of us who believe murderers wait for the end of those 15 minutes.  Words of wisdom: do not work in the math library. 

The Note-Taker

  About once every year or so, if you’re lucky, you’ll find in your inbox and email from Columbia’s Office of Disability Services advertising the need for a note-taker in one of your classes for an anonymous student whose disability prevents him or her from taking notes. Or maybe your professor will make an announcement to the same effect. The first student who shows up to the ODS with a sample of thorough, organized class notes will get the job, which pays a total of $350 a semester to undergraduates and $400 to graduate students.

      This is one of a few ways to make money at Columbia that doesn’t require work-study status, or any extra time beyond what it takes to email ODS your notes every week. Typically students pounce on these opportunities like feral cats, so as soon as you receive the email announcement, reply to ODS with message saying you’re interested and high-tail it over to the eighth floor of Lerner with a copy of your most responsible class notes (preferably notes you’ve already taken for the class, if the semester is already underway). ODS may take a few days to consider which applicant’s notes best suit the needs of the anonymous student, whose name is never released – not even to the note-taker.

      I’ve taken advantage of this opportunity twice, once in a science lecture and once in a literature lecture. Knowing I was responsible to someone else for what I wrote forced me to take thorough notes for every class meeting, and which made writing papers a lot easier than it would have been had I filled my notebook with the usual illegible scribble. And the best part was getting paid a few hundred dollars for something I should have been doing for free. 

The Editorial Assistant


      Maybe you’re not too keen on shelving books at the library all day or awkwardly swiping your classmates into their buildings. Rather, you’re looking for something that will be a relatively worthwhile work-study job and you happen to be a responsible person with decent writing/editing skills. If you’re lucky, you’ll land yourself a spot with Columbia College Today (you know, the magazine you and your parents get in your respective mailboxes, but don’t really read). Housed in Alumni Affairs headquarters in a building hidden on Riverside, the CCT offices are tiny but collectively a treasure trove of over 100 recorded years of Columbia College history. Your job as part of the CCT team includes the typical editorial assistant’s chores: covering phone calls, cataloging back issues, scanning photos, labeling mail and copy-editing. Usually, you even get to write a piece or two for an upcoming issue, which means the chance to escape the office and conduct an interview with a respectable graduate at a local lunch spot. 

      Occasionally there are days when you’ll be tired of writing the same formulated alumni success stories, hearing that same crazy alum’s long-winded 4 A.M. complaints about Jeffrey Sachs in the office voicemail, and typing up depressing obituary notices (“the poor guys from ’40’s are dropping like flies!” your boss exclaims one day from her office, after a stream of sobbing phone calls from the deceased’s wives and children). Then again, it’s really not so bad. After all, there are the free books, the occasional office wine-and-cheese party, and your own cubicle space. To some degree it makes up for interning at a small-time publishing company or magazine somewhere in the city; at least this gig pays.


The Ask Alice! Information Specialist  

      What could be more fun than a job where you get to read about peoples’ dirty, stinky, little secrets? What about dirty, stinky little vaginas? Or dirty, stinky little skin growths? Go Ask Alice!, Columbia’s famed Health Promotion website, touts the promise that the staff reviews every question that gets asked. The job – about 2,000 questions a week – gets divvyed up between all of the staff members, including the lowly researchers like myself, who spend the majority of time researching the answers to the questions that make it through our collective filter.  

      Aside from my nerdy enjoyment of finding out about fat cells and hyponatremia (read: over-hydration), the never-ending free food and coffee, and the videos that everyone watches during our suspiciously long breaks, reviewing questions is definitely an enjoyable part of my work study job. People write in jokes, tell extremely long stories, and generally show sides of themselves that they’re not willing to reveal without the promise of anonymity. Their emotions seep through the internet and have caused me to cry out of pity for someone lonely and sad, then laugh at absurd conundrums involving purple toes and impending weddings.  

      Though I can’t share my favorites with you since they’re not mine to publish, I can tell you that you are not alone in your difficulties with sex, your apprehensions about STDs, pregnancy, and drug use, your loneliness and fear, and your constant curiosity about your own body. Sitting in the office, I’m often glad that I’m not in some of the predicaments our questions present – but every once in a while, I too duck surreptitiously behind my cubicle wall and write a little note to Alice. 



The Slacker

      A couple of weeks after I first learned, via e-mail, of my shocking admission to Columbia University in the City of New York, my corporeal mailbox too was assailed with a folder, the exterior of which depicted a Corinthian column that served as a backdrop to blue-and-white lettering which read (in all-caps) “Paying For College,” and the interior of which contained a document detailing a number of figures that would determine my family’s financial future for the next four years.  Hidden amongst the generous grant and leeching loans, my father’s divining rod-cum-Sharpie discovered the following words that struck terror into my indolent and parasitic bored-white-kid heart: “Work Study Grant: $2300.”   

      An old axiom of mine holds that there are better ways to get rich than becoming an I-banker and sacrificing yourself to The Man for a wage of fifty bucks an hour. If this is true, then there are certainly better ways to make $2300 than swiping cards or handing out towels or filing papers as a serf in some godforsaken departmental office, the scents of cat dander and stale bureaucracy assaulting my nostrils.  Bearing this in mind, while my floormates filled out their federal forms, I sat in front of the television, playing Super Smash Bros. Melee and concocting a scheme to bring myself income. Writing for Columbia College Today was clearly out of the question; my integrity could not be sacrificed for mere dolladollabillz.  For awhile I dabbled as a guinea pig in Business School studies, but the hours were irregular and the pay scanty.  Spring semester I doled out $150 to enroll in Columbia’s bar-tending program, but my visions of steady salary and tips and lucrative connections siphoned from drunken hedge-fund managers at their Gatsby parties were not to come to fruition, as my application for employment was brutally rebuffed.   

      This left me no choice but to come home for the summer, where my distaste for work was indulged by room and board provided gratis by my parents.  Imagine our collective chagrin when we saw that my grant had been reduced substantially, and my personal anguish when I saw the words “Work-Study” still remained on that faux-yellowed document.  Now as my bank account dwindles, I am proud to say that the only goal of mine I’ve fulfilled all summer involves watching every South Park episode ever, and that when I return to the East, all bronzed and bulked and culturally literate, I still fully intend to shirk my bitch-work responsibilities in favor of Spicy Specials, video games, and maybe some phantom source of income. 


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  1. go ask alice  

    i missed that video. i do remember watch the west wing during lunch last summer, though.

  2. bwoggggg

    what happened to the summer clubbin' post??????? i hate youuuuuuuu

  3. phantom source...

    of income...make fake ids?

  4. Slide library

    Slide library stuff is interesting, develops good skillz.

    PS: The note-taking graph was rather fatuous

  5. note taking  

    work all semester = make enough $ for 1 round of bottle service.. and for providing services for somenoe too lazy to take notes for themselves. great approach there.

  6. haha

    i never did the note taking thing because i skip class WAY too much.

  7. notetaking

    did notetaking once... then in discussion section i realized that every member of the wrestling team enrolled in the class (at least 10 of them) had a copy of my notes.

    also worked in the library for a year... not all that bad if you have an ipod but shelf-reading is the worst thing ever.

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