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“Is It Even Worth Applying for Things?”

The question came up yesterday in a Zoom meeting with some students: “Is it even worth applying for things?” If you’re a graduating senior looking at the most recent reports about unemployment claims, or a underclassperson thinking about summer internships, you’re probably wondering the same thing.

The answer to the question “should I apply for that?” is still and always yes, but context changes the question.

We’re not anywhere near the peak of illness, economic instability, and global disruption that this global pandemic is going to cause. The tidy structure of clear pathways (internships, fellowships, grad school, entry-level jobs) from a prestigious degree to a career is getting shredded before our eyes. That said, there are things to apply for. So apply. But do what you’ve been taught to do, and think broadly as well.

Pandemics always end, the future is coming even if we have no idea what it will look like, and the skills you’ve honed in your liberal arts education are going to serve you well in navigating the uncertainties that lie ahead.

  • Effective communication matters now more than ever. There are a lot of important things that need to be said in times like these, and you have probably noticed by now that some people are saying them more powerfully and usefully than others. If you can listen so that people feel heard, and cut through the ambient noise with your words, you have a function to fill in this moment.
  • Navigate the small details without losing sight of the big picture. A lot of people are feeling overwhelmed by the details of daily living at the moment. That’s okay — our present moment is overwhelming. Don’t forget though — you are an agent of history as well as its subject, and your actions build toward a future we all will live in.
  • Let loose your intellectual curiosity. No one can be clairvoyant about what’s going to happen, but your time is well spent trying to understand the broader global context and local implications for the things happening in the world right now. You may well face decisions where that broader understanding will be relevant.
  • Use your creativity. The structures that previously would have defined your job search and career planning are as unstable as they’ve ever been, but your labor has value, you have skills, and the world has needs that you can fill. Mr. Rogers famously reassured children by urging them to, “look for the helpers” in times of crisis. As you transition from being a student to your next steps, think about how you can BE the helper, in all the ways that a complex world needs help in times like these.

Need help translating these kinds of generalities into your own situation? That’s what we’re here for. Email humanitiesprc@illinois.edu to start a conversation (by email or Zoom) about your next steps.

(image from #wocintech chat)