I wanted to talk to Shreya in an early edition of this feature for so many reasons. For one, like Viki, she is wise and inquisitive, asking questions that make me think harder about politics, television, and Hamilton. Shreya has also been basking in the glow of a new job that she adores and expressed outright fear at my funemployment. “I don’t think I’d be able to do [what you’re doing], but also my immigrant parents would kill me.” she wrote at one point. “Our parents have always been really good at letting us make our own mistakes,” I admitted.
“I could not be less shocked by that fact,” she texted back with an implied mic drop. We skyped through a terrible connection last week.
“What is your goal with this feature?” she asked to start. I hemmed and hawed about understanding career paths and opportunities and motivations before admitting that, after five years in an insular institution, I felt lost in the external job market.
“I don’t even know what a professional job is. They all sound made up to me!” I said as she nodded.
“Doctors and engineers are the most tangible, transferable jobs, same with computer programming and IT” she pointed out. “There’s a reason for the stereotypes about immigrants doing those jobs.” Shreya is an Outreach Coordinator for the Science Network at the Union of Concerned Scientists, engaging scientists with advanced degrees to promote progressive policies that are backed by sound science. She worries offhandedly that her parents don’t understand her job for the same reasons I struggle–they can’t be summed up in one word.
“It is really hard to conceive of jobs that don’t fit into those concrete buckets,” she said. We digressed for a minute about the thousands of ways a doctor can practice medicine and the different skills required to run your own small-town practice versus lead an urban emergency room or perform clinical research. There are layers of nuance to a title like “Doctor” but we have one umbrella term for professionals holding certain qualifications and hard skills. In fields dominated by soft skills, though, we complicate things with broad industry categories and job titles that almost never convey between organizations. Point in favor of “Jobs are made up,” I’d say.
An “associate,” for instance, could be an entry-level employee with a Bachelor’s degree, or any lawyer who’s not yet a partner. With eight years of experience out of college, I was still an associate at my last job. It’s a frustrating code that reveals more about a company’s size than about the work or background expected of the employee. If you tell me to “just look at the qualifications” list I will first point you to the search results on Idealist for “associate” and then point out that while men apply for jobs when they feel 60% qualified, women wait until they feel 100% qualified, or that women applicants may be viewed as less capable than men with identical experience or punished for being assertive leaders. It’s daunting to navigate being confident or ambitious, but not too confident or ambitious, while being at a point in your career that might potentially span two to three job descriptors and trying to break into management. And I know, I know, you eat an elephant one bite at a time, but what if you don’t even really want to eat the elephant? What if you want to raise your own elephants but you’re a lifelong “elephant associate” who has only ever chopped onions for the preparation of the elephant? What then?!
Reassuringly, the fluidity of job titles worked in Shreya’s favor while interviewing with UCS. The original role was for a Manager, with an Associate reporting to them. Because the team liked her and another candidate so much, they reworked the roles into two Coordinator positions and hired both. She marvels at how different their backgrounds are. She came from associations of medical professionals; he was a teacher and organizer. Their skills complement one another. She’s also been enjoying Lunchtime Equity Conversations that create an environment of respectful dialog and individual agency while feeling like leadership is really committed to equity, justice, diversity, and inclusion.
“The double-edged sword of this job is that it taught me what it’s like to love going to work,” she says. She feels motivated and engaged with her work and colleagues, inside and out of work. In DC, she says she often felt her life was compartmentalized with Work Shreya and Fun Shreya. When asked how they are blending now, she cites two examples. First, despite throwing regular theme parties and an annual birthday blowout called Shreyapalooza, she hadn’t realized she might like event planning in a professional capacity. Her work is creeping into her free time too. “I think I’m actually project managing my life more,” she laughs. If she is willing to write a post about project managing your life, I would 100% publish it.
As much as she raves about the work, her colleagues, and how valued she feels as an employee, Shreya sometimes wonders, “What would I really do if I could feel like this every day?” Outside of work, she runs Depths of TV, so if she doesn’t pursue writing, she wants to incorporate her love of TV into her work too. She has her eye on Health, Hollywood & Society, an organization that pairs scientists with writers to help them craft scientifically accurate storylines. In earlier years, their scientists consulted on soap operas incorporating HIV/AIDS plotlines. More recently, they worked on Jane the Virgin‘s hurricane story. Beyond just incorporating sound science into pop culture, the examples she cites speak to Shreya’s passion for social justice.
Her enthusiasm for her new job and city is infectious, although not quite enough to motivate me to get a job just yet. Instead, she encourages me to use this time to put in the sometimes grueling work of cracking the creative and nontraditional DC community. She sends me emails from Creative Mornings and tells me to apply for Femex. I groan. I hate groups. When I’m uncomfortable, I get judgmental, and then I quit.
“Go in with low expectations for people but high expectations for friendship,” she recommends.