One of my favorite shows over the past few years has been The Discovery Channel hit series – Dirty Jobs.
Mike Rowe (plus a crew of brave cameramen) pick a few disgusting and/or labor intensive jobs each week that no one ever hears about, and humorously attempts to perform those job functions for our edification and viewing pleasure.
In turn, we learn about the stomach turning underbelly of the more colorful job market while Mike Rowe tries not to lose a finger… or any other bodily appendage for that matter.
And today, much to my surprise, I learned I have actually had a Mike Row Dirty Job.
Yup, I had a Dirty Job in College!
How I missed this episode I will never know because I generally stumble across a Dirty Jobs rerun once every week, but apparently Dirty Jobs paid a visit to the New Orleans Mosquito Control Laboratories.
In the video below you will see my exact job description that I had as a 19 year old sophomore desperate for beer n’ pizza money. More specifically, anytime you see the girl with green hair (not a job requirement at the time), you will see the same type of duties I performed to maintain a fully functioning mosquito colony.
Pretty cool huh? Maybe I’m a little weird, but I actually have fond memories of my days working in the mosquito lab. And no, the blood meals (or blood sausages as they’re called in the above video) aren’t nearly as messy to setup once you get the hang of it. Not to mention, I never received a mosquito bite sticking my hand in the mosquito cage.
Like most of the episodes on Dirty Jobs, it’s the look of the job that is most difficult to overcome. Not the job itself. Once you get into it, the job is a breeze and can occasionally be quite fun.
What Were the Job Perks?
The perks of this job were mind blowing now that I look back on it. This job was really the first stepping stone in a long line of internships that put me far ahead of my peers at graduation in terms of responsibility, job title and above all – salary.
Paycheck. This job paid $7.50/hr, and I generally worked a max of 7 to 8 hours per week. It sounds like pocket change now, but in 1995 that was a decent hourly wage. Plus, $240 per month working in a nice air conditioned lab was a sweet gig compared to someone who flipped burgers at McDonald’s or Dane Cook’s BK Lounge for minimum wage.
Return on Investment, particularly my time. Since I only worked 7 to 8 hours per week, I was able to get a nice paycheck for putting in few hours since I had a better than average paying job. In 1995, minimum wage was around $4.50/hr, so I was getting a ROI of 67% higher than everyone else. I’m sure it wasn’t the best ROI available, like one of my friends who waited tables at Hooter’s, but it was still a good paying gig for a college kid.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I worked for a senior level professor with tons of clout. In turn, every professor in the biology department knew my name. A difficult task to accomplish at a college with 25,000 plus students. This came in very handy in my later years because I was able to “force add” a few classes that were filled or reserved for graduating seniors.
Resume booster. I didn’t know it at the time, but my boss was my greatest supporter anytime I applied for a job. I showed up for work everyday, worked hard, and he made sure a future employer or internship supervisor (either academic or governmental) knew it.
Networking. Not only the professor speak out on my behalf, but networking with the graduate students paid huge dividends later in life. I got my first post graduation job partly because those grad students knew me from my younger undergraduate days.
On the Job Training. No way did I want a job playing with mosquitoes for the rest of my life, but I was microbiology major pursuing a career in the infectious disease arena. Where better to learn the tools of the trade than working in a microbiology lab because these mosquitoes were bred for microbiological research purposes. By the end of the year, I was 1 to 2 years ahead of my classmates in terms of laboratory skills, and actually ended up teaching a laboratory class as an undergraduate (very few undergrads ever got this chance).
How I Got a Cushy, Non-Burger Flipping Job in College?
To be completely honest, this was my first real job. I mowed lawns for neighbors and relatives on the weekends in high school, but other than that, I never had a real life job before this one. So you can probably imagine I had to be “a little off” or be completely desperate to accept this job when I was told I would be sticking my arm in a mosquito cage.
Know the influential people. I made a habit of introducing myself at least once or twice to my professors or graduate teaching assistants during office hours or late night help sessions. At the minimum, become a familiar face so your professors know who you are.
Don’t be afraid to ask bold questions. I actually wrote letters (yes, snail mail letters) to four senior level professors that spoke at freshman orientation (this included the department head of my chosen major). They must have loved the work ethic behind this pseudo-shrewd maneuver, because I received a call three weeks before the semester started offering me a job.
Check the Job Boards. Whether it’s web based jobs list, or an old school paper flier stapled to multicolored bulletin board outside a lecture hall, make sure to check these job listings often. There were always tons of cheap labor jobs available for broke college kids all year around.
Ask the Financial Aid Office. You may not qualify for financial aid beyond a student loan, but most schools probably have a list of jobs available or can point you in the right direction. You might also qualify for a work-study based program where your employer splits employment costs between himself and the school (or state financial aid system).
Attend a large, research driven college. One of the best choices I ever made was choosing a large college because the amount of activity (e.g. research) beyond the classroom is immense. Obviously, the larger a university, the more manpower they need and the better your chances of finding a job.
What about you?
Have you ever had a job worthy of a Dirty Job stamp of approval? Did you stick with it, or was it entirely temporary like mine?
If you’re a college student, got any tips to share with others in getting a higher than average paying job?