‘Is there life after death?’ That’s a question some students like to ponder, but it’s also rather abstract and theoretical. ‘Is there life after graduation?’ is rather more relevant. When you have to give up your free-wheeling student existence for a 9-to-5 slog in some open-plan office, do you still even have a life? That’s what I’m finding out during my internship. In this final episode: weighing up
This is the final week of my internship. I’ve written my internship report. All in all, I would say this introduction to office life has been quite positive. As I concluded earlier, the open-plan office is actually quite handy, not so sure about office humour, bureaucracy is totally irritating and being an intern isn’t that bad a deal. But even so, there is this continuing fear nagging me at the back of my mind of the daily routine as a desk jockey.
But office life comes off quite well when I compare it with my student days. An important part of that is the satisfaction you get from being involved with the real world and actively changing things.
For now I rather like the real world
To take an average day from when I was a student: in the morning I have a course in which I get reduced as a human being to a computational sum. We all pretend everyone implicitly maximizes their utility curve (how much extra pleasure do you get from buying a product) with mathematical precision, which lets me figure out whether or not to buy another pair of nice shoes, for example. Then in the afternoon, in another course, I scrutinize, dissect and interpret the behaviour of groups of people. That lets me figure out why I should attach any value to having another pair of nice shoes in the first place. I think to myself: who — apart from academics — needs all this theorizing, whatever the form, and why?
I now wonder too why the various chair groups that made up my Bachelor’s programme never asked that question openly, or made much of an effort to give an answer. I’m still working on a masterplan in which I get to set my former teachers an essay assignment.
This internship meant fewer theoretical abstractions where you can’t really see the point. No more imaginary shoes. No, you just work on something, create something — something that someone else will use. And even be prepared to pay for. OK, I may only be getting three euros an hour, but there is a lot more value embodied in my day-to-day activities, both for me personally and in terms of money. Perhaps the academic world will beckon again one day, but for now I rather like the real world.
That brings this series of columns ‘Is there life after… graduation’ to a close. But my plans for the future after this week are as open-ended as ever. To be continued.
Steven (25) is doing a Master’s degree in Economics and Policy and is currently doing an internship at a research institute for economics. He enjoys hitting the squash court and is always up for a game of squash and a good conversation. You can email him here.