For someone who loves public transportation, a job with Boston’s transit system is basically a dream come true. For the past two summers, I’ve had the privilege of working as an intern at the Customer Technology Department with the MBTA, and while the geek-out moments are the ones I remember most, (I got to visit bus garages! Whoa!) it’s also an eye-opening experience to be in the workforce – the “real world,” as I call it. And as it turns out, the “real world” has a lot of parallels with the “college world.” To show what I’m talking about, let me take you through the three main tasks I did at the MBTA and walk through the connections I made to what I had been doing in college.
The first was training bus inspectors on how to use new software that the department had created to help them keep track of their bus routes better. It felt exactly like a group presentation at school: a coworker and I created a slideshow for the classes, we rehearsed over and over again, and we presented to the inspectors. Of course, while most class group presentations are a one-time thing for a single class, we had to do this one multiple times at different garages. And do it to students that often interrupted with funny comments. Bus inspectors are awesome.
My second job was interviewing inspectors for one of the main subway lines, the Green Line, about software that the department had released about a year before. I was asking them questions about how often they used the software, what aspects of it they liked, and what they would change. Of course, I had to ask follow-up questions and follow the conversation to glean as much information as possible as I scribbled down notes – it felt straight out of a journalism class or a writing seminar. It’s exactly how they teach you to interview in school. I’m even taking an urban research class right now that involves interviewing strangers! It’s come full circle!
The third task was the weirdest and most specialized, and probably something you wouldn’t find a class about at Penn: whenever the MBTA makes a schedule or route changes to buses, it all has to be inputted into this software called TransitMaster that was built in the 80s and released in the 90s. But while this clunky piece of technological history is something that would never be taught in school, I could still draw parallels to the frustration of learning a new language in Computer Science. A recently hired coworker was learning it for the first time as well, so it was like studying together for a big confusing homework assignment.
Even the structure of the day was sorta like being in college. Although you spend it mostly in the same building (a very high school thing), you’re left alone most of the time and trusted to get your work done (a very college thing). You can go anywhere for your lunch hour, and you occasionally go to meetings, which are like classes. There are a lot of similarities!
But for me, there is one major difference between the “real world” and the “college world,” and it is important: the work you do in the “real world” has a genuine impact on the…you know, real world. And I’m not going to lie, going from the “real world” to the “college world,” where you’re doing everything for the satisfaction of one professor, can be hard. I always find myself struggling to find academic motivation when I’m coming off of this amazing dream job.
It honestly took me until now, writing this post, to realize that I was wrong about how it works. Yes, working at a real job does have a more tangible effect than a school workload. There’s no denying it. But when I started thinking about how I had been using what I learned in school to help me at work, and just the general similarities between work and school, I figured it out: the work you do in the “college world” helps you out in the “real world”! And that probably seems really obvious, but when you’re bogged down with four papers and three midterms, it can all feel a bit futile. Honestly, some of it probably is just busywork.
But sometimes you have to do busywork at a real job, too. And don’t forget: finishing college gets you the piece of paper required to work at most real jobs in the first place. So if that isn’t incentive enough, I don’t know what is.