Being a deaf student … and working

The BBC recently published an article entitled “Increase in university students ‘working to fund studies‘”. In short: with increased tuition fees and reduced maintenance loans, more students were seen to be working to fund their studies. The reason for this is fairly clear and is discussed in this article, also from the BBC, “Are we missing the real student loan story?” which discussed the situation that some families find themselves in, where the two parents combined earn more than £42,600, in some cases, only just going over that amount, and being bracketed in with the super rich … meaning their child gets nothing in the way of grant support, and the parents are expected to find up to £5k – which they may not have, particularly if they have multiple children attending university at the same time.

Then there are the adult, mature students, who work to put themselves through university. This is more common at postgraduate level, particularly since any kind of state help stopped being granted for postgraduate study. There was a huge gap in provision between MA and PhD level, with many MA students being left to either choose a loan (which you had to repay to the bank, not Student Finance England), as soon as you finished your studies – not ideal if you were planning to go on to study for a PhD. Although universities and other sorts of funding are now beginning to address that gap, obtaining such funding and grants is still hugely competitive and difficult to find.

So its perhaps no wonder that up to 77% of students are now working, up from 59% the previous year. But where does this leave the deaf student, who often struggles to access the kind of jobs that other students will be doing, that are often of the kind that a deaf person may struggle to do? Things like bartending, waitressing, shop working – all of which depend hugely on communication? Yes, sure, it is illegal to discriminate but to a bar owner, thinking about trying to deliver drinks as fast as possible to a thirsty clientele on a Friday night…? Its a no-brainer. So… what’s the deaf student to do?

I freely admit, I struggle with this myself. In the last two years, I have been studying part time, with the intention of working part time as well to fund living costs and next year’s tuition fees. I have had precisely four jobs in that time (not at the same time I hasten to add), all of them temporary – and which added up to around £1,000 of work, no where near enough to support me, or to pay next year’s tuition fees. At this point I am being supported by family: and I spend far more time looking for work than I really should.

There is also the added issue that, in many ways, you want work that you do at this time to give added value – something that you can point to on your CV, and explain how it gave you experience at something that is relevant when you’re at a job interview in future. I am lucky, in that I have around 10 year’s worth of administrative and office experience behind me, before I started my degree studies, so I do at least have that to call on. I can prove I can hold down a job. In some respects, the four jobs I have held will do exactly that: I have teaching experience now, that will look fantastic on my CV for when I apply for PhD funding, and I have research experience – both voluntary and paid – and paid social media experience. But not every student can gain this kind of work – and more to the point, not every student can find work that can give added value to their field: its hard to see how shop keeping might give added value to, say, a physics degree. So that’s where you have to think outside of the box, and think about skills, rather than specifics. For example: you could, somewhat laughingly, refer to how you used physics spatial theory to make a display of something in a shop (and no, I am not in the field of physics. Does it show?). You can refer to a difficult client from a shop when you need to give an example of conflict resolution. You can refer to decorating a bar for christmas, for an example of group work or leadership. Soft skills, rather than hard ones. Your career service should be able to help you more with these if you find them difficult.

The other thing to try is to see if your university has a student’s employment agency. Some really good, interesting jobs can be available through them, although, often, non students are right in there and competing with students as well (which I feel is a little unfair). The work I did, transporting ballot boxes on the night of the 2015 General Election, which turned out to be one of the more interesting nights I’d spent in a while, was found through an agency like that. I only got paid around £25 for the night, but it was the experience, rather than the money, in that case – and that’s another thing to remember – that sometimes, you get paid in experience, rather than cold hard cash. Don’t carry that too far though!

You may also need to think in terms of multiple roles. A (hearing) friend of mine actually held down 3 jobs, all at the same time – working in a bar at weekends, in the student union shop during the week, and as a paid student blogger, which gained her credits for the career that she wanted to go into (journalism), as well as voluntarily working on the student rag. The last two were around 5-10 hours a month between them, but they made a big difference to her CV – the soft skills side of things – while the first two helped pay her rent.

Finally, whatever you do, do not allow the finances to interfere with your studies. That is far easier said than done, I do know. But if you find that working is taking so much out of you that you’re not able to give as much to your studies as you would like, if your marks are going down as a result, then find help. Your student’s union may have some kind of finances adviser who may be able to suggest sources of additional finance (many universities have hardship funds, for example) and may also be able to look at your current financial situation, see if they can make your pennies stretch further. You can play a big role in that, in learning to shop, cook and eat cheaply, for example.

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Are you a deaf student? What have you found that works for you? How do you balance the demands of work and study? If you feel like writing for the DeafStudentUK blog, please, do get in touch – deafstudentuk at gmail dot com is the address. I look forward to hearing from you!!

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