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Jobs & Work-study: Key for Autistic STEM Students

Jobs and work-study opportunities are important for autistic STEM students. These experiences can pave the way for future openings and provide a valuable foundation of key skills.

If you’re a college student, you might be interested in getting some work experience that will look good on your resume or CV. (After all, employers usually want job applicants to have job experience.) You might also be interested in getting a job that could help with all the expenses that come with a university education: housing, tuition, textbooks, and so forth.

While many universities have a “work-study” program that might be able to help with these issues, it unfortunately seems like many college students aren’t aware that work-study exists. To be perfectly honest, I only found out about work-study because a friend told me about it!

Basically, work-study is a program that’s designed to place students in paying jobs—usually, jobs that are either on the college campus or with off-campus, non-profit organizations. As such, the jobs can be a little more interesting than a job in customer service. For example, I was able to get a job working in a psychology research lab, and I’m pretty sure that experience helped to set me on the road towards psychology graduate school.

Work-study is administered as a financial aid program. The first step to getting a work-study job is demonstrating that you are eligible. Basically, this means that you need to be able to show that you have financial need. Furthermore, work-study in the United States is mostly funded by the federal government, which means that only domestic students are eligible. (I’m Canadian, but my work-study job was from a university in Canada.) But some American colleges may have additional funding for international students. It doesn’t hurt to check.

You should be able to investigate details about eligibility and deadlines through your college’s financial aid website. If you apply and if you are eligible, you’ll be approved for certain number of work-study hours. (The number of hours depends on the extent of your financial need.)

However, getting work-study hours doesn’t mean that you’ll be placed in a job. You’re still going to have to apply for jobs (probably from a list of approved work-study jobs), go through a job interview, and get hired. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t expect to receive any help from the university as you go through this process: you’ll have to either navigate the job search on your own or find support elsewhere.

While the work-study job search process can be difficult, I certainly don’t think it’s any harder than other job searches. And I do think the work-study program has some advantages. As I mentioned, a lot of the jobs can give you experience that will look very good on your resume. Another advantage of work-study jobs is that they sometimes don’t have too many hours, which can be useful when one is trying to focus on classes. It certainly can’t hurt to head over to your college’s financial aid office and explore whether work-study is right for you. You might find yourself on the way towards a work-study job.

If you have any thoughts – comments, questions, relevant experiences you want to share – please add them below!

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Patrick Dwyer

Patrick is an autistic graduate student in the psychology department at UC Davis with a broad interest in helping to ensure that autistic and neurodivergent people can lead fulfilling lives. He plans to use eye-tracking and electrophysiology to explore the heterogeneity of the autism spectrum and different phenotypes of autism, and is particularly interested in studying sensory processing and sensory sensitivities in autism. He has also facilitated peer-support groups for other autistic college students. You can find more of Patrick’s writing on his blog at autisticscholar.com.

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