Walter Sylvester--his mother is a lawyer, his father a school principal--is an engineering major who sees himself as a role model for younger African-American men. Ben Wexler, son of a lawyer and a nursing-home administrator, was looking to Hollywood as much as Westwood when he moved here from a comfortable Chicago suburb. And James Papp, the only graduate student of the group, has undergone a long and difficult inner struggle that may lead him away from the academic world he once longed to be part of.
All of these students have one thing in common: They walked onto the sprawling Westwood campus four or five years ago with the conviction that a UCLA degree would translate into success in the job market. Now they're learning some hard lessons. Recruitment interviews at UCLA's campus are off 8% over the past two years, words like crisis infuse job-planning seminars, and career counselors report high levels of stress among graduating students because of the shrinking job market. As he walks through the placement and career-planning center he oversees, Walter Brown sadly shakes his head. "It's not good, not good," he says. The job boards stand half empty. And many of the postings are for clerical jobs paying $6 or $7 an hour. Career counselor Maciek Kolodziejczak notes that the biggest problem for UCLA graduates is not unemployment but underemployment. McJobs.
DESPITE THIS BLEAK NEWS, SPIRITS WERE HIGH WHEN THE SEVEN graduates sat down together for pizza one cool April night. Spring break was a fresh memory, and the ritual partying that marks the first weeks of spring quarter was in full swing. But it didn't take long for their anxieties about the future to surface.
How would you describe your own mood last summer, compared to now?
\o7 Jessica Lindzy: I was optimistic. I thought it would be so cut\f7 -\o7 and\f7 -\o7 dried--that I'd go in, do the interview thing and get a job. I knew it would be hard; I didn't think it would be impossible.
Alanna Klein: At times you have to remind yourself you're a good person.
Teresa Garcia: I thought I'd be choosing between offers. Now I just want an engineering job\f7 .\o7 I'm not going to be so picky anymore. I try to be optimistic, but it's hard.
James Papp: I knew the Ph\f7 .\o7 D\f7 .\o7 market was really bad. But one knew of people who had got jobs--at least one had heard of people who had got jobs. I thought that if I did everything the right way, if I got out in five (instead of eight or nine or 10) years, got my dissertation done, got some publications, got some awards--that it all meant something, that there is some sort of relationship between what you do and what you get.\f7
THEY'RE NO LONGER APOCRYPHAL, THOSE ENDLESS STORIES about the Ph.D. who can only find a job driving a cab or flipping hamburgers or pumping gas in a country allegedly desperate for more educated minds. James Papp, Ph.D., English, may forgo the academic job market for a different kind of vocation: Jesuit priest.
It's not an alternative to a recessionary job market, exactly. Papp first felt the calling a couple of years ago. He initially had planned to get some "real world" experience before pursuing his vows--and he still may have to, owing to church rules and his own continued internal debate over his vocation. As the months of job searching wore on, though, skipping that first step certainly looked like the more appealing route.
Inside a stark campus office one March morning, Papp holds up a copy of the Modern Language Assn.'s employment catalogue, the bible for doctoral candidates entering the job market. This is the October, 1991, issue: It has 600 job listings. The October, 1990, issue had 900. Papp applied for 40 jobs. The competition was stiff: Papp was among 450 applicants responding to a Vassar College opening in 20th-Century British literature. Fifteen were called for interviews. Papp was among them. He didn't get the job. Rejections rolled in. Several positions were cut or frozen before interviews could even begin.
"I applied to Fordham. They got 350 applications for a job that no longer exists. Even at Caltech, which is usually rolling in money, there was a job I would have loved: teaching in 20th-Century British and American literature. But (the position) didn't get funding."
And on and on the story goes, as told by this son of a retired sheet-metal worker and a former nurse from San Diego. Papp's biggest problem is timing, according to Carol Kleiman, author of "The 100 Best Jobs for the 1990s and Beyond." The job market for Ph.D.'s will, she says, improve dramatically in five to 10 years, as an aging college faculty begins to retire. That doesn't help now.