By Olivia Melvin
An International Studies student and closed borders
In summer of 2020 things were looking rather bleak for me, an international studies & Mandarin language graduate whose capstone year abroad had just gone online. The international job market pipeline had been severed by border closings and international lockdowns. Shifting my gaze toward stateside prospects for the first time, it seemed that I’d need to fall in line with the others seeking underpaid translation internships in over glorified cities above my means. That’s what Mississippi kids do, right—get a degree, follow the market you think you’ll be able to integrate into and stay afloat until you make it.
Joining the remote job market
Facing a world of unprecedented uncertainty, I allowed myself three months to decide on a plan. I was certain of one thing; post-pandemic student loans would still exist, so I sought out other options in the meantime—online ESL teaching and Mandarin tutoring. During my search for contracting positions, I received a message from a former advisor asking if I’d be interested in short-term translation work for an unfamiliar center on campus. After conversation with the center’s director and staff members, I happily accepted the translation contracting role and was pleasantly surprised to realize that I would be compensated fairly for my work (a valid concern in a state whose minimum wage still sits at $7.25/hour during a global pandemic). I had successfully found three different outlets of reasonable, remote employment for the time being.
From translation to data-collection
I started out translating focus group protocols and transcripts, which soon led to facilitating focus groups in Mandarin, collaborating on instrument development, contributing Mandarin resources to a literature review and assisting with qualitative and quantitative data analysis. My contracting hours evolved to incorporate English components of different projects as I continued to contract with the center, and I was learning the ins and outs of the field of evaluation through individual components of data-collection processes without ever being aware of it.
Finding my place in the field of evaluation
CERE took a chance by bringing me onto a project as a contracted translator. Earlier this year a position for Project Coordinator opened up at CERE, and I was lucky enough to onboard as a staff member of the team. I was able to see the initial project I was involved in through to the end. I was able to find an employment option that capitalized on my undergraduate skills without forcing me to leave the state. My three-month plan never came to fruition because I found a sustainable position within my means that is both impactful and meaningful. I wouldn’t change a thing.