“You sleep very little,” Sufia Mehmood ’18 said of the assortment of jobs she juggles both off-campus and on-campus.
Between working as a manager at Lamont Cafe, a tutor at Harvard Student Agencies, an English tutor for students in Japan, a babysitter, and a campus tour guide, Mehmood’s schedule quickly fills up.
Though she said she values her work experience as an important part of her personal and professional development, Mehmood acknowledged that her work can heavily affect her social life. With numerous jobs, spare time is sparse, affecting her friendships. Spending time with her friends and family, she said, often means studying or working together.
“Thankfully, my boyfriend is very supportive,” she added.
Mehmood is one of thousands of Harvard students who balance their academic commitments with term-time employment. According to the Student Employment Office, 78 percent of Harvard students are employed during their undergraduate years. Just under 60 percent of Harvard students find their work through the Federal Work Study program, according to Director of Financial Aid Sally C. Donahue.
Many of those students find their jobs on-campus, either at one of Harvard’s libraries, campus cafes, or through programs like Dorm Crew. But for some students every year, going to work means leaving Harvard Yard and venturing into Cambridge and the Boston area.
Harvard students can only work 20 hours a week at their on-campus jobs, according to the Student Employment Office, meaning that working off-campus allows some students to work longer than the University allows. Off-campus jobs also offer some students employer benefits even as they pose their own set of logistical challenges.
“I’m currently applying to grad school. Grad school is expensive; applying is expensive; interviews are expensive to travel to,” Mehmood said.
When Nick C. DiGiovanni ’19 arrives at his job at Waypoint, a nearby seafood restaurant where he works as a line cook, he begins by chopping chives, preparing proteins, and simmering sauces.
“I do all my prep work for 2 hours until 5 p.m., and then the doors open so we dim the lights, and we clean the floor again,” DiGiovanni said. “Service is from 5 to 11 but usually servers start cleaning up at 10-9:30 if it gets a little quieter at the end—and you get out of there at like 11 or 11:15.”
Every Wednesday, DiGiovanni is in charge of every component of six or seven dishes for the night. While he said he enjoys cooking and sauteing, he especially looks forward to presenting the final product.
“The best part, I think, is probably the art and the actual plating of the stuff,” he said. “When you actually get to go out and plate the food in the way that you want, to some extent—you can’t go crazy or anything—that part’s a lot of fun.”
While Harvard offers students a variety of employment options on campus, the wider Boston and Cambridge area allows students to pursue opportunities beyond those available in a campus library or cafe. DiGiovanni, who is considering becoming a chef in the future, reached out to Waypoint last year hoping to earn some experience at a top local restaurant.
“I’m thinking about the possibility of being a chef when I grow up, and I’m not sure, so I just wanted to sort of get out there, throw myself into a real top restaurant in the area and see what I thought,” DiGiovanni said.
When overtaken by the hustle and bustle of Harvard life, swapping out job hours is one way many students manage their time. Eric W. Chin ’19, who works as a youth ice hockey referee in the Boston area, said he appreciates the added flexibility of his off-campus job.
“I schedule it the way I want to,” he said. “I have been pretty busy this semester, so I haven’t done a lot.”
Chin said he simply tells his boss what hours he can work on any given week and is then assigned work that best fits those hours.
Oliver Q. Sussman ’21 coaches Lincoln-Douglas debate for The Harker School in California. He works as a private contractor, getting paid per tournament and for every research assignment he completes for the school.
“I will do mostly internet research. Basically in debate you have to create lined down pieces of evidence where you underline all the words that will be read by the debater,” Sussman said.
Sussman said he chose this particular job over several other coaching offers for its flexibility, which allows him to pick up assignments in accordance with his schedule.
“I didn’t know how busy I would be during first semester, and now I’m very glad that I did that because if I had to do a lot of debate coaching at the very beginning of college, that would have been very difficult to deal with,” he said.
Despite its flexibility, the job does not come without certain difficulties. When he travelled to California to help coach the team during a tournament, Sussman said he was up all-night on a red-eye flight back to campus.
“I had to take a red-eye flight back from California and I landed at 7, and then I came here and I slept for an hour and then I went to class. So it’s not super—I would say travel is the biggest burden so far,” Sussman said.
Not all off-campus jobs offer the same autonomy. DiGiovanni is a member of the sailing team; he has practices with his team each Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with competitions on the weekends. Working all afternoon and night at Waypoint on his day off is a large commitment.
“I’ve got a lot of work, a ton of texts, a certain amount of emails, and there has definitely been random things that have popped up,” he said. “It can be kind of difficult when there’s some other commitment I’d really love to go to, or have to go to, and I have to somehow figure out what to do.”
Beyond the added flexibility and opportunity to pursue new interests, students point to more tangible benefits of off-campus work as a reason to escape the Harvard bubble.
Megan E. Sims ’18 has worked at JP Licks on Massachusetts Avenue since leaving her job at the Harvard Square Starbucks. She said that discounted coffee was her favorite part of working as a Starbucks barista.
“There were times over the summer, especially, where we would try to come up with the weirdest, most convoluted drinks possible,” Sims said. “My favorite thing I crafted is a vanilla bean frappuccino with java chips and a shot of espresso poured on top, affogato style.”
At her new job, tourists and students alike line-up for ice cream, frozen yogurt, baked desserts, and coffee. Like at Starbucks, Sims said she can regularly enjoy her favorite brews. But for Sims, working at JP Licks also offers a supportive work environment.
“JP Licks has a very positive environment,” she said. “There’s also discounted coffee there, so I’m back to getting my caffeine.”
“I considered campus jobs, but I realized I got tired of working with primarily Harvard students, and I liked working with other people,” Sims added.
For some student employees, free coffee and a friendly work environment are only the beginning of the perks of off-campus employment. Some employers offer health insurance and stock options to employees who log enough hours or rise into manager roles.
Working at JP Licks is not Sims’s only commitment, though. She holds a number of positions on campus that allow her to stay involved with both communities. She said that even working on the other side of Mass Avenue lets her escape the Harvard bubble, which she says can feel isolating.
“I feel much more a part of the Boston community now than the Harvard community,” Sims said.“Get out of the bubble; make friends; get jobs off campus; get to know people who don’t go here.
“It was amazing starting a job that was very much not a part of campus,” she added. “When I clock out, I am done.”