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Although many Penn students have a rigorous academic course load, some choose to take on jobs on the side.

Credit: Joy Lee

Many Penn students spend their spare hours doing homework or participating in extracurriculars — but some find the time to make a few extra dollars on the side.

Four students weighed in on their unique jobs.

College sophomore Susannah Pitt is working at the Van Pelt Circulation desk, Wharton sophomore Shane Meyers is working as a server at MadMex, Nursing sophomore Isabel Braun is working at the farmer’s market outside the bookstore and College sophomore Eric Ma is working as a barista at Williams Café.

1) How did you come to find your job?

"I found the job at the circulation desk of Van Pelt on Penn’s student job search website. I was looking for a work study job that had flexible hours and would not be too demanding. I wanted to make some extra money but not have a job that was too difficult to have during the school year." — Pitt

"I found my job by looking on Craigslist. Since I didn’t have any prior food service experience, I had to apply to a bunch of different jobs all over the city. I was looking for the job because I felt like I had some extra free time during my spring semester and I wanted to have a little extra spending money for the weekends." — Meyers

"I actually found my job through my uncle. He owns a plant business and travels to a lot of farmer’s markets throughout the week… Every Wednesday, he comes to Penn’s farmer's market and asked me to work for him. I purposefully make my Wednesday class schedule light so I can work 5 to 6 hours there." — Braun

"I had a couple friends who were already working/planning to work at Wilcaf, so it motivated me to apply, since I love spending time with them." — Ma

2) What are your responsibilities? Is it challenging to balance your job with academic and social commitments?

"I assist Penn students and staff in checking out/returning library books. I think that having a job actually helps me stay on top of my schoolwork because it forces me to schedule my workload. Also, because it’s a work study job, I am allowed to do homework when it isn’t busy at the circulation desk." — Pitt 

"As a server, I do all the typical stuff that you would expect a server to do. But beyond that, I do some food prep, silverware rolling, and lots of cleaning. It has been kind of hard to balance my work with all of my other commitments. A typical evening shift for me will start at 4PM and I won’t get back to my room until around 3AM after we close and finish cleaning the restaurant. I have to plan out my homework schedule well in advance because I know that I won’t be able to get any homework done on days that I have evening shifts. I think it has taught me a lot about time management and prioritizing my work." — Meyers

"My responsibilities are to make drinks, serve ready-made food, clean the cafe, and interact with customers. my shifts actually fit perfectly into the spaces between my classes (shoutout to Alina, the scheduling goddess), so I feel that my shifts at Wilcaf don’t take away from my academic/social commitments at all!" — Ma

3) What is rewarding about your job? What is challenging?

"I really like working at Van Pelt. I get to meet and talk to a lot of different people that come into the library! Sometimes it can be challenging if someone has an issue with a book or with the library and is not in the most pleasant mood, but this does not happen often." — Pitt

"The most rewarding part of my job is the insight that it has given me. It sounds cliche, but I never had a job before coming to college and I feel like working at Mad Mex has really helped me realize the value of a dollar. Being able to take some of the financial burden of Penn off of my family has also been rewarding because I know that they have sacrificed a lot to send me here. The most challenging part of my job is that the people I’m serving can often be a bit condescending. I understand that being a server isn’t a job that exactly commands the respect of others, but it frustrates me when people treat me like I’m less than." — Meyers

"It is constantly rewarding to finish a rush between classes or early in the morning with a couple of great pals alongside me. I think the most challenging thing is when I make a joke to my coworkers/customers and they don’t laugh and I feel like melting into a puddle of espresso." — Ma

4) Do you have a particular horror story/funny moment from work?

"One time I was running a little late to work and had to run from my apartment. I tripped and fell and got grass stains and dirt all over my shirt but I didn’t have time to change. Almost everyone checking out a book asked me what happened — it was pretty embarrassing." —Pitt 

"My biggest horror story is probably when two women came in, spent $60 on margaritas with expensive add-ins, and then left me just over a $1 tip…On the flip side, one of the most interesting tables I served was a group of people who were presumably homeless. Despite the fact that they were likely very poor, they tipped me about 18 percent so that was an unexpected surprise. One of the weirdest parts of the job is that I have served a considerable number of Penn professors and several of my past TAs. It’s always a weird dynamic, especially if they are ordering margaritas or shots, but I generally just laugh about it." — Meyers

"One time I had to meet at this girl’s house for a group project. I walk in and there is this huge cactus in a dark corner of her room. It was not in good shape. I immediately remember selling that exact cactus to her! I then started to tell her exactly the best way to keep it alive in terms of how much water to give it and how much sunlight… It just seemed like a such a small world. A few weeks later, she texted me to thank me because her plant was in much better condition." — Braun

"One time a lady asked for a double shot of espresso in a thermos, so I put the thermos under the espresso machine, pressed the double-shot button, and went to make another drink. After a bit, I grabbed the thermos and handed it back to her. Like 10 seconds later, she angrily handed it back, and said “This is empty!” after she had already paid for her double espresso. Confused as to what had happened, I soon realized that I hadn’t cleaned out the espresso grounds bin, so the machine wouldn’t dispense espresso shots. I quickly cleaned the bin, gave her the espresso shots, and considered leaving the country permanently." — Ma