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Jason Ulsh, 33, explains how and why his job search led him out of sunny San Diego (and why he’s ok with it).

Let’s start with your educational background.

My degree is in cognitive science from UCSD. It’s multidisciplinary, there’s some psychology, some anthropology, computer science, and neuroscience. It’s about cognition. I received the Bachelor of Science in March 2010.

And what kind of work do you do?

I’m a barista. I serve food and drinks at a North Park coffee shop. It’s a fallback job. When I graduated, I spent four months looking for work, and I couldn’t find anything. I kept looking for something in my field even after I found the coffee shop job, though it was a lot harder once I was employed.

What kind of work were you looking for?

Research jobs. University work mostly. And then some private research firms. There are some psychology research and marketing firms in San Diego, but most of them are elsewhere.

Why did you decide to start looking outside of San Diego? Was it a hard decision?

Essentially, after I had to take the coffee shop job, I realized I was going to have to broaden my search outside of San Diego. I’ve heard that a year is typical for fresh college graduates to find a job, and not necessarily even in their field, but a professional job. I think what happens is that you realize you’re being too narrow-minded about what you’re willing to do.

I looked at it as an exercise in probability. Because of what my degree is in, I figured if I looked at locations where there were more jobs in my field, I would have a better chance of finding work, rather than being one out of a million here in San Diego. So, I looked in the Bay Area, Michigan because I’m from there, and the Chicago area. I also looked based on where I’d be willing to live.

How long until you found work? And what did you find?

When you’re applying for jobs at Universities or say a government job, anyplace with a lot of red tape, there’s a long time between applying for the job and them contacting you. Like six months, which is a long time to be waiting. You have to make it past HR. For example, I applied to one job at one university coffee shop here in San Diego at the same time I applied at my current coffee shop, where I was hired last July. I didn’t hear from the university coffee shop until December.

So, in early March of this year, I applied to the University of Michigan for two different positions for research technicians. I didn’t hear back from them until mid-June. I was offered both, and I took the one that suited me best. Hopefully. I mean, I haven’t started yet. I’m leaving for Michigan in the middle of August.

Do you have any doubts about making such a big move?

Yeah, kind of. My fiancée and I don’t know anybody in Detroit, where we’ll be living, but the low cost of living is a huge plus. It’s going to allow us to live pretty well. On the same amount of money out here, you’re still struggling. Plus, we will be closer to family out there. It’s a job in my field, and it pays pretty well. So that wins out over any doubts I may have. The only thing that’s going to suck is the weather. But the weather is not enough of a reason to stay here and struggle.

How did you know it was the right decision?

I didn’t see that there was going to be another opportunity for me here. There’s an old saying: ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good.’ Essentially, if something is good enough, don’t wait for perfection. If you get eight out of the ten things you wanted, that’s pretty good. It’s better than zero out of ten.

Ok, any advice you can pass on to those weighing the decision of whether or not to expand their job search out of San Diego?

Do research. Find out where jobs in your field are. And be willing to travel out for your interviews.

And also, even if you’re looking to stay, remember that all work experience is good work experience. The people who eventually hired me were interested in my non-research work experience, like my retail experience. Even though it’s a professional job, they liked to see that I had been promoted to management, because it shows responsibility. It showed that I wasn’t just there for a paycheck. Those kinds of things are important for any job. Even though they aren’t going to ask me to make coffee, they may ask me to order supplies or schedule people.

And one more thing: It’s important to tailor your résumé to the job requirements on job description. Don’t be afraid to do that. That’s going to get you past HR.

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hnst_xpreshun Aug. 6, 2011 @ 11:20 a.m.

I think it is important to recognize that the choice to pursue research is a unique one, with many fewer job opportunities relative to other professions. This paints a very skewed portrait of San Diego, because the truth is it that finding a good research job anywhere is difficult.

For example, if you had chosen to pursue a career field in higher demand, such as something relating particularly to technology (user experience, interfaces, etc.) or education, you might have had an easier time finding a job. Both of these fields are directly related to cognitive science.

I am a junior at UCSD, with a major relating to cognitive science, and am already employed at a learning center in San Diego whose programs focus on strengthening specific sensory-cognitive functions. I think many people make the mistake of waiting until graduation to find a suitable professional job, and forget the importance of gaining experience and an understanding of the job market along the way.

It is important to realize that school is not an end, it is a means, and that ultimately a person must be realistic when evaluating career options. No amount of schooling can change that.


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