A hexagonal desk guards Payne Whitney. Sturdy, imposing and inspiring, this wooden fortress and its two staunch gatekeepers are all that stand between our treadmills and the flabby masses who lack IDs. They also distribute towels.

“I needed to make some money, and I wanted a way to do it that wouldn’t be too difficult,” Aki Nikolaidis ’09 said. “I wanted to be able to do some of my work, too.” A few deft flicks of the head up from his neuroscience textbook is all Aki needs to keep our ellipticals safe for another day.

If Yale were a living organism, student jobs would make up its appendix, wisdom teeth and tonsils — largely useless and sometimes painful. But homework has to get done, and a great many students have discovered that if they plant themselves behind the right desk while they do it, money starts to appear in their mailboxes. Students who are willing to hunker down and get bored will likely be able to find a place that will pay them to do so. They may not be eminently employable, beyond being moderately hygienic, but their shortcomings matter little to the University’s deep blue pockets.

Tuition is sky high, but that money has to go somewhere; it inundates the air here, choking Yalies in a miasmic green haze. The University doles out tuition reimbursement in the form of paychecks offering $10-15 for every hour spent in service, and every year, hundreds of students figure out how to get every last dollar there is for them to get.

Director of Student Financial Services Caesar Storlazzi made clear what the primary purpose of these jobs is: “Money for students!”

Or maybe a student job is just the average Yalie’s latest triumph in getting what’s coming to him.

Legions of desk jockeys

Most student jobs are not nearly so interesting as looking at IDs. The majority of us yeoman laborers are instead engaged in the most banal of tasks required to keep an office running. They may not be glamorous, but they do provide a glimpse into the wide spectrum of shitty jobs the real world has to offer.

“The other day, I made a spreadsheet of hundreds of addresses,” a marketing intern at the Yale Press said. “It sucks.”

Maybe the marketing intern should just imagine the smiles on the faces of all the people receiving their solicitations.

The administration, for its part, makes it clear what the policy on data entry is.

“If it looks like typical clerical work, research or assistance, then it’s a student job,” said Matthew Long, director of student employment.

It may seem like an annoying position for students to occupy, but the alternative is to not have these jobs available at all. For those who need the money, a bad job is still better than no job. Especially considering that some students will be applying to do this kind of thing for free in internships over the summer, the fact that Yale pays so generously for clerical work is just gravy.

Storlazzi stressed the financial importance of work-study: “Our intent is to improve the experience of students on financial aid and to enable them to leave Yale with a minimum of debt.”

Still, some students are disappointed to hear about the simple nature of their tasks.

“I thought that it would be a legitimate position to put on my resume,” the press intern continued. “I was completely wrong.”

“Legitimate” is a tricky word: even if it involves mindless labor, most people in the world consider a job legitimate if it yields a paycheck. Life isn’t a seminar, and eight hours of data entry should make that crystal clear. Maybe these students are just disappointed to see what the first floor of the ivory tower actually looks like.

While they may not like it, everyone — even Yale students — has to start somewhere and, boring as they may be, these jobs are not completely meaningless. When asked how important the student employees are, a representative of the Yale press quickly responded, “Crucial. We miss them desperately during the summer.” Students might not be excited to do endless data entry, but it’s work that has to be done.

Though the jobs may be legitimate in the eyes of employers, a free-market assessment might yield different results. It’s not that all Yale students have unimportant jobs, but if the Office of Student Employment were run like a business, it would probably hire more qualified applicants. Luckily, Yale is not exactly hurting for cash, and so it makes sense that it is able to kick so much of it back to student employees, whether inept, inexperienced or simply learning.

Student jobs aren’t like this everywhere: At many schools you can’t get a job unless you’re on work-study, and even then they don’t pay as well as they do at Yale.

“Jobs at UVM work in a pretty selective way because of the size of the school,” said Conor Casey, a student at the University of Vermont. “Although it’s not necessarily impossible to find a job without work-study, it’s definitely hard.”

But, according to the Yale Student Employment Web site, “Demand has never been exceeded by supply and there have been more jobs than students throughout the year.”

It looks like if a Yalie wants a job, he or she can no doubt get it. That’s fairly comforting.

Frying towards glory

Yale’s Student Employment Office isn’t the only place offering jobs. For those more inclined to socialize than study, some master’s offices will pay you to wield a spatula in their buttery (love of butter is not a prerequisite, but it is strongly recommended).

A relaxed atmosphere is one of the many perks of buttery labor. Andy Wagner ’09, a worker in the Saybrook Squiche, said that patrons “usually come to the Squiche doing one of two things — avoiding the library or bringing it with them.”

Wagner and his cohort get paid $25-30 for their four hours in the Squiche. It’s not quite up to Student Employment standards, but they’re better off than buttery employees in other colleges, many of whom are not lucky enough to be paid for their labor. Those students have to try to make up their entire paycheck in salt, fat and friends.

The only official compensation for grilled cheesateers in the Davenport Dive is $10 in food (that’s a lot) a week, and while workers do not show up as reliably as their paid counterparts (this reporter is guilty), the place still seems to run successfully with a more laid-back attitude.

“I usually see my Dive shifts as relaxing, hanging-out time more than work time, which makes it an enjoyable job,” Michelle Schorn ’09 said.

Dive labor is not without its life lessons as well: Making friends helps Dive employees develop people skills, and setting grease fires teaches them crisis management.

The art of screwing around is remunerated elsewhere at Yale, sometimes even with the joy of a little brief authority. Enter the IM referee, a person with one of the sweetest jobs at school.

“I actually do about 7-20 minutes of real work a night,” Ned Fulmer ’09 said. “Squash is technically a self-reffed game.”

He clarifies, however, saying that sometimes he penalizes late arrivals. IM Refs might seem amiable enough, but do not test them.

“I get to lay the smackdown sometimes,” Fulmer said.

Ouch.

Bowling is another one of those self-reffed sports that provide hardworking IM refs with a job. But reffing bowling is not as fun as it used to be, according to E.J. Wolborsky ’07.

“The Council [of Masters] decided it was inappropriate for students to drink while participating in a campus-wide ‘athletic’ activity,” Wolborsky said. “So, despite beer being a fundamental part of the bowlin
g experience worldwide, AMF Hamden Lanes was obliged to close their bar while we were there.”

Perhaps the council didn’t trust students to be hurling lethal black orbs and peering through a drunken haze at the same time. But seeing as the referee is the only person who doesn’t technically have to bowl, the real problem may have been the difficulty in preventing refs from wandering over to the bar and consuming their paychecks.

The few, the proud, the useful

Perhaps the reason there are so many silly student jobs out there is that a lot of Yale students can’t do much more than that. While some former high-schoolers may have been garnering real-world experience by working at a hardware store or banging the prom queen, a lot of us just sat around and studied until we walked through Phelps Gate. Yale students may become instantly employable the second they get their diploma, but they probably aren’t upon entrance.

This is not to say that all the money Yale gives out to its student employees disappears immediately into a fog of grease and clerical work. There are other jobs out there that have allowed students to cash a paycheck, learn a trade and garner worthwhile work experience at the same time.

Emily Cassareto ’09 is among the first assistant managers of the Yale farm.

“During the workday, I supervise any volunteers: designating manageable and enjoyable tasks for everyone, giving farm tours and doing the typical farm work, too,” Cassaretto said.

She was already involved in the farm before becoming an employee, so her job gives her a chance not only to operate in a more official capacity, but also to receive good money for what would otherwise have been volunteer labor.

Adam Horowitz ’09 is another student who found a way to turn an extracurricular into an employment opportunity. His original position wasn’t paid, but in appreciation of his support, the World Performance Project gave him the job of web master, which comes with a wage.

“I kind of proposed the position, and it was accepted,” he said.

Horowitz and Casaretto are examples of people who turned their passion into a check, something that most people hope to do not only in college, but in the real world as well. Not all students can mold their own jobs, but many still manage to find interesting and valuable experiences as recording engineers, STEP coordinators and dining hall managers.

Walking backwards

One thing Yalies can’t get enough of is talking about Yale — that may be why tour guiding is the holy grail of jobs on campus.

“The pool goes from around 200-plus applicants down to 15 or 16 every year,” said tour guide Zachary Klion ’09. “It’s more competitive than getting into Yale in the first place.”

Klion is director of advertising for the News.

Tour guiding offers good pay and flexible hours, but it seems like a uniquely Yale phenomenon to have cutthroat competition for the opportunity to tell befuddled tourists and hapless high-school juniors when Harkness Tower was built. Still, tour guiding is the only student job whose main requirements are socializing and running our mouths with absolutely no prior experience.

No wonder it’s so competitive.