The Story of My First Job

From teenage umpire to lab assistant to stage performer, Tufts alumni, faculty, and staff recount their first time working, and the connections they made that sometimes lasted a lifetime

As we celebrate workers and working this Labor Day weekend, we asked members of the Tufts community to share tales of their first jobs. The stories here include jobs you might expect—scooping ice cream and shelving library books—and a number that are well beyond the mainstream.

The Patient in the Chair

My first “real” job was working for a dental surgeon who needed help while his staff took summer vacations. I got the job because he was a family friend—not because I had any particular interest in the field. I wore a white uniform and held the aspirator while the dentist did root canals and extractions on patients who would rather be anywhere else than in the dentist’s chair.

I saw my share of blood, but what I remember most was when a patient came in with a severely infected, hideously painful tooth. The dentist explained that he could try to save it with a root canal, or just pull it out. The patient chose the latter. After giving the anesthesia, the dentist headed toward her mouth with what looked like an enormous pair of pliers, the patient jumped out of the chair and ran out the door. She never came back, and to this day I wonder what happened to her.

Then there was the day I entered a treatment room to orient a new patient, who turned out to be a Tufts classmate. I didn’t really know him, but we were in the same freshman English class. I’m sure his confidence in the dental practice he’d chosen plummeted when he saw that I would be assisting the doctor. But all went well, and his tooth was saved. We saw each other occasionally on campus the next year, but neither of us ever mentioned his tooth.

Many members of my family were in the dental business, so it would have surprised no one if my summer job had led me to dental school. But alas, it was not to be. I’d seen how the sausage was made. Still, to this day I have very good teeth and have never needed a root canal—thank God! —Susan Rothstein, A71

Public Service from the Start

It was the summer of 1969, and I, the child of World War II refugees, had spent an incredible year in Europe—in Switzerland, France, and Germany—living at the highest levels, hobnobbing with ambassadors and ministers, skiing in top resorts. 

Well, it was bound to end, but because of my education and the people I had gotten to know I landed a job with the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation at UN headquarters in New York.

We were on the 32nd floor of UN headquarters, under the Office of the Secretary-General which was on the 38th floor. Yes, at 21 years old I had access to that floor and shared the same administrative office with U-Thant, the secretary-general of the UN. I even got to use the SG’s refrigerator—something completely unthinkable now.

Yet, what struck me and changed me were the reports that came in on the ongoing effects of radiation on the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, images of which remain before my eyes. 

There was a woman who had worn plaids and whose body was engraved by them as the waves of radiation produced by the nuclear detonation acted differently depending upon colors. There was the annihilation of a city and the rebirth of plants in different variations depending on their reaction to the radiation. My years at the UN, as an interpreter, in development, elections, and now still a representative of civil society, all that was born out of those reports. 

Now we are faced with the effects of environmental degradation.  Though less obvious than the effects of nuclear radiation, these can lead us to a new Dark Ages. No matter that I am near 75 and do not have any power–I will fight for us, humans and the little planet we all share, until my last breath.Tatiana Androsov, F80

Learning at the Library

Motivated by my fledgling ideas about financial independence and discretionary income, I looked for a job the summer I was 14. I tried a few local stores and was told to apply when I was 15. The Brookline Public Library, a short walk from my house, accepted my application, though, and hired me as a page.

illustration of two shelves of books

Image: iStock

My main responsibility was shelving books. I took on additional responsibilities, my favorite of which was going on the “shut-in route.” I accompanied a librarian to a series of homes where we were invited into the living room, dropping off new books and discussing the previous set, and often offered tea or cookies. Each trip included a stop at Brigham’s for an ice cream cone—for those who are not native Bostonians, it was the best ice cream shop.

Another favorite task was working in the stacks; I retrieved requested books, but spent the rest of my time reading history books and bound magazines over a century old. Around the time I started working at the library I had discovered Agatha Christie. With my insider knowledge, I was able to scoop up newly returned mysteries and even discovered some in the stacks.

I continued working there through high school, part-time during the school year with more hours in the summer. My final memory about working there was the exhilaration of occasionally being invited into the Librarian’s Lounge. It was one of my earliest experiences listening to and observing adults who weren’t relatives, friends’ parents, or teachers, and pondering what it meant to be an adult. —Lisa Gualtieri, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine

A Tall Order

My first job was scooping ice cream at Brigham’s in Concord Center, a dream job for someone who thought of Boston’s annual Scooper Bowl festival as a national holiday. Fifteen years old, wearing the requisite white polo shirt uniform, I was full of confidence biking the two miles from my home that first hot summer day. 

The very first customer I served ordered a large mint chip cone. This proved problematic. You see, mint chip was among the more popular flavors, which, I’d soon learn, meant the top container was often empty.

This wasn’t an issue for the other employees, but it was for me. Just shy of five feet tall, I couldn’t reach the bottom container standing up. This first customer would be witness to a scene that would be repeated multiple times an hour and become part of family lore. I would dive head first into the freezer, feet kicking in the air, straining not to lose my balance and fall in. Usually, I’d emerge victorious, covered in ice cream but with a customer’s order filled. Sometimes I’d fall in.

I’m sure there is some big life lesson here, something about perseverance or dreams not quite comparing to reality. But I never found it. I’d bike home, white polo shirt covered with stains from a hard day’s work, arms sticky from too many cones served to too many tourists. And, at the end of every week, I’d cash my paycheck and go buy some ice cream. —Michael Rodman, vice president for communications and marketing

First Step in Public Health

An inspector from OSHA would cringe in terror if they knew about my high school job as a lab assistant at a regional health department. The lab conducted communicable disease testing for local hospitals.

illustration of a laboratory with microscope on desk

Image: Shutterstock

My job was to prepare media and autoclave and wash Petri dishes and test tubes used to culture Coliform, Salmonella, Shigella, and Tuberculosis bacteria, along with other pathogens. The autoclave was ancient and unreliable. The operating instructions were: seal the door, crank up the steam, and run like hell in case it blew.

The lab director had a strong dislike for the nursing director. One hot summer day, when all the nurses were meeting and the conference room windows were opened, she instructed me to let the stinking exhaust steam out of the autoclave before it cooled. The conference room filled with steam, the nursing staff evacuated quickly, and the department director gave me a dressing down.

Despite my imposed autoclave indiscretion, I continued to work at the agency between my undergraduate years at Tufts and eventually directed the department for nine years. (Yes, I replaced the autoclave with a safe one.) That lab job led to a 45-year career in local public health. —J. David Naparstek, A68, Tufts University School of Medicine adjunct faculty 1993-2013

A Milkshake Maven at 15

My first job was at a fast-food restaurant called Carroll’s in my hometown of Burlington, Vermont. One spring day my next-door neighbor was walking down the hill to apply for work there, so I tagged along on a whim. They hired both of us. 

illustration of four milkshakes in glasses with straws

Image: Shutterstock

One little snag was that I wasn’t 16 yet, so I just changed my birth date on the application from July to April. I didn’t have a driver’s license either, so I guess they didn’t ask for any ID as proof. The pay was minimum wage, something like $1.60/hour with no tips—more than I made babysitting in any case.

I worked the counter. Apparently only guys were allowed to operate the grill and French fry areas. I did get to make milkshakes, though, which I considered kind of fun. I also enjoyed the camaraderie among all the workers, who were mostly other teenagers.

It was a great life lesson to wait on the public. The restaurant was located on Shelburne Road, a major entryway into town, so all kinds of people came in. My older sister, jokester that she is, showed up in shabby clothes with her money in a sock. I pretended not to recognize her, but it was hard not to laugh.

Besides lying about my age, I also failed to inform the management that I was leaving in July to attend summer camp for four weeks, so my first job only lasted a few months.  The restaurant is long gone, but it remains a memorable part of my childhood. —Beth Barovick, J78

The Stage First, then Mathematics

West Berlin around 1980 was a walled city awash in subsidies as a showcase of the West, the extent of which I only appreciate in retrospect. I was singing in an amateur choir, the Berliner Konzert Chor, which was allowed at no charge to use for its four concerts a season not only the Berliner Philharmonie concert venue but also, in rotation, the leading Berlin orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic.

A connection from this choir led to my first job. The also well-funded Staatliche Schauspielbühnen (state theater) needed a small choir for a brief appearance in the German premiere of Marieluise Fleißer’s Der Tiefseefisch (Deep-Sea Fish)—50 years after Brecht had suppressed it for hitting too close to home for him.

We were cast as derelicts invited to a party at the house of the exploitative protagonist, played by Dieter Laser, a well-known stage and television actor. This was staged in the adorable Schloßparktheater in Berlin. Since I was not willing to skip classes or labs for this, my rehearsal attendance was imperfect, but I still wound up as understudy for the leader of the group.

I had to carry in a case of beer, intone the song, and say one line: “Wenn dein Herze Dir auch kichert, undsoweiter, Onkel Richard, man zahlt, und Du mußt tanzen.” So far as I remember, while that line has a nice rhythm, it was meant to make as much sense as randomly inviting derelicts to a party. (“Even if your heart is giggling, and so on, Uncle Richard, they pay and you must dance.”)

I still have the required disability insurance policy in case anything should ever befall me that makes it impossible to perform on stage. And I hope to never break a leg. —Boris Hasselblatt, professor of mathematics

A Young Ump

It was 2000 when I was a freshman in high school. I was a baseball umpire for Little League in Duxbury, Massachusetts. As a baseball player myself, I loved it and was called on to work the playoff games in addition to regular season games.

The umpire organizer said I was the best one they had. It paid $30 per game for the small field, and $60 for the regular field. I even worked a championship game behind the plate. I also threw a player out once, which was pretty fun—I was 16 and he was 13. Great times! —Chris Magnarelli, staff assistant, research administration, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine

The Start of a Career

My very first jobs were at Tufts. Having grown up in the summer children’s theater programs— Creative Arts and Magic Circle—at the very mature age of 15 I was invited to become a summer intern and later a full-fledged camp counselor for the remainder of high school.

Illustration of a box office window with two tickets

Image: Shutterstock

As I entered Tufts as an undergraduate, on my first day of freshman orientation week, Balch Arena Theater manager Joanne Barnett pulled me aside and handed me a job application: “You’re going to work in the box office!” she exclaimed. Did I have a choice? Didn’t sound like it. Was I absolutely thrilled? Of course I was. Some of my best Jumbo friendships were forged in that box office—and we were the gossip center, not to mention the coffee hub, of the Drama Department.

In my senior year, I talked Joanne into purchasing a dry erase board to post just outside the box office window; I happily took up the responsibility of drawing up colorful ads for shows on sale. I’m always extremely proud whenever I visit and see that the board is still there. To be honest, I can trace my entire career in nonprofit marketing and communications back to that box office job. Thanks, Joanne! You’re the literal best. —Jeremy Goldstein, A01

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