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Esther Merves on Regrouping and Coping

Esther Merves, 54
Springfield, Va.

Job: Adjunct professor at George Washington University and standardized medical patient, both part time

Previously: Full-time staff research scientist at GWU

A doctor of sociology, Merves was laid off from her full-time position several years ago. After fruitlessly searching for another fulfilling full-time job, she is “still in the process of regrouping.”

Desired position: “I would like to obtain enough standardized patient work [acting as a patient for medical students] to support myself, or find a position doing social work, which was my undergrad degree. I’m probably an anomaly, because I’m not looking to climb. I’m looking for the quality of the workplace and the mission.”

Financial effects: “I’m a contract worker. It’s not secure and it’s typically without benefits. I realized I was going to run out of money. I left my apartment in D.C. and moved in with a friend. Having several part-time jobs is stressful, and the commute is long and expensive. I’m trying to find a way to live on less so that I don’t have to spend my life working in order to live.”

Politics: “I have a lot of experience, but I’m competing with people who may be younger than I am and faster at using Excel and so forth. I’m the volunteer director of research for the New Faculty Majority Foundation, which advocates for adjuncts nationwide. I think the retirement age should be lowered. I’m too young for Medicare. You should be eligible to draw on IRAs and retirement funds at 55.”

Reflections: “You realize that your identity is not necessarily tied to a place or a thing, but it’s always inside you. I think some of that just comes from being older. But I will not have achieved my parents’ standard of living — and neither of my parents was able to complete high school.”

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