Chronic Illness and graduation

Rebecca Boot tackles the painful subject of employment for the chronically ill.

I’m back at university, studying again after my body threw a fantastic tantrum the last time I tried it.

My university has a real focus on employment and one of the highest graduate employment rates in the country. That is great, everyone wants to be able to get a good job when they leave university right? Isn’t that the point of going?

Not really, not for me at least. I applied to Uni because I love learning and my brain likes to be busy.

But here’s the rub – I am not employable, not really, not as I am now. I have plenty of skills, I am smart, I’m a self-starter, I have a whole bunch of somewhat impressive things on my CV, I meet the person specification for a whole lot of jobs already. But I’m not employable.

Why? Because graduate jobs, entry level jobs, training programmes and internships, essentially any job which I will be qualified for at the end of my degree and I’m vaguely interested in tend to require you to be able to work consistently and for more than a few hours a week. They are usually full time and then some.

t uni I have around 10 hours a week of lectures and tutorials, I manage that, I manage to get my work in and so far I’m doing okay. But I don’t have the energy to do a whole lot else besides that. I spend a lot of time in my room resting or doing low energy activities. I’m fortunate I can do that much, last year I couldn’t, 18 months ago I couldn’t and I have some wonderful PAs who help me do the practical daily living things I don’t have the energy for. There are not many graduate level jobs, for people at the start of their career that fit well with that. And not many non-graduate level jobs that my body would be able to withstand either.

So where does that leave me?

I’m still in my first year but we’re already being encouraged to look for an industrial placement, to think about our employability, to look at jobs or voluntary roles to do alongside our academic work. And that’s fine – until it’s not.

It’s not fine when the message of employability, employability, employability means I start to question why I’m even doing a degree in the first place. I still love learning, and the academic work excites me. But being beaten over the head again and again with “get a job”, “get a good job”, “get experience” wears you down.

When the university prides itself on this measure, not academic achievement, not student support or satisfaction it leaves those of us who cannot work, who might never be able to work with a bad taste in our mouths.

If I’m not well enough to work at the end of my degree am I letting the university down? If I can’t find a job role that I can fulfil without ruining my health have I wasted everybody’s time? If I can’t sustain employment will my degree be just another way I have sponged off the state and wasted taxpayers money? If employers refuse to adapt to my needs or provide support in the workplace will I be counted as a bad investment?

This is not just a problem in my current university, it’s a problem everywhere.

It’s a problem because we are treating education as a means to an end instead of an end in itself.

It’s a problem because education and especially the use of public funds in education is seen as an investment to be paid back at a later date.

It’s a problem because employers expect people starting their careers to have boundless energy and work oftentimes for free or for next to nothing in un/low paid internships.

It’s a problem because people with chronic illness are not really thought about at all, either by employers or the careers advisors at university.

So when you ask me what I’m going to do when I’ve got my degree I am being honest when I tell you I haven’t got a clue. But it shouldn’t matter. To anyone.

This piece is adapted from a post written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2017.

Rebecca is a politics student and she has Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. Rebecca blogs at and is on Twitter @Becca_Boot

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