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Jobs, offers, salaries

I know, I know. I’ve neglected the blog quite a bit. And I’m still not my usual tweeting self. It’s been a few intense months. Lots of change (some of it good, some of it so-so). I decided to go on the job market after my depression episode earlier this year. I’m doing much better, and now I’m seeing a psychologist on a regular basis and trying to learn how to deal with everyday shit. But I’m still not my old self online.

But, the shit I’m dealing with now is of a different sort. Since March of this year I’ve been stalking the job boards in my discipline, looking for a different job. I warned my boss and my chair and they seem supportive. Luckily the difficult boss is busy writing grants and going to conferences and hasn’t had time to harass me. I’m in a much better place now.

So, yes, a job search. Yet again. It’s no secret that moving south was not all I expected. Things have been tough, my job, while rewarding, has been made quite difficult by supposed experts in my field. But I’ve kept on, keeping on.

Luckily, because of the experience and expertise I’ve acquired here, I’ve had quite a few phone interviews and received great feedback, even if that hasn’t lead to in person interviews, let alone offers. Only 2 places have called back for in person interviews. Overall it’s been a good boost for my self-esteem. As I type this I’m checking the schedule for an interview in industry come August. This is quite scary as I’d never had any luck applying to my industry, but what (appears on paper at least) I’ve seen in the job description makes this job my dream job (if there’s such a thing). Sadly it’s in a male-dominated place. And though I have no doubts that I could succeed, it is a bit scary that there’s no one like me, no one that looks, identifies and sees things like me. I’ll see if I get an offer, though I doubt it as it’s mostly a boys’ club.

I’m also in the process of reviewing an interesting offer from a place I interviewed at recently-ish. I liked everyone, and the science and equipment are very good. But I am rather concerned about a few things: the person who’d be my boss seems to be very concerned about keeping costs low, this scares me as I’m afraid that if I needed to buy a reagent or fix something, it’d take FOREVER to not only justify the cost, but get the material(s) on site. This person is very smart and seemed genuinely concerned about my fulfillment in the place, but I’m worried about costs and the attitude I’ve seen. Perhaps this is a personality thing. Or perhaps it’s more serious. At this moment I can’t tell which one is it.

I’ve been asked to name my price (salary). BUT, I’ve been reminded that when the position went up, it was for someone with less schooling (a bachelor’s with 10yrs of experience or a master’s with 5). This leads me to think that they’ll want to keep the salary on the low range. And while I am not expecting to make a 100K (until or unless I’m near retirement), I would appreciate a slight bump in my salary, considering that while it wouldn’t be in NYC or Boston, the cost of living IS higher than in the south.

There’s no relocation assistance no matter how you phrase it. And while I know I can deduct all that at tax time (and I’d be moving >600mi), it would make a super hole in my savings effective immediately. In fact, if I had to move this week, I’d have to decline the job as I have no funds (I thought of starting a Go-Fund-me, but who the hell do I think I am, and who the hell would contribute to this??). So, that’s another consideration.

The job would put me in a geographical area near my husband, but not super super close. It would be better that the “air commute” we will embark come September. The area is rather remote, rural and has no major highways … so I’m scared that I’ll be as bored as I am right now, and I supposedly live in a “city”!!!

The things that are consuming my energy are: a possible move, the issue about the boss being cheap, the remote location and how I feel about being disconnected from civilization, and of course, how I’d fare at the job. And hell, the question about name your salary, when your potential boss is cheap, isn’t making things easier.

What are your thought on this?

It’s still here. Alive and kicking

I didn’t know how long it would be since my last post admitting to myself and to the world that I have depression. I don’t know how far along I’ll get. I still get my bouts of not feeling, or sometimes feeling too overwhelmed by what I perceive as being too many stimuli. I guess the easiest way to compare it is to an insect that has been sprayed with bug killer. Constant signaling that eventually fries your brain. I feel a little fried. I’m not in the highest highs I was immediately after I came out of the intensive treatment, but I am not not feeling. So, in that sense I think I’m in a bit of a better place. But I sure can tell that I need to see a therapist soon (it is happening in the next few days).

I haven’t had anything major happen. I haven’t seen too much of my trigger (it’s a person, actually). And even when I’ve seen them, our interactions have been minimal and cordial.

I’ve been trying to keep busy at home. I’ve cooked a bit, and not just for me, but for the hubs too. I’ve managed to go outside and into the world and enjoy some things. But just like I mentioned above, sometimes the stimulus seems too much and I retreat. I remember seeing that in my husband, as he was getting better from his own battle with depression. And I’m hopeful I’ll get there.

I’m also getting support from another lab and its members. They’ve welcomed me and we’ve talked about the last few days and it’s been good.

But I can tell I’m not totally recovered and that this is a hell of a long trip to recovery. I’m a bit afraid of who I’ll become at the end of this (even though I’m well aware that depression is more of manageable thing, that it doesn’t completely go away) and of course, I am afraid of being in touch with my feelings. I can tell that today is a difficult day. There’s nothing in particular that I can think of that’s causing it to be difficult, but I recognize that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. Luckily I’ve talked to the hubs and I’m also reminding myself that I need to fight this battle little by little. I need to celebrate my accomplishments, because I’ve come a heck of a long way since a month ago. But it sure is a long road to recovery.

Apologies for the spottiness in appearances here and on Twitter. I’ll be OK, but I need a bit of time for me to regroup. Thanks.

That moment I couldn’t feel anymore

A neglected blog. A sort of inactive twitter account. General feeling of meh. I would smile, but it wouldn’t last for long. Little sleep. Overeating. Gaining more than 10lbs in 6 months or less. Showing up to work, but feeling demoralized. Not wanting to get out of bed. Oversleeping on weekends. Taking naps even after sleeping for half a day. Not feeling up to anything. Clamming up. Avoiding people.

The list could go on and on. But that’s just a sampler of what was going on (or not) in my head for the last year (maybe even more).

My husband noticed that I started 2015 in a really bad place. I was anxious all the time. I was silent (very uncharacteristic). Every time I had a staff meeting I felt this sense of dread. I wasn’t finding excitement and happiness in my job, something that even under other stressful circumstances was sort of a constant.

He uttered the words. You are depressed, go see a therapist. And I couldn’t. I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I wasn’t showing the same signs that he did. I thought I had to be on the verge of crying every second to be depressed. Lack of feelings? Lack of enjoying stuff that would normally bring me tears to joy to my eyes? Nah, that couldn’t be depression. Plus, I was taking an anti-depressant to keep at bay my harsh PMS. I was already medicated. It couldn’t be.

Then I read this and this. And things started to make sense. I wasn’t feeling content, joyful. And if I thought I did, it didn’t last. I was like a zombie. I was going through the motions, but didn’t feel a thing. Not a single damn thing. That’s partly how depression manifested in me. That and a whole lot of anxiety due to some harsh things happening at work.

I contacted my regular physician. Since hon had been directly admitted to the psych hospital, and his therapist was there, I asked them to send in a referral to see the same guy. But they said they couldn’t, unless I was suicidal. Was I suicidal? I didn’t feel like creating a plan. It felt like too much work. But I was depressed. I was somewhat sure of it. My physician asked me to contact a special office at work where they do give you referrals to doctors outside the psych hospital. They also do a something akin to an intake interview, to determine what risk you pose to yourself or others.

It happened so fast. Early one morning I walked into the special office. 30 minutes letter I got my diagnosis: depression and anxiety. Through the roof. It was miracle I was still standing and hadn’t resorted to anything drastic. Of course I hadn’t done anything. I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel. At all. The only thing I thought I felt was dread and emptiness. I was a hollow blob, just going about my business. Trying to not burden anyone.

Instead of re-routing me to a counselor, I was referred to the psych hospital. I was to be taken in as a patient. I needed urgent treatment or something would break. I guess things were caught at the right moment.

I had a series of emails, calls and authorizations to take care of. I called my husband. He was just as surprised as I was. He sure thought I was depressed. But to the point of requiring immediate attention? Admission to the psych ward?

Two days later I was in. I was assigned a social worker, a psychiatrist and would see a nurse and receive intense treatment. Kind of a jump start.

I was very skeptical of how talking to the three of them, and eventually joining a group of like-minded fellow patients would do me any good. Had modern science and medicine produce a way to re-wire my brain? To make forget my traumas? Was I ready to face all the BS the would sure want me to bring to the surface? How would talking solve anything? It sure wouldn’t. Talking about not feeling would solve shit. I was damn sure of it.

I can tell you that after a few weeks in treatment, I am feeling again. And that is amazing.

to be continued ….

PS. I created a hashtag about my depression. Feel free to check it out.

Finances

Almost 6 years ago I wrote this. I’d just gotten my first paycheck as a postdoc and ran down a list of where money was being spent. My then boyfriend, now husband, found the blog (I still don’t remember or know how), and confronted me. We talked about debt and how deep in it I was (still am) and about forms of payment, etc.

Two years after that, I got my shiny new job in NYC. NYC was expensive (rent-wise). But I moved from Canada. My province (Ontario) had a tax of like 14%, so I was used of paying more for everything. NYC wasn’t such a harsh surprise, cost-wise, except for rent. But I was very lucky in that sense too. And even though I truly never lived alone, I never paid more than $950 in rent for a room, and got to live in pretty convenient places with pretty nice people (I was very lucky and never got crazy roommates like Chandler).

At the end of my PhD, I was making ~23k. During my postdoc I made ~38k. In NYC I was making ~55k. And now I’m making ~60K. My salary has gone up slowly but steadily. And I hope that if I’m fortunate enough to leave my lab for something better, I’ll be in the 70k range.

You may also remember how, right after taking my shiny new job in NYC, I was surprised by the news that a family member had defaulted on his payments to a loan I’d co-signed. For $50k. Yeah, I almost threw up then and still feel queasy thinking about it.

Long story short, since late 2011 I’ve been dumping $ into these debts.

Today, I got my calculator and punched some numbers and concluded that, if I have a steady job for the next two years, right until December 2017, I should be debt-free. I’m also keeping my pen and ink pretty put and not signing on for new debt (or worse, signing any documents that make me liable for other people’s debt).

I’ve been very slow to erase debt. I could have been debt free much faster, like, this year I could have been debt free if I’d applied myself as far back as Canada. But I didn’t. And of course, I’m paying now in interest.

I hope this story shows some of the very real dangers of getting into debt, especially in academia. Take my advice, never sign up for anything that you sure don’t want to be help responsible for. Don’t let family or friends guilt-trip you. It’s not worth it.

2015

Phew. Boy am I glad 2014 is gone, gone, gone. Last year was tough. First, hubby was recovering from his severe episode of depression. We were both walking on eggshells for a bit, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for his condition to worsen. For weeks he had no appetite, he was sad, had no inspiration. Luckily he got to be treated by a great psychiatrist and his therapy is going great. We both like him, and when his med med was changed and adjusted, hon started looking and feeling like himself. All in time for our second wedding ceremony, this time with family included. We’d gotten married in NYC (essentially eloped) but we wanted our families to celebrate with us, so we planned and planned and had our second wedding ceremony. It was awesome. We laughed a lot, ate, danced and even got to go on a very short honeymoon. It was a much needed break.

Then in the summer, particularly at the end of July, I became aware of just how much of an asshole a boss can be. That was the final straw that made me realize what a horrible decision I made when I left my previous job and took this one. While I am thankful for the experience to help run a lab and train students, it’s clear I’m not made for this, long term. Or at least with the current power structure I’m in. I applied for jobs, got a couple of calls, but nothing materialized. I became despondent, even a bit depressed. I talked to one of my previous bosses and with his guidance decided to try to isolate myself as much as possible from the asshole boss and concentrate on training his students while looking for a job. Nothing has panned out. With my current experience I’m trying to be very, VERY selective in terms of where to apply and for what. I don’t want to be in a staff position in academia, and sadly, those are where most of the openings I’m seeing. Ugh. But I’m trying.

Towards the end of the year, honey got word that he’s going to start working as an adjunct soon. It’s a bit of a commute, but it’s a couple of times a week, broadly speaking in the same discipline he studied and it pays. Not a crazy amount, but enough to cover food and some utilities. I’m so excited for him. He’s also applying for FT jobs, but they are even more scarce than mine, so we’ll see.

Finally, we have to move. Our lease at the current place is up and rent went up by a fucktillion, so we have to pack our bags and move. But this is proving to be a bitch. Rent has gone up in our neighbourhood. By a LOT. And for now, I’m covering most of the costs of living. Even while earning a bit over 60K, with my debt (I’m slooowly climbing out of that hole but still have until 2017 to pay it all off), and honey’s lack of FT employment, it’s difficult to fork over 1K for a 2BR apartment. Yes, I know, that’s cheap compared to lots of places. But it’s not for us, in our current situation. We’ll see, I’m making calls to a couple of places that appear to be affordable, but apartment complexes in this city suck immensely.

My hopes for 2015 are to: blog more, apply to a couple more jobs and perhaps land a different gig, appear in a couple of publications (last year was very dry, except for a decent profile paper that was published from my previous job), and have honey land something more permanent. We’ll see how it all pans out.

Hope 2015 is kind to you!

Been meaning to write for a while

But between the hectic schedule and instruments breaking down, and my energy levels at an all time low, I’ve been putting it off. Then I remembered how good it feels to let things out and feel like I’m coming up to the surface to get some air.

Earlier this year my husband and I came to the realization that moving for this job was a BIG mistake. Neither one of us is happy or feels like we’ve had some of our dreams come true. On the contrary, between health issues that send hubs to the hospital more than once, and my inability to submit and find a way to click with my boss, the heartaches and headaches have been enough. Earlier last week I realized that the only reason I took this job was because it paid more. Nothing else. My benefits at my previous job were comparable and the company ponied up the money for my retirement up front, instead of waiting 6 months or whatever (like my current job does) and deduct it from my paycheck. I know, this is silly. There are a host of other things that I’m not at liberty to discuss that make the job even less appealing, but that’s one that really pisses me off.

And sure, I butted heads with my previous boss on occasion, but he didn’t meddle in lab affairs, or wanted to control my every move, something that I’m constantly fighting against at my current job. The pay isn’t worth the heartache. The city is boring beyond compare, and the stress it has put in my marriage is simply not worth it. I’m a (semi) godless liberal … and this is most definitely not my turf.

Because of those things and more, I’ve decided to start looking for a job. I haven’t warned the boss and I don’t plan to until I have to … ie. until someone asks for recommendations specifically from them. I know it’s a huge gamble, and I’m banking on some of the senior people that I’ve worked on here to help offset my current bosses low opinion of me, the rebellious bitch.

Some of the things I’m thankful for having learned at my current job are that money will not ever buy me happiness. It certainly hasn’t alleviated my feelings of inadequacy, hasn’t funded long vacations home to decompress, let alone freed some time to spend with my husband away from work. I have learned that I’m not willing to submit to an asshole no matter how much money they throw at me (oh, I’m, starting to sound like a high paid escort). And that I was trained well and know my shit, even when the asshole boss is fixated on proving me wrong (time and time again I’ve proven them wrong, yet they continue to give me the evil eye). I’ve learned that I like the fixing part of the instrument more than I thought possible, but I would have to go back and earn a BE in mechE or EE to even attempt to apply to their company. I’ve learned that I love training students and that I can train them faster than I thought possible. I’ve updated web pages and lab protocols to help run things smoothly. I have created databases and started ways to document things that weren’t in place before I got here.

But even with all those little goals met, it’s still not enough. I’ve been asked (forced) to mold into something I’m not, into something that I thought I’d left behind. There’s a reason I didn’t pursue the academic dream, and I’ve been forced to stare at those demons in the face and reiterate that I’m not going to compromise. Academia is not for me. Never was, never will.

I’ve experienced some of the growing pains I’d faced before … when I was a postdoc. And while it hasn’t been nearly as devastating (possibly because I’d faced those demons), it has hurt, it has been painful anyway.

Sometimes I beat my chest and ask the universe, why, why didn’t I stay where I was. The comfort of what was known was reassuring. The demons I battled there were known and I could handle them. I gave myself the freedom to dream and think that I could still make it in academia, well, in the fringes. But I was wrong. There are things I knew I didn’t like and still came back … mostly because I wanted to feel needed. I wanted to know what it was like to go back to a place I’d been and dazzle everyone with my mad skillz. And that pride came to bite me in the ass. And in a way it is OK, because it means I have a couple more notches on my belt. I can lick my wounds and try to fight back. That I have a clearer picture of what I want and know my limits.

Growing pains, being an adult, being a facilities coordinator (my official title), they have all sucked pieces of me. But today I’m making the decision to stand up, to use the knowledge and skills learned and perfected over the last 1.5 years and fight back. I vow to not settle again, to not be dazzled by supposed past glories and by other people’s judgement. I vow to listen to my inner voice, the same one that warned me loud and clear that my boss was trouble; the same voice I ignored in favor of more money and prestige. Take it from me, apparent more money and prestige aren’t always what they are said to be. You need to be true to yourself and embrace your quirks and respect yourself enough to say enough, to walk back, to try to not burn bridges but still be willing to move away, for your family and your sanity.

I’m done.

The postdoc experience. The staff scientist experience

Ah, it’s that time of the year again. When new grad students, bright eyed and bushy tailed, start their classes and rotations. They’re so cute. They have so much energy and are so excited about science. I love them. I really do.

Earlier this week I had the chance to spend some QT with a new grad student in my boss’s lab. This student is bright and while at first they seemed a bit intense, turns out they have a soft-ish side and seem quite trainable. I’m really happy for said student and hope they chooses wisely.

While having a convo with the new student, I was asked about my educational background and how I felt about my current job. I’m bound by some sort of corporate thingie that prevents me from eviscerating my boss, so I was kind and smiled and told them about my former department, what I did for my PhD, the topic of my thesis and then delved into my postdoc and what my role is here and now. I paused for a moment and mentioned to them that now was the ideal time to consider why and what they wanted to do a PhD. I mentioned that during rotations, they should start forming an idea of what they want to become an expert in. That their ideas may or may not change as time passes, and discover that maybe they truly aren’t into cancer bio as much as they thought and that this is OK. We eventually talked about my postdoc and for the first time in a long time I didn’t say that I hated my postdoc. But I did say why I thought I’d failed miserably at it and the conditions that lead to me choosing the particular lab I went in and what I liked and didn’t. The convo then moved to how I’d become a staff scientist and what were the pros and cons. I explained that most staff scientists I know are not on contract and how that translates to job security (ie. none). How we still depend on profs getting grants and how when we head the instrumentation part of the lab, whatever happens is our fault, always out fault, even if we haven’t touched the stupid dry nitrogen tank in 2 months!!! I also told them about my interests and how after grad school I didn’t get “married” to a topic, but welcomed anything that fell in my hands because I couldn’t get attached to a project the way I did in grad school, especially if I’d be handling large volumes of samples for others. I knew that I had a job, ie. to prepare samples, to make sure the ideal conditions were achieved prior to data collection and that data was properly collected, recorded, processed and archived. I told them about how, in the grand scheme of things, I do a lot of work, a lot of the slow-type work, collect the raw data, but how this excites me because I get to see the data before the PI or even the grad student or postdoc sees it. I get to pass on the knowledge and train people to collect data. And I get to see how excited they are when they see they can do it on their own. I told the student about how some PIs still want to squeeze you and your time as if you were a grad student, how they would love to see you here at 7am and have you leave at 10pm like everyone in their lab. I relayed how when one is bright eyed and bushy tailed one may want to go to the very top and choose a PI based solely on their publications in C/N/S, while ignoring crazy working conditions and/or inhumane treatment. And how some people are OK with that, while others have different expectations and they have to know what they’re getting into and whether that’s OK in their book. You will be in a lab for a few years and you have to ask the tough questions, check out physical cues and trust your instincts, especially if they’re telling you to run for the hills. Papers ARE the currency in academia, but you have to remain level headed and feel good, and some labs are not very good at that, even if they only publish in C/N/S.

This whole conversation made me think about how lucky I’ve been. I haven’t had gaps in my education or work history, I’ve managed to get out of bad labs/experiences before (I’m not having good luck this time around, but I’m growing a thicker skin for some things, so I guess that is one of my lessons to learn in this job) and how I was pretty sure from the very start, that PI-dom wasn’t for me. I couldn’t see myself writing non-stop, begging granting agencies for funds for my own ideas, mostly because I felt that I had no original thoughts that were worth funding. And how I was OK with that and I much I enjoyed, and still do, providing a supportive, training role to students and postdocs. How happy I am to see the data before it gets to the PI, how I help people troubleshoot. I how I get stay current in my game, while still saving money for retirement, something I couldn’t do as a grad student or postdoc. There are many advantages to being part of the scientific staff and I wish these kinds of positions were available and found more often. I feel accomplished (when my boss is not acting like an ass) and happy in what I do. I’m proud of my job and how I help my lab. I feel important and (somewhat) valued. Things I didn’t feel while I was a postdoc.

Then later, I got to spend some time with a very bright older grad student. This person is friendly, intelligent and has some pretty big ideas. They’re now shopping for a postdoc. This student wants to go the TT route and was looking for my opinion about certain PIs and cities, but also asked me to train them in some protein stuff I know how to do and they don’t, but we have to do it quietly, without raising suspicion because neither their PI nor mine can find out we’re training them, even thought their defense proposal has been accepted and they’ve been told to start writing. It brakes my heart that we both have to resort to “extreme” hiding measures to make sure this student is prepared for the postdoc, with skills they can’t acquire in their lab but are expected to know for their postdoc. This made me feel shitty because I would like to think that if I was a PI, I’d be thrilled I got to expand someone’s training, even if they weren’t in my lab (but I had a longstanding collaboration with their lab). I guess that’s yet another reason I’m not a PI. I would be a semi-softie and I know I’d have to make hard decisions that PIs have to make in order to keep the money coming and have it spent well. Decisions that while necessary, wouldn’t necessarily help me feel like I was helping the most amount of people. I have a soft spot in my heart for grad students and postdocs. Even though it’s been over 5 years since I finished my thesis and started my one and only postdoc, I still identify with many of their struggles and I want to be as supportive as I can.

I’m happy I get to train students and have an active role in their formation, even though they’re not “my” students. I do refer to them as such, because there are times that we spend long, long hours and see each other more than their PI or labmates.

Let’s see what happens in the coming months.