27 and a PhD

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Money, money, money

You know what’s weird (but good)? I’m not shy about money. You can see how much I’ve written about money or salary related things here, here, here and here.  Not having to worry about money the way I was back in 2011 is yet one of the many parks I have at this job.

See, when I moved back to the US 5 years ago, I was making about $20k more than as a postdoc, but I truly didn’t feel that change because a) I moved ot NYC, and while the cost of almost everything was cheaper than in Canada … rent was a bitch (truly the only downside I saw of living in NYC) and b) I’d just learned that a loan I’d cosigned was not being paid and I took that duty on my shoulders so as to not fuck up some more my already battered credit score (I can’t give too many details, but suffice it to say, this involved more than 2 people and there was shouting and family issues involved). Eventually I had to move jobs as my first post-academia job didn’t pay enough, and we all know how that turned out.

I was making lots of money (compared to say …. when I started grad school … or even as a postdoc), but I wasn’t happy. I felt as if my wings were clipped, my dreams crushed and my soul stomped on. Luckily I got out and I’m doing much better.

Right before the end of my time in #toxiclab, I decided to get really, reeeeeally serious about debt. I mean, I was paying stuff off, but just the minimum, so it would take me until 2078 (an exaggeration) to pay it all off. I was spending money on covering household stuff because my husband was underemployed, I hadn’t taken a decent vacation in a while, and whatever money was left over was being spent on clothes and house decor BS … mostly because I was trying to fill the void that the job I hated had created.

Sometime in 2015 things started clicking and I decided to add more change to what I was paying on my cards and other debts. At first it sucked, but as I saw the balance getting smaller and smaller, I started to feel like I was really on my way to being debt free. Back in August I updated my resolutions for 2016 and you can read up some more on how I felt about paying off one of my debts.

I’d been plugging numbers for quite some time, and seeing one of those debts just whoosh out of existence gave me this high … a high I’ve been on for a few months now. That has served as inspiration to keep it going. I’m nowhere near done, but I can see a light, though small and faint, I can see it.

I’m trying for a final push this year to see if instead of two debts, I end up with 3 at 0 balance. While paying all those children of Satan I’ve managed to go on a really cool vacation with my hubs paid in cash. The first vacation I’ve come home from without a single penny charged to a card before or after. I finished paying a small loan I’d co-signed years ago and while I celebrated paying it off too, it didn’t feel nearly as good because I took responsibility for a debt I didn’t see a cent of (crazy, I know).

I went to a conference and used my savings to pay for it. Once I was reimbursed, a good chunk of that went into paying another card. That’s the one I’m trying to eliminate before December 31st. I don’t think it’ll happen, but I’m damn sure trying my best.

If all continues as it’s been, I should be debt free by December of next year. I don’t want to celebrate just yet, but I have set it as a goal and I’ll try my best to keep it going. I sometimes run my numbers on a sheet of paper (I’m old school, baby) and I can’t believe my eyes when I see how much money I’d end up seeing, and saving when all is said and done.

See, I never envisioned getting into debt, and when I did and was deep down, I felt so ashamed. And I kept piling it on and on thinking (foolishly) that somehow I’d get out and deal with it some other time. I guess it was my naivete or simply stupidity. But the truth is that pure effort, consistency and discipline have been the things to keep me going. It is sure easy to close my eyes, forget about it all and just open credit card accounts or loans left and right. But having tasted the goodness of paying stuff off and seeing how much money is left in my account, knowing that if I decide to buy a couch, or fix a small issue on my car I can do it and not fear that I won’t have enough money to eat or get to work …. I mean, it’s simply amazing.

I’ll continue posting as I get closer to my goal of being debt-free in 2017.

Near 3 months without a single update …. sheesh

As usual, I know I’ve been absent from both here and the Twitts. I guess that after the #tourofdepression2015 I needed to disconnect a bit, and while I’m doing better now … some of that disconnect appears to be here to stay.

Gosh, where do I start? I have a million things in my head. I went to a conference and a workshop. I got to see some former labmates from two jobs ago, and I still love them dearly. I got in touch with one of my top bosses from my previous job (but not #toxicboss) and got to tell him about the good review, the raise, how different things feel (but not in a way that painted my former situation all that bad … I didn’t mention once #toxicboss or anything. He said he’s genuinely happy that things are looking up.

Indeed … I’ve gotten to do, experience and feel so many positive things this year. Even with a loss in the family and a hectic schedule at times, overall, compared to the last 5 years, this year has behaved.

I’m happy at my job and feel useful. I get to hang out with some of my students off campus (both a conferences and at home, a time or two, and always keeping it professional, no getting drunk or showing boobs or ass around). I’ve instituted rules and procedures … and while I have to remind some of the students to book something far in advance, or be nice and tell others when they’re done using some equipment, overall, I’m happy with them.

I’ve made lots of connections, at school and away, and for the first time in a long time I haven’t looked at a job posting since I started a job. That’s so weird to me. I feared being mistreated again, or getting bored, or something else. But overall I’m happy with the way things are right now.

It’s so unusual, I sometimes don’t know how to deal with these feelings of being in the right place, with the right people. I no longer fear waking up and realizing it was all a dream, but it still takes me by surprise that I can *be* and *feel* happy to belong somewhere.

Resolutions 2016 – August update

I nearly forgot my username! That’s how long it’s been since I last wrote on here. Anyway, I’ve had a pretty good year job-wise. I got a good review and even got a tiny bump on my salary (while having the bump in salary is pretty good (even though after taxes is not quite pocket change, but it’s not really a HUGE difference either), it’s the thought that my efforts are noticed and rewarded … something that didn’t happen at my previous job). Last time I posted about my progress was back in March. An update is definitely past due.  Without further ado, here’s how 2016 has been shaping up:

  • Two (yes TWO) debts should reach the end of their lives. If you go back to 2011, you’ll see that as I was thinking I was making headway in life and starting a new job, with decent pay, etc. I got the news of my life when it turned out that I was not only saddled with my own debt, but that of a family member for which I’d co-signed a loan. When they lost their job, the lender came after me. I’ve been slowly but surely paying this (I can’t give more details, but suffice it to say, the other option was bankruptcy). A part of that debt should be paid off by this summer!!! And, a debt I’ve been slowly but surely paying off (done exclusively by me, by getting credit cards in grad school that I shouldn’t have) should also meet its end this spring. I can see the end of that tunnel. After that, and with the snowball method that I’ve been following (more religiously during the past 1.5 years), I should be chipping in more money into the next debts. In total, I have 5 accounts on my shoulders, two from my family, 3 of my own doing. I’m slowly rebuilding my credit, because after said family member was laid off, they failed to inform me of the situation and the debt went 6 months without being paid.  When I wrote back in March I was $278 from erasing credit card debt #1. My hope was that I’d pay it off before March 31st. I’m delighted to report that I did, mid month. It felt so freakin’ awesome!!!! I kept checking the card website to see when the payment would be posted, and I did a big jump when it finally did. I called the company just to be double sure that they’d close the account, which they did and a few days later I got the paid in full letter in the mail. Now it resides in a drawer where I plan to add all the other ones. I also paid one of the smaller two debts I was a co-signer for. That freed up nearly $250! With that extra money I was able to have some extra cash on hand when I went for a short vacation this summer, and now I’m adding an extra payment to credit card debt #2. It was relaxing to be able to pay stuff out of pocket and not have to use a credit card at all. I’m so proud of myself. I also got the paid in full letter for that smaller debt.
  • Finish training (and feel confident in teaching) on a new tool in my  lab. I have some really snazzy toys at my current job, some that I’m familiar with, others that I’m not so well versed in. I envision that in the first quarter of 2016, I should be more confident in using one of the snazzy tools. Once I get to that level, I will be put in charge of another piece of equipment that is totes new to me. That is a bit scary but also cool. I am trying to become more independent faster and I hope that within the first 6-7 months here I will prove to be an asset (thus far I’m starting to feel like that). I’m in pretty good shape. I was put in charge of another tool that seems a bit less complicated to use. In addition, I have used 3 other tools in the lab, tools which I’d used as a grad student and have used often-ish in the last two years. The feeling of knowing the tools, collecting data and teaching students how to collect their own data is amazing. Hopefully I’ll master this second tool ASAP and I’ll start getting requests from outside users. Not totally mastered, but I’ve definitely gotten more experience and built up confidence in using the cool new tool. And now I have a gazillion pieces of equipment to care for. It’s insane how fast these people have put me in charge of things.
  • Get a good (if not great) review …. and perhaps a raise. There was both a freeze in hiring and salaries at my previous job and so, I was not given a raise. But before that, when I was in NYC, I did get a raise (~4%, which looks to be within the norm). I was told that, so long as there’s $$ available, I could get a 2% raise. Now, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but to me, it feels like a fortune .. and it also feels great to have my efforts recognized and valued in some way. I’ve completed my own review … now I’m waiting for my supervisor to meet with me and talk about the goals I set, etc. Typically university-wide reviews happen sometime between mid-April and the start of May, so I should have a better idea as to how I’ve been doing. I feel good about the job, and have had positive interactions with the boss … but I’m cautiously optimistic until I see what he has to say. Done! I got a small bump in my pay and got a fabulous first review. I was able to put forward some ideas to attract new users that got the boss really excited. I need to work on this to make it happen.
  • Attend a conference, or at least a workshop. I had a fellow staff member approach me and remind me that there’s a national meeting on our topic of study … and while it’s in an up and coming city, I wasn’t sure I’d be “allowed” to go .. given that I’m a newbie. But he kindly reminded me that this that this is part of our job and we could be getting new ideas/techniques we could use and expand out repertoire here. Holy crap, also done!! This summer I got to go to a really cool conference. Last time I’d been to a similar one I was pretty pissed at my job back then. This year people could tell that I was happy and fulfilled. I went to a gazillion talks and some of my students were present, so I got the chance to introduce them to some cool profs and managers in our field. One of them stopped later at school by to thank me for doing this as she’s a double minority and often feels ignored. It was so cool to be able to pay-it-forward for all those times I’ve been given a hand (or introduced to someone).
  • Have a mini emergency fund (ie. $1000) available before the end of the year. I’m $300 away!! Oy, I’ve been so consumed by paying off debt that I haven’t paid attention to my savings. I ended up using those what I’d saved to help pay for some conference fees, but once I got the money back, I threw it into the debt pile.
  • Do our taxes ASAP (and find out IF we’re getting a refund). Based on my quick and dirty calculations, we should … but I’m always skeptical until I see the deposit from the IRS. Hon has his W2, I have one of mine … still waiting on the one from my old job … they usually come out around this time of the year … hopefully it won’t get lost like the time it did on its way to Canada!  Done! Also got a decent refund, enough to throw it to the debt pile.
  • Go home for Christmas. ‘Nuff said. Bought my ticket last week!!!!
  • Appear on a publication, even if just in the acknowledgements section. Always a fave resolution of mine. Probably won’t happen this year. Oh well …
  • Get a couch, or at least a recliner … since mine were left behind in the move (boo). Bought a rocking chair and found the same model of that lovely couch I left behind but in a different colour. Have yet to bite the bullet and purchase it. Maybe I should just wait until I move next year.

All in all I’m extremely proud of myself. I’m thrilled to see that the years of hard work, tough situations, sacrifices and tears are starting to pay off. The momentum is there. I just need to be strong, be inspired and keep it going. I haven’t felt deprived or experienced FoMO. The newest thing I’m flirting with is minimalism. It’s a struggle. I’ve been able to donate clothes and shoes that I’d purchased years ago but never used and have been trying to tame my spending habits. I still purchase clothes on impulse. I’m slowly trying to change my mindset to: purchase what’s needed when it is needed, not before, learn to make do with what I currently have, look for better quality items that will last (ie. let go of the fast fashion/instant gratification mentality). It’s is a struggle, as those bad spending habits and my lack of self control were responsible for getting me into the debt hole I’m slowly climbing out of. We’ll see if I can stick to this.

Woot woot! Guess who just got a raise?!

Me, that’s who. What, what?!?

I’m so happy to be able to share those news. I was walking on pins and needles for a week before it was announced that I was to meet with two of my bosses (a departmental and a semi-external one … my dept is special like that). I crossed paths with the semi-external person and shared that I was queasy and they were all: “nah bro, it’s cool, it’s ok.” I’ve seen this attitude before and it has sort of backfired so I was still cautious.

Then we meet some time ago, went over the whole formal procedure (the way my uni phrases it is that it should be cordial and relaxed, like a low key staff meeting). And my goodness it was. We were all smiles and had concrete plans. I was asked about what I’d like to achieve in the next year, then my boss entered those plans in an online form that contains all my employee info. Then next year we can go through that and check off what was/wasn’t accomplished.

This is SO different than my last two jobs. At my first staff scientist job I was told of the results, but the meeting was conducted between my boss and the department head. At my former uni lots of things happened online, there was a face-to-face meeting that while cordial, it was still strained because my toxic PI was there, but not my department head.

Here I did some stuff online, but it gets printed out and I’m encouraged to write notes on the pages I’m given. And the form that my supervisor filled is available any time after the review, so I can add notes about progress, etc.

I feel like a HUGE weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And I got a 2% raise. It doesn’t look that impressive on paper (because of taxes and employee contributions I will see pennies instead of dollars), but I feel appreciated, valued … like my efforts count, you know? I am happy.

What weird place is this?

A few weeks ago I was looking through some old FB posts and noticed a bunch of disgruntled shit from last year (and the year before). I found it amazing how my state of mind has changed since I left the toxic lab.

I’m amazed because I finally have an idea of what it is to be happy, truly happy and fulfilled at work. I enjoy what I do. My colleagues, students and PIs are all top notch scientists. I work with people that are doing some rather cool shit that I had no idea could be done and are merging multiple fields. Even though I have no formal training in some of these areas, I feel at home! I feel like I belong, like I’m not a weirdo. It’s …. so different.

I came across a post from the always wise Dr. Isis that had a link to this gem. That letter took me to a sad place. I had to check the lab to verify that the PI was not the same guy I’d worked with. That guy made my life a living hell … and I let him. And it made be sad, bitter and depressed. I’m still working on forgiving myself for not standing up and running away from the totally toxic environment.

I also thought about what would’ve happened if I’d known beforehand that the toxic PI was a Poo-apprentice (they’re not related and as far as I know have never worked together, but the way they phrased things made me think that they’d worked together). I heard the same spiel at my previous job: how are we going to get published in Nature if you’re working only 55hrs/wk? We’re paying you to help out in the lab (I didn’t belong to that PI, department or discipline, yet he wanted me to work as much as a postdoc, while also running a core facility). I could add many more examples, but basically, if you read that Poo letter, it sounds exactly like my the toxic PI I worked with.

I can’t help but compare and contrast my last two places of work. My previous uni is a world-class institution, with lots of really talented people … but somehow, some people seem to think that because it’s not in California or an Ivy-League, that it’s somehow a shitty place. I’m proud of my scientific upbringing and thankful to every single person that invested their time and money in getting me to where I am. I’ve been extremely lucky, and I say that everywhere I go, everywhere I stand, everywhere I present. I’ve been a very lucky gal, being present in the right place at the right time. Sadly, my previous job wasn’t that. And it’s sad, because the projects that toxic PI works on are super important and have the potential to go from bench to bedside.

I got to talk to my replacement today (my replacement at the old job). The person is super capable and observed lots of interactions, so they know what kind of gloves to wear when handling the toxic dude. They seem happy and are doing lots of good work. They’re not shy about reaching out and seeking help or asking questions about how to do stuff. I’m so proud of them and sad that I didn’t get to work with them. Luckily we did interact near the end of my time at the core lab, and we got to run a couple of tests together.

At my current place I feel happy, valued, challenged. I’ve learned so much and have started instituting changes super quickly. I sometimes get paralyzed because I have so much freedom than before. It’s surprising and humbling and amazing, and downright scary. It’s like coming out of an abusive relationship, and not having to ask permission to do things, to move stuff, to buy stuff. I’m not being constantly questioned by a PI and grilled on why I prefer the expensive brand of reagent X when his lab has all the same components and I should just haul ass and prep it there (never mind that buying the thing was approved by my department and it takes a lot less time and money to make .. but whatever, I’m a peon). It feels like my wings had been clipped and hidden for so long that now that they’re physically healed, I can’t get my act together and fly. It’s a slow battle, but like I said before, I have awesome co-workers that push me off the nest every now and then. And my goodness can I soar.

No matter how good a lab/department/university is, no matter how ranked or how many Nature and Science papers get out every year … if the environment that those papers are produced is toxic … to me, it doesn’t matter. Because while a C/N/S paper may look good in writing, if it’s produced in a toxic place it’s not worth the pain. As always, I’m glad I got out. I worry about my former students, and hope and trust they’ll be stronger than I was/am, and don’t fear standing up to the toxic PI. I am also very happy that I am where I am right now.

Celebrating life

Yes, yes. I know that during the last year I’ve started more than a few posts with the words ‘live’, ‘living’, ‘alive’, ‘still here’, etc, etc …

But this is a different alive. This is current me looking back at this time last year and wondering how I didn’t jump off a cliff, how I managed to stay on foot and appear semi-neurotypical, given how nasty things were going in my professional life. I’m thankful for listening to my voice (and the voice of my other half) and seeking help, even when I thought there was nothing wrong with me.

There were many, many things going bad in my life. I just couldn’t feel. I thought I was sane (I was sane, and extremely anxious and depressed), but I was just going through the motions, and I didn’t even realize that! I was a zombie and I was too hurt to even realize it.

Looking back I can see that I’m miles away from that old me. I’m able to feel, able to celebrate, cry, stomp my feet when an instrument is being a jerk. I still have triggering moments … but not having to see the PI that made my life hell on Earth has been quite fantastic. I haven’t had a relapse, and my meds are a bit lower than they were 6 months ago.

I’m able to be who I am, warts and all. People don’t think I’m crazy when I do a happy dance if an experiment works. I troubleshoot with more confidence, and learning doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s fun. I haven’t had this much fun since my 3rd year in grad school (the year I did most of my data collection and trained other labbies) or NYC.

But more than work-related stuff, I feel content with where I am in life. I’m honestly happy with who I am, with what I do, with where I live … I’m really liking this new lease on life. I’m on my way to conquer many small hills that will teach me valuable lessons and contribute to my overall well-being. I signed up for a conference, and I’m preparing a talk for a department (a sales pitch). I am genuinely enjoying life; something I didn’t think possible just 365 days ago.

Be well. It does get better.

Resolutions 2016 – 3 month update

As I mentioned on my previous entry, I think I’m doing pretty decent, resolutions-wise. Without further ado, here are my updates:

  • Two (yes TWO) debts should reach the end of their lives. If you go back to 2011, you’ll see that as I was thinking I was making headway in life and starting a new job, with decent pay, etc. I got the news of my life when it turned out that I was not only saddled with my own debt, but that of a family member for which I’d co-signed a loan. When they lost their job, the lender came after me. I’ve been slowly but surely paying this (I can’t give more details, but suffice it to say, the other option was bankruptcy). A part of that debt should be paid off by this summer!!! And, a debt I’ve been slowly but surely paying off (done exclusively by me, by getting credit cards in grad school that I shouldn’t have) should also meet its end this spring. I can see the end of that tunnel. After that, and with the snowball method that I’ve been following (more religiously during the past 1.5 years), I should be chipping in more money into the next debts in this series. In total, I have 5 accounts/debts on my shoulders, two from my family, 3 of my own doing. I can’t wait for this to happen!!! I’m $278 from finishing my (first of 3) card debt. It feels amazing. Seeing such a “small” number compared to what it was at this time last year ($2450), I can’t believe my eyes. In the last couple of months I’ve done two payments/month, a little one (about $50) and a bigger one ($200). I’m rooting for me and I hope to make that last $278 payment before March 31st!!!!
  • Finish training (and feel confident in teaching) on a new tool in my  lab. I have some really snazzy toys at my current job, some that I’m familiar with, others that I’m not so well versed in. I envision that in the first quarter of 2016, I should be more confident in using one of the snazzy tools. Once I get to that level, I will be put in charge of another piece of equipment that is totes new to me. That is a bit scary but also cool. I am trying to become more independent faster and I hope that within the first 6-7 months here I will prove to be an asset (thus far I’m starting to feel like that). I’m in pretty good shape. I was put in charge of another tool that seems a bit less complicated to use. In addition, I have used 3 other tools in the lab, tools which I’d used as a grad student and have used often-ish in the last two years. The feeling of knowing the tools, collecting data and teaching students how to collect their own data is amazing. Hopefully I’ll master this second tool ASAP and I’ll start getting requests from outside users.
  • Get a good (if not great) review …. and perhaps a raise. There was both a freeze in hiring and salaries at my previous job and so, I was not given a raise. But before that, when I was in NYC, I did get a raise (~4%, which looks to be within the norm). I was told that, so long as there’s $$ available, I could get a 2% raise. Now, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but to me, it feels like a fortune .. and it also feels great to have my efforts recognized and valued in some way. I completed my own review … now I’m waiting for my supervisor to meet with me and talk about the goals I set, etc. Typically university-wide reviews happen sometime between mid-April and the start of May, so I should have a better idea as to how I’ve been doing. I feel good about the job, and have had positive interactions with the boss … but I’m cautiously optimistic until I see what he has to say.
  • Attend a conference, or at least a workshop. I had a fellow staff member approach me and remind me that there’s a national meeting on our topic of study … and while it’s in an up and coming city, I wasn’t sure I’d be “allowed” to go .. given that I’m a newbie. But he kindly reminded me that this that this is part of our job and we could be getting new ideas/techniques we could use and expand out repertoire here. In the works!
  • Have a mini emergency fund (ie. $1000) available before the end of the year. I’m $300 away!!
  • Do our taxes ASAP (and find out IF we’re getting a refund). Based on my quick and dirty calculations, we should … but I’m always skeptical until I see the deposit from the IRS. Hon has his W2, I have one of mine … still waiting on the one from my old job … they usually come out around this time of the year … hopefully it won’t get lost like the time it did on its way to Canada! Got all our W2s and did the taxes. We got a small refund, but it was enough to add to my emergency fund and put it closer to the $1000 goal.
  • Go home for Christmas. ‘Nuff said.
  • Appear on a publication, even if just in the acknowledgements section. Always a fave resolution of mine.
  • Get a couch, or at least a recliner … since mine were left behind in the move (boo).