27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: August 2009

Postdoc salary and how to live on/with it – Part 1

So, this Friday I get my first official postdoc check …. YES!!! Well, I shouldn’t celebrate, being that I will need to spend most of it to a) buy health coverage, b) get furniture to replace the pieces I left/sold prior to relocating, and c) pay some of the more than 20k I ran in debt while being in grad school.

I also need to take into account that out of my >3000 CADs stipend (Canadian dollars), I must save ~25% for when tax season comes. I’d love to pay my 23,793$ in debt in no time, but for the first few months I’m here I’d also like to save some money for (hopefully) next year’s vacay with the boyfriend and his parents. I also need a computer, possibly a laptop since my 2004 Dell is in good condition, but has no monitor and runs a bit slow (plus I don’t have a personal computer at work, I used to have one when I was in grad school).

Let’s break down the monthly costs of living as a postdoc and sharing an apartment with the BF:

  1. Rent is 985$, which we break in half.
  2. Cell phone – ~50$
  3. Car insurance – for 2 people 230$ (I know it’s a lot, I didn’t shop around).
  4. Card payments: Card 1- owe 14100, with a minimum payment of 350/mo. Card 2- owe 4600, with a min. payment of 130$. Card 3-owe 4090, with a min. payment of 95$ and a 4th account, for which I owe 930$.

This does not take into account gas expenses for the car, and any maintanance fees/charges associated with keeping your car running and functioning well. It also does not take into account that I rarely cook, since I’m either too tired, or lazy, or just plain too stressed.

I’d love to knock out 2 of those debts by the end of this year. It’s a promise I made to myself prior to starting in my new lab. I hate living in debt, especially because I had no real reason to get in debt, other than wanting to live the american dream and trying to fill in gaps and things in my life with nothing other than stuff.

I knocked a couple of smaller debts prior to moving, but I’d love to be able to stop feeling guilty everytime I cannot afford something I like, yet put it on the card because I “need it/deserve it). I’d love to stop feeling guilty about not telling the BF I’m in debt, because of my own irresponsibility. I’d love to purchase the things I need right out my pocket, without using a credit card. That’s my true dream. Not to have a fancy lab and tons of expensive equipment. My dream is to live debt free, to enjoy life and to stop worrying about money …. live as I used to back in college.

So you see, because of stupid mistakes I’ve made I cannot truly enjoy the fruits of my labour and sacrifice now that I have my first real job. Instead, because I was too stupid and consumed by capitalism, a weak mentality and laziness, I robbed myself of that chance. And I’ll be dammed if I let this happen again, and if I don’t warn future grad students and postdocs about the importance of planning and staying out of debt.

My dears, save your money. I know it’s hard, especially when you have a truly hellish day/week/month/year in the lab or at school. But like Dave Ramsey says, you need to live below your means, so you can live like no one else because you’ve done things like no one else (referring to saving money and spending it wisely).

My goal for now is to keep paying my debts, use the debt snowball method and in ~ 2 years finally knock this debt off. I don’t know if I’ll have the same job next year (I hope I do a great job in the lab and the reviews go well); but if not, I’d love to reduce my debt significantly, so that I can live like no one else.

I’ll write more about this later. And also, about any and all progress I make towards erasing my debts.

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Losing and acquiring a new identity at school

For 6 years I’ve had this email account at my (now) old school. The first thing I did in the morning was check my email. When I joined my lab I kept a window opened so that I could check for new messages from my (now) old boss, since she would email updates of papers, procedures, ideas for experiments, etc on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.

Even though it’s been a little over a month since my defense I still check that email regularly. Even more regularly than my new email account. It seems as if my current boss does not send updates as regularly as the old one. I’ve only received 2 messages from him, both about BBQ’s or get togethers for the lab.

I started grad school right off of college, and I would only check my personal email while in college. But once I started grad school, my email account became my link to everything and everyone related to school/work. Now, it feels as if a part of my identity will be forever lost.

I know I sound like an idiot for saying this, but it feels as though a part of me is dying. I should see it more as a migration towards a brighter future, but somehow it hurts not to be part of the old community from that grad school.

I compare it (though on a much smaller scale) to when I was 13 and my grandma died. I would catch myself dialing her number after she died, and little by little I had to stop thinking about her number, or trying to dial it. I need to detach, to distance myself from the old place, to get a somewhat temporary new identity at this place where I’m doing my postdoc, and which I see as an even more temporary place than grad school.

I do need to share my new email with old contacts and collegues, for you never know where your future position will come from.

For now it’s an adaptation process I need to go through. I need to “divorce” from the old place, and plant myself in new soil. This is the beginning of a new me, and a new identity.

First few weeks of work at the new place

So, it’s been a little over 2 weeks since I started my job as a postdoc in Canada. These weeks have been a whirlwind. Everything happening so vary fast. Contracts to sign, people to meet, things to set up and get.

I don’t know if this is routine, but in my new school it took them more than 2 weeks to process my contract. Once it’s processed (which just happened last Thursday), that’s when you can get your ID card, which works as a universal card that you can use to purchase food (if you load it with $), gain access to facilities and open doors .. among other things. I got my picture taken on Friday morning … ugh. I look like a criminal with a silly smirk. But the process was not an easy one, as even though I got a staff # provided by HR, the people at the card office still needed confirmation from HR (which of course, won’t answer the calls when you need them). Since it’s summer, even though the school is opened, it seems like everything goes SO.VERY.SLOWLY. I was so mad … basically because I’ve been used to the US system in which things are done super fast. Now, I’m not saying that I’d like Canada to turn into another US … but it’d be nice if PI’s had the info and be notified by HR BEFORE the postdoc gets there so you don’t have to wait to start existing at the new place. I don’t know how similar the process is at my old school.

I have almost everything I need. I do need to get a bank account and get the right things in place in order to get my first paycheck as a postdoc.

On the experimental front, since I’ve forgotten almost all of my biochemistry (I did my PhD in structural biology, and the samples I examined were prepared and isolated by other labs). Thus, my new boss (super patient, thus far) assigned a grad student to teach me how they do some of the expression, isolation and purification of DNA and protein.

When I was doing my PhD I thought I would for certain be rid of doing protein/DNA biochemistry. I guess I was, and still am, scared of sucking at doing those experiments. In the past, if guided by someone else, I’ve been able to do beautiful experiments with nice results. I’m reading a lot about how to do things, make calculations (which is the scary part for me, as I have not used many of them in ages, and I forget them).

I’m excited though, at the thought of relearning biochem and doing experiments once again.

More to come later ….

Today I started my new job as postdoc

So today I started my first ever full time job. I guess being a postdoc can be considered a job. I’ve worked in the past, usually as an secretary assitant, doing undergrad research, and even as a nanny (which paid really well I might add if you get lucky like I did for a well-to-do family).

Anyways, I went to bed late yesterday night. I spent the whole day veggin’ out like I used to do the day before classes started. I washed and dried my hair so I would look presentable, but since I’m living off of my suitcase while the BF and I wait to move into our new apartment, I had a hard time choosing something casual, yet appropriate to wear. Back when I was in grad school (a little over 3 weeks ago) I would wear whatever was available, as long as it was a) clean, b) had no holes (at least visible ones), and c) had some silly message or Hello Kitty on it (I’m a sucker for that cat, so deal with it). I once went out with this postdoc in my old department (DO NOT RECOMMEND, avoid at all costs) and he would dress really nice, with cute Polo shirts and dressy pants. He had jeans and would wear shorts on ocassion, but he looked very cute and casual, without wearing a cute japanese doll on his clothes.

So, I pulled out one of my favorite shirts, woke up the BF so he could drive me to the new school and headed off. As soon as I got there I felt a bit grown up. Here I was, no longer a grad student, sort of ready to take over the world, face my new boss and fear (again) that I’m a completely incompetent scientist. I wonder if other recently minted PhD’s feel the same.

See, I used to go out with this guy that was super smart and that, for whatever reason, could remember all sorts of odd chemical/mathematical and physical equations for nearly everything. He finished up sooner than I did (his mom told me) and with not 1, but 2 friggin’ PhD’s. He’s now a postdoc and I imagine he’s super successful, given his attention to detail and out-of-this-world smarts.

Somehow I still carry that weight over my shoulders, that thing that reminds me that he’s super smart and competent and that I am not nearly as smart as he is (at least from my point of view). I mean, yeah, my title says Biophysics, but I still feel as clueless about a lot of things in science as I did the very first day I stepped into my grad school prep course. It’slike, I’m not good enough or worthy enough even though I busted my ass for 6 years at a very prestigious institution.

Anyways, the new boss is super adorable. He laid out his expectations for me and what he hoped I learn while I do this project. He seems super collaborative, very witty and really in tune with what he’d like for you to achieve and help you to get there. I’m super satisfied with the job, though I cannot lie … I’m scared shitless that I will disappoint him because I do not know how to do the type of science they do in his lab.

You might ask … why the hell did she choose such a position. There are several factors, but some of the most important ones are that a) I needed/wanted to find a job close to my honey, while he finishes his PhD, b) I tried (and interviewed) for a position in the field I was trained in but was not offered the job, c) I felt a little adventurous and wanted to get away from my comfort zone.

So, after signing the contract (which referred to me as Dr. 28-and-a-PhD) I went back to my boss’s office, got some parts of his grants to read and settled in my new space. I do not need a key to my office (which is shared with a staff person from another lab because my lab had to “borrow” space from a collaborator since there are a bunch of people in there … and a grad student).

I had lunch with the BF and in my car I had a box with little trinkets I’d gotten over the last few weeks to decorate my new office. I added some of them to my new space. I did not want to have way too many Hello Kitties, so I left some space for the covers (yeah, my papers have made the cover of some journals, thank you very, very much … I might add, some very well respected journals), books, and such. My new office does not yet feel like my office, but I hope in no time that will change.

Around 5pm I invited my BF to drop by and look at the place. He was very pleased with it, and happy that I have a decent sized window (I used to work in a lab full of computers and away from windows or glimpses of natural light, so this is a very welcomed change). A few students are getting their degrees this fall, so I’m secretly hoping I might get moved to an office that belongs to my lab, or where at least I can have some control over the window so I can open it and breathe fresh air.

Anyways, must take a shower soon. I took a long nap and I need to snap back to reality and get to sleep soon … otherwise I’ll never get my schedule adapted to the new place.