27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Search terms – April

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Between trying a few new things in the lab, the acquisition of a Wii, and a few other things I sometimes forget that I have a blog I *LOVE* and that I should keep it up. So, without further ado, here are the search terms I’ve gathered recently:

  1. Things to know before a PhD – I did a little series about this. You can start reading here. But mainly, as an awesome visitor of this blog (Polz) put it: if you’re coming directly from undergrad, realize that the environment in grad school can be super isolating, physically, mentally, emotionally and intellectually that other than give you the basic knowledge, undegrad does NOT prepare you for the challenges of grad school. I had a little study group. We’d answer take home exams by consensus, by each person reviewing the literature and then sharing what we’d learned (but careful, we each elaborated our answers alone). Also, the kind of work, the hours, and the pay may come as a disappointment. Having a PhD is NOT a guaranteed move to secure a job. Feel free to talk to a career counselor, or a prof who has gone through this (especially recently).
  2. Lab is out of money – how do you get your degree ? – You can still get your degree, but if your PI cannot cover the costs, the department may intervene to put you in a different lab. Mind you, you may need to start fresh from 0, so talk to your PI about your options. If there’s a grad counselor or a person who checks on your progress and protects the interests of the students in the department (which should be) talk to him/her. Harass if necessary. Someone like a director of education or a similar person should be a good source of info on what to do if your PI runs out of funds. One thing you can do before, or while this is happening is applying for funding sources for you. Usually these fellowships or training grants are independent of your PI, and extra money for research purchases and travel may come attached to it. But don’t despair, talk to the people in charge because they should have the proper info to ensure you’re taken care and provided for.
  3. As a PhD, why have you not published ? – This is a great question, and I think it somewhat depends on your discipline. You can/will get peer-reviewed publications if you’re in other disciplines besides biomedical research and science related areas, but usually the PI’s in the science areas tend to be more involved in the students’ lab life and get you to publish, sooner or later. I say this, since my BF is in a non-life science area. Sometimes PI’s wait until you’re finished, in order to submit papers. If say, you need to do an extra experiment or two before you’re completely done with school, that may be a reason why you still don’t have papers. It depends on the labs’ policies about when papers are submitted. In my case, I still have a paper that need to be published, but I had 1st and 2nd author papers published by the time I left. I do remember that before my grad school PI had her current job, her previous students could graduate if their manuscripts were ready for submission. What they presented to their theses committees were their papers in final form, before submission. That, I thought, was weird. But apparently that’s the way things were at her previous school/department.
  4. How old are you when you did your PhD? – I got my PhD a week after my 28th birthday. My boyfriend will be almost 30 by the time he finishes his (but he did a master’s before, which took 2.5 years). We both are the same age. I’ve met people who at 25-26 were done, mainly because they had been in their labs day and night (something I couldn’t bring myself to do). Some people in my class were about my age by the time they were done. Other were a bit older and had gone back to school after having been in the workforce for a few years.

Postdoc taxes, a semi guide for US postdocs in ON

***** Disclaimer – this is by NO means a comprehensive, absolute guide of how to do your taxes. I decided to get professional help with them, since it doesn’t matter whether or not you live in the US, you still need to report your worldwide income (and I wanted to avoid being excessively taxed). Since this is also my first year in ON I had to file provincial and federal taxes in addition to the US. Consult with a certified public accountant for your particular case. This is just for illustration/information purposes.

So … finally last weekend I filed my taxes. A Canadian postdoc from my lab had advised me that taxes here are a bitch, and that I should be saving about 1/4th of my take home income so I wouldn’t be surprised when it was time to pay for the taxes. I am SO very thankful for his advice, because it helped to a) not use my credit card to pay, and b) there was definitely money left over to enjoy. Here’s how things went.

I went to a professional firm and met with a CPA. She was super nice, and it took us about 1hr to go over the US and Canadian taxes. I brought in my W2 and my T4, for each country. We went over the details of the expenses and things I could deduct. I brought in all the receipts I could find regarding the move (I’m sure I missed a few). I couldn’t deduct the gas expense, but I did the lodging, storage, trailer and even the locks I had to purchase! I deducted these expenses from the US taxes only. Originally, my calculations resulted in me getting all excited about NOT having to pay anything to the IRS, but I didn’t factor in my Canadian income. I was told that next year I will need to file both again, but since I will only be making money in Canada, the US amount should more or less cancel out. I ended up paying ~250 USDs to the IRS, and a little over 2000 CADs to Canada Revenue. I had saved a little over 3K, so there was some money left. Now, the filing the taxes and paying for them was more expensive that I thought, and it amounted to ~300 CADs (bummer).

Still, there was money left over to get new jeans, a new watch, and a nice haircut. YAY!!!!!

So, this was not as detailed as I thought it would be (maybe because I didn’t make a list of the points above). But here are some things I learned from this process:

  1. Even though forking out the 300 bucks in expenses for filing the taxes was painful, I have the peace of mind that if something was to happen, in theory, I should be covered. So, my advice is to go professional and have the forms filed by experienced people.
  2. Do things in a timely manner. I filed my taxes in April, but for next year, as soon as I get my forms I’m calling the professional CPA to file them pronto!
  3. I’ll keep saving about the same amount as I had before. I saved about 20-25% of my take home pay, so it gives me peace of mind to have this taken care of during tax season.
  4. I’ll save receipts or make lists of all the things I buy, whether it’s a box of paper or a laptop, so I can deduct it next year. Since I had a bunch of my stuff with me, my PC, my desk, etc, I didn’t deduct those, but whatever office supplies I get from now on that might be deducted as research expenses will go in.

Although this is not a super comprehensive list of how to file your taxes I hope I give you bits and pieces of info on what to take into consideration when you’re a US citizen but move abroad and file taxes. All the best and please, if you have questions, ask. I’ll be more than happy to answer.


***** I wrote this post at the end of 2009. Today, April 8, 2010 I’m reviewing some of the projects and things I wanted to achieve before the clock strikes 12 on 12-31-10. So, check out how I’ve been doing.

Many years ago, back in high school our class was asked to write down resolutions for new years. It didn’t matter if we kept them, we just needed something written. Then we’d stand up, read them and such. I can’t remember the exact purpose of this task, but I went ahead and did it. I remember very distinctly writing about how much crap we want to accomplish, then Jan 1st rolls in and we do not accomplish a single thing. I was very … mmm, bitter? about writing resolutions.

Well …. I’m kinda tired of sucky projects, so I’m resolved to make some sort (or sorts) of changes this year. I hope that next december I can sit down look at it and cross over the stuff I did. Here are some of my ideas (all 20 of them).

  1. Use my cookbooks to make some food from scratch that’s good for me.
  2. Go on a nice summer vacay, even if it’s around Canada. This one is in the works!
  3. Go to Ottawa for Canada Day! Not happening, but it’s OK, especially due to #2.
  4. I’m ~186 lbs, I’d love to be ~150 lbs next Xmas.
  5. Get up earlier than 9am and start experiments like all the rest of the people in my lab. I’m currently starting my experiments after 10am. In the works!
  6. Grow my own veggies. I have a bit of a leg up on this one since I just bought green pepper seeds which the BF and I can start growing by the end of the spring, if not earlier. I’d love to try and plant some lavender.
  7. Visit the gym at school and hopefully find an activity, gym machine or something to keep me motivated and help in the losing the weight part. In the works. I have this friend in the lab who’s pushing me to join the gym, which I hope to do right after graduation.
  8. Buy a DSLR by the end of the year. Even though my point and shoot is still kicking ass, and I’ve taken some seriously awesome pics I’d still love to do more.
  9. Get a kick ass laptop.
  10. Pay off taxes without using a credit card (I’m saving for this, but it gets though especially when considering the need for a new battery or snow tires).
  11. Get my contract renewed.
  12. Attend a scientific conference and network.
  13. Pay off two of my 4 debts. I’m starting the year by dropping some serious cash on a debt that’s less than 1K. I know it should take me no time to reduce this one, but since the minimum payments for the credit cards is up, and I have to divide my money into the other debts too so my credit does not go to hell for missing a payment or sending in less than the minimum amount, it gets though to nail those debts as fast as I’d like.
  14. If I can’t get #9, I’d like to at least get a good monitor for my PC, which although is slow, it still works. I have not turned it on since before the defense. As of 01/11/2010 my PC is officially back in business. The BF and I got back a couple of days ago, and though I’ve spent most of my time sleeping … and catching on my sleep on Saturday we headed for dinner, when we saw it … in a pile of things that people donate/dump at our complex … a monitor of the same brand and dimensions as the one I had before relocating. It was bliss. Some people have left books, a vintage sewing machine (it’s sitting in the car trunk), a table, and random things. We’ll, we took the monitor with all its cables and things, went to dinner, took it out and the BF plugged it to the wall to see if it turned on … it did! Then a few hours later he begged me to get him the power cables for the computer. I took out a few (I was SO tired I didn’t want to deal with setting up the computer) … he tested it … and my old wallpaper was there … with all its colours and all the documents I had on my desktop. Our guess is that someone got a new monitor for Xmas and dumped that one. Today … the awesomest BF ever sent me a message saying he’d hooked up all the cables and things, moved the internet cables from his room to my room and had my computer up and running!!! I’m still a little tired (physically) and I’ve been worried about not having enough energy to start and finish my day’s work, so this little surprise comes as an awesome way of helping my life be a little easy. This means that I’ll be able to post more frequently while he’s preparing his lectures or while facebooking or talking to people. When I get home I’ll hook up the speakers and the surge protector … and hopefully things will be up and running for good until I get a laptop. Thus, out of the 20 items I wanted to cross off my list of achievements for this year, one is gone!!!! Hooray for donations and awesome boyfriends!!!!
    Visit my old school and attend my grad school graduation. In the works
  15. Learn to love my parents as they are, even if it means not agreeing with some of their beliefs. Always a work in progress, but getting better at it with each passing day, especially after my sis gave birth a few days ago (I’m editing this on May 9).
  16. Keep on going as strongly with the BF as we’ve had over the last few months. November and December were pretty good relationship-wise, and I’d love to keep on going in the same direction. We have this chemistry, this way of being funny and getting along that is even better than at the beginning, so I hope this keeps on happening. Who knows if this is Mr. Right for the future ;-). Going strong.
  17. Get a nice hair stylist that understands my hair, gets me the haircut and style I want and listens to how I want my hair to be dried (blow-dried, super slick … I’d hate to look like a lion when I get out of the salon).
  18. Be better at doing groceries and other activities that involve shopping, so I can be more conscientious and less wasteful. So far I’ve done good at home. I found a great deal on my walking/running shoes and I’ve gotten small things for the home, but I have not gotten rid of some clothes or 4 thousand purses. Always a work in progress, but I’m guessing I’ll downsize once my BF completes the thesis and we know where we’re moving.
  19. Go through all my toiletries and lotions and soaps so I feel good when I get some new ones … I have this thing where I’ll be using two shampoo’s or 3 lotions or soaps at a time. I have a good chunk of them at home in Canada, and I’d love to start purchasing a brand I like, a single one, rather than have 3 different brands of a product that I hate. This way I can help  in achieving #19. Doing good, but not great. I’ll report back at the end of the year on this one.  

And as a bonus: shave more often, get cute and comfy undies, and donate old but good clothes to make room for things I really need and want AND like.

Postdoc taxes in Canada and plans

I know that during the last couple of weeks I’ve been a bit silent. Since the BF and I purchased the Wii most of our time has been devoted to that little (and awesome) machine (hehe), thus my blogging time has been drastically reduced. Also, I had been doing tons of protein purification, and by the end of the day the last thing I wanted to do was to sit down and write about science, or life, or both. I think I mentioned that my job got renewed (yay!). This is great, as it means I will go on a summer vacation with the BF. More importantly, it means I get to keep on learning, and also the project I’m working on stays in my hands.

So, what’s new you might ask (besides the points I’ve mentioned before). Well, this week I’m finally doing my taxes. For whatever reason my W2 form from the States got lost, so I had to contact my old department, ask for a new form, wait for it to get here and finally call the tax people to do the US and Canadian taxes. Turns out, you can never escape the IRS. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t live in the US anymore, you still need to file taxes on your foreign income. Now, I don’t want to be taxes twice, and it may not need to be like that. But I am not celebrating yet. Once the taxes from both countries are filed I hope to cover some of the details here, so the blogosphere knows what happens when you file taxes as a postdoc in Canada (I my try to find from other bloggers in my same situation how things worked for them).

I’ve done my math, and I’ve saved about 1/5th of my income for tax purposes. I based this on accounts of other postdocs in the lab, as well as that of a friend who’s been doing postdoc taxes for a number of years now. I’ve checked online calculators that estimate the provincial and federal taxes to pay, and it looks like I may have some money left, but since I’m not Canadian, I don’t know how Canada Revenue will act on my case. I would like for some money to be left over, and while doing a quick web search for postdocs in my same situation I have no found anything concrete yet. But I do plan on doing an entry on how my tax prep session was. One cool thing is that the due date for US taxes gets extended by 60 days if you’re abroad, but I have to file that for also. We’ll see.

The future plans (besides doing the taxes) are to a) stop saving for taxes for a little while and increase my payments to the credit cards as much as possible, b) if there’s some leftover money I want to get a new watch and set some money aside to pay for my vacation trip (or money for paying for the trip itself, you know airfare and lodging), c) set some money aside so that I can use it for my graduation trip which is fast approaching, and d) set some money aside to go to the gym and start working towards one of my goals for 2010 which is/was to drop some of the weight!

We’ll see how it goes. I know I can deduct certain things and I hope that saving all those receipts from the big move will help. I shall report soon enough with the tax results.

Till then, take care 🙂