27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Poor for yet another year

My postdoc experience, even if indirectly, keeps screwing me up. Today I finally got my taxes sorted out. While Canada has tax experts for the USians that live there, I can’t say the same for having Canada Revenue experts over on this side of the great lakes. It took me forever to find someone, and I ended up going with one of the giant tax companies, but whatever, they’re done. And surprise, surprise, I need to pay. A shit ton of of money if I may add.

Since my stipend (and those of many postdocs in Canada, as far as I can tell) are considered training grants, taxes aren’t taken out, and we must set aside a certain amount of money, because otherwise during tax season we’ll get an ugly surprise. The first year I was in Canada, I owed a bit over 1K in taxes, after working there since the end of the summer. Last year was a bit more, ie. almost 6K. I’d saved ~5200$, so it only took me one more month to reach the 6K, and while the IRS requires you to report worldwide income, since I’d paid that much in taxes in Canada, I wasn’t taxed twice. I had access to health care no matter where I was in the province, the same as every citizen. My postdoc stipend was ~37K, and I worked the whole year (hence I could get the full standard deduction of 8 (or it is 10, I think it’s 10) thousand CADs).

But last year was special. See, I was working in Canada until the end of my contract, then was on a visitor’s visa for ~1 month, while sorting out the move to NY. I’d never lived in a state with city AND state taxes, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I filled my W4 I was all confused (I had also never worked in my adult life, other than as a grad student, so the department took care of all those forms and such) but I put whatever # in the box that tells HR to take as much as they can for my fed taxes, and hope they’d do the right stuff for state and city, as I was totes clueless.

Well that, and the fact that I only worked in Canada part of the year came down to bite me really hard. My ass hurts, and my pockets even more. Turns out that I couldn’t claim the full standard deduction in Canada, so now, I have to pay 2K … which I don’t have. Also, someone in HR messed up, and nothing was taken out of my paycheck for the city taxes. This means I need to pay for that too.

The only good thing (well, 2) is that I do get a refund, which will go, every single last cent, to Canada Revenue. I should have asked my accountant last year in Canada how this worked, so that I could have started working in the US sooner, and saved up for that. And since I’ve been penniless for a while, thanks to my father’s stupid money decisions that have half of my family’s credit in the can (including mine), I’m funneling my money to make sure that some debts are paid on time.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get to eat yummy food, and purchase undies, and the basics when I need them. And I’m glad that I’m contributing to the services provided in ON for very deserving citizens. But this much money is going to make a hole and it’s going to take time for me to recover. That, and I won’t get to enjoy (of funnel money into critical debt) while paying those taxes. I did get a “credit” when filling out the 1040, and that’s why I get a bit of money back … but it’s truly depressing to see that no matter what you do, you’re still in the hole, and it seems every time you try to climb up, and think you’re making strides, you’re punched back by something and thrown deeper into said hole.

I just can’t catch a fucking break.

PS. Did I mention that I had saved a bit of money (a crappy attempt of an emergency fund, which would fund my trip to hon’s defense and contribute to a graduation gift). That? Totally depleted now. Also, what the hell am I going to tell my sister when I need to explain why I’m missing yet another one of my nephew’s birthdays? Yup, I’m doomed to be poor.

Why do I write?

Around this time, 3 years ago, I was finishing up my PhD. I was working on my last 2 thesis chapters, my committee had agreed to let me go after serving my sentence doing what I’d proposed. I was interviewing for my postdoc in Canada, life was good. Two or so months later I started this blog. I didn’t know where it’d end up, or if it would even survive past my defense. I wanted to have a place to write my feelings, and bitch and moan about being a grad student (and later a dissatisfied postdoc), but I didn’t know if I’d have the stamina, time or interest to keep it up. After all, I’d started 2-3 blogs before, only to delete them later.

I can’t remember exactly how it started. I don’t know if I’d googled something and then found one blog that lead me to another, and another, and another, or if I’d simply just landed on WordPress and decided to open up a new shop. Hon had introduced me to WordPress some time before, and like I said, I had 2 other blogs, which quickly faded.

I wanted a place to post my feelings, put the words that were trapped in my mind, and hopefully find other souls, like me, who said “hey, I know exactly how you feel.” But I was also selfish (I still am) and wanted to be famous. I wanted to have a blog read by thousands of people, that would come and drool over my every word, picture and musing, and that I wouldn’t need to “work.” Sure, like that’s going to happen.

At times, I felt like quitting. Much like I’d done with Facebook (still hate it), I was comparing myself to other fellow bloggers. When they posted stats or when I saw streams of comments and links I felt sad, a bit depressed. It wasn’t happening on mine, and I thought that was THE measure of success.

In all that, a small little audience, and my interest on Twitter, collided. I started tweeting with a bunch of neuroscientists/pharm extraordinaires (I still do, ohai Dr. Becca and Dr Leigh and all you of neuro-amazing-researchers). I wasn’t sure if I wanted to divulge that I was a structural biologist, or that I was a disgruntled postdoc, but it slowly happened. Then I linked the blog and Twitter, and slowly but surely people started coming, and reading, and commenting, and RTing, etc, etc, etc.

I can’t say I’m an established blogger, God only knows that I’m very inconsistent and lazy, and that unless there’s a terribly extreme force pushing me, I won’t get out of bed and go to work, let alone blog.

But then, last week, something amazing happened. I was reading a mommy blog (an LDS mommy blog if you’re curious, even though I’m a liberal, disgruntled-Catholic) when something caught my attention. The writer was talking about some mental block while working her first book and quoted something that went like this: “write the type of book you would like to read.” All of a sudden it clicked (it being the reason).

Over the last few months my readership has increased a tiny little bit, more people comment, tweet, and especially send emails. I’ve had tweets, comments and messages asking the reason I write. Some of the reasons behind the blog are in the ‘about’ section. But the truth is that, after going through grad school with a good mentor, doing a postdoc with a relatively good mentor (except that I was most unhappy with the science and his way of mentoring) and going through a hellish job search (see posts from the first 5 months of 2011 for reference), I wrote and write the way I do because the things I talk about are things I’m curious about. They were and are things I’m interested. I love hearing and telling stories, but more importantly, the motivations behind those stories, behind change and the experiences that have made you and me be who we are today.

I write because some of the things I experienced were totally foreign to me, and even with a good PhD mentor, there were things I had to face alone and that were very unique to me (and to grad students and postdocs). I’m always looking for mentors, people I can look up to and aspire to be, people that are willing to take me under their wing and show me the ropes. Sure, I’m equipped to learn things on my own, but I will almost always prefer having someone there with me the first few times until I do things all on my own (and don’t break that pretty little 2.5 million dollar instrument).

The experiences I have under my belt, my triumphs and failures, and how candid I am, are for y’all to see. I try to be candid, much like the way I’ll tell you that tattoos hurt, or that even if I did some of my piercings, it still hurts like the mother. I try to be honest, to be open, because maybe if I’d had some of the information I (sometimes painfully) learned before, during and after grad school, I would have made different choices or at least more informed ones. I write the way I write because (besides being a narcissist), it’s the way I like people to tell me stories, to share insight, to let me know who and how they are. Because I hope that the way I write gives you a laugh occasionally, but also a bit of hope that things do get better and that there’s a way out. And that science is awesome, but it also has many fails, and that it’s not rosy all the time, but that you can indeed find a niche and flourish.

Those are the reasons for why I write, and for how I am (if you know me in the flesh). I write the kind of blog I like to read (except a bit of a more positive vibe, and less whining would be nice every now and then, no? And did I mentioned I was a narcissist?).

Resolutions: 2012 edition – three months in

Here’s how things are going two months into 2012. The changes are crossed and have a comment. Enjoy!

Even though I complain all the time about hating to do resolutions, I still manage to make a list. I like lists, I enjoy making them and I enjoy crossing stuff off. So, without further ado, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2012 (in no particular order):

  1. Get bangs. I love bangs, but after a while I get tired. I found a haircut that I love and back in October, I found a stylist that I like, so I hope to get into the spirit of spring with a new haircut and bangs to match. Finally sporting bangs, a little long, but that’s better than ending up with Audrey Hepburn’s bangs on hair that’s thicker than thick. 
  2. Sell my car.
  3. But first I need to *finally* get the papers in order. It still has an ON title.
  4. Ask for a raise, because I deserve it, and I want it. After having the results of my year end review, I ended up with a few more pennies in my pocket. Not too shabby 🙂
  5. Visit the family and stay a few days without worrying about money. Possibly attend my nephew’s birthday.
  6. Attend hon’s defense and graduation.
  7. Make a dent on credit card debt #3, the smallest one (thought it’s still pretty significant).
  8. Attend a national meeting of my discipline or at least sub-field.
  9. Appear on a publication, even if it’s in the acknowledgments.
  10. Write an entry once a week.
  11. Make dinner at home, at least 1 week of every month (it costs me as much to dine out as to buy groceries and cook, so I opt to (mostly) eat out and work late).Woo! Achieved. I’m cooking most days in, not 7 days a week, but most days a week, every week. Not too shabby here either. I’ll take eating in most days, rather than cooking for 7 days just one week a month.
  12. Tell annoying family member to fuck off if he keeps harassing me.
  13. Try a few new places to eat, especially around my neighbourhood (not that I don’t love you y’all, but you know, I need variety).
  14. Walk more, eat less, drink more water. Not eating less, but I’m opting to walk more whenever I can (and soon I should be getting my orthotics! finally done, yay!!!) and I’m drinking water most days at work.
  15. Find a good, local brewery and try a new beer every month (suggestions are more than appreciated, also #drunksci).

The day I became ‘previous studies in our lab …’

I knew it would happen, I knew my name wouldn’t be first on papers and posters, or referenced fully at some point. The day came, it is here, upon me. I’ve officially become the ‘previous studies in our lab/by our group/previously we showed’ line. I’m still processing it, but I knew it was coming.

It is no secret that I’ve had a difficult time moving on from my PhD lab./experience I felt like a bit of a star under the direction of my watchful mentor. I flourished under her care and guidance and gave birth, or completion, to a few projects. I started helping someone else, eventually became the senior graduate student, then moved on, and now I’m a staff scientist. I don’t regret any of it, but I’m now facing the reality that I’m not a star anymore, that whatever little memory of me was in my PhD lab is gone, that new blood has come in, and that much like I did, they’re giving birth, continuing or even closing chapters of my previous research life.

This week I got some sad news from my lab. My PhD mentor is going through some rough patches, and the lab as a whole has gone through even more changes in the last year. The last person that was part of my original group moved on to bigger things and my PhD mentor made some changes which surprised many. A student I met while on my last year has inherited my projects and he’s doing a fabulous job, but he’s had to face many challenges that I didn’t and sometimes gets discouraged. I feel sad about it because he’s super talented and much like me, depends on the upbeat attitude of the boss. He’ll do alright, but I feel a bit of known growing pains that I wish he didn’t have to face. I guess I’m thinking like a mother, because those are the words I’ve heard my mom use too (she’d say one day I’d understand).

This student is about to get a publication out the door, from one of the projects I gave birth to and did some of the ground work on. I can’t wait to read it, and I’m so excited for him. But with that I know that the words ‘previously, our group found …’  are coming. And I can’t help but feel a bit of pain, or whatever it is. I feel  as if a memory I was holding tight is being yanked out with much force, and I can only see how it goes away and become someone else’s dream (or in this case, project).

I know it’s silly of me to feel this way … but sometimes I think that I got out of my PhD lab without saying my goodbyes properly, I didn’t mentor enough people (OK, just two, one just a tiny bit and he’s the one that’s in charge of two projects I started), that I didn’t do things I wish I’d done. I kept working until the very last afternoon I had and then left. I was relieved that the defense, the thesis and everything was handed in. I was ready for a new life. And what a life it was! But I keep going back, and thinking and feeling as if something was/is incomplete. It’s probably that I haven’t cut the chord completely. My PI and former labbies have moved on and are happy elsewhere, even during the current rough times. I guess I’m just more emotional and attached.

It pleases me to see though, that the projects I started are being cared for and nurtured, and one of them is in the process of being published. I am happy that my results weren’t just a fluke and that they’re being built upon. I know I’m not the star anymore, and that I’m now buried in the list of references, probably not remembered much. I wonder if anyone else has ever felt that way after leaving their labs (whether as an MS, PhD or postdoc). I wonder ….

Almost 9 months

Oh my, I’ve been at work for almost 9 months. Incredible. I’d secretly given myself 6 months to try and see if I liked being back in my field of training. Thus far I have. Being a staff scientist has its challenges (and rewards). I’ve been to at least 3 local conferences/workshops. I’ve made contacts, I’ve helped people. I’ve battled with an intense boss. I got a raise. I’ve been trying to be good to myself.

I finally tended to my feet and went to the podiatrist. But he’s a douche, so I’m switching. Been waiting for my orthotics which have magically disappeared (or were sent to a different doctor/office/patient). On Monday I have (what I hope to be) my last call with them. I already made an appointment with another doctor. I’ll be asking for a refund for services not rendered (though I honestly feel like calling a lawyer instead … if only I had that much money). I’m practicing assertiveness …. let’s see if I can get out of this and get my money back (into my FSA account anyway).