27 and a PhD

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One more down, two more to go

Just a quick update. That loan from hell I was saddled with after my father lost his job? Yeah, got *finally* paid off last week. Do you know how that makes me feel? I feel like I’m on top of the world. I’ve been a bit passive about it, I’m still waiting for the debt cancellation letter to be mailed. I won’t really believe it until it is all signed and done. But for now, you better believe me when I tell you that a HUGE boulder has been lifted off  my shoulders. I should finish paying off credit card #2 in NOVEMBER!!!!! Then it’s onto the Godzilla of all my cards. The original one I got when I was in college WITHOUT needing my parent’s signature, or having a g-d job. That’s right, fucking recruiters form Bank of America were at my undergrad institution offering credit cards to every single kid. Kids!!! I was 21 years old at the time!!! WTF??? Seriously, I wish these leeches would be kicked out of every single higher ed institution. Sure, it help “build my credit.” But at what cost? My sanity, my mental well-being, a job I loved and was good at for a job that nearly killed me and which I haven’t stopped cursing at for the 2 years I’ve been out of (yeah, I’m still angry at my previous job).

I also have a tiny amount of money on my savings account (very tiny, just a couple of hundred bucks). I’ve been wondering whether to celebrate being rid of that g-d loan by throwing it into the pit that is cc #2. I recently used it to pay for a work trip, and when I get reimbursed (probably October at the earliest), that should take me even closer to having a 0 balance. I’m thinking of closing it (even though it’s been with me for 12yrs) and opening one with true, good rewards. But I know that as a recovering debt-addict, I need to keep my hands away from it. Freeze it. Burn it. Cut it … something so that I don’t rack it all up again and end up feeling like a failure.

Kids, if you’re reading this: read the fine print on everything you’re planning to sign for. Don’t give your signature to ANYONE. Not your mother, your sister, your grams or your BFF. If someone needs a signature for a loan? Yeah, chances are it’s too big for them to take it on their own to begin with, and you should be aware that your signature is as good as you taking the loan on your own, and even if someone’s credit is >800 today, it means nothing if they get fired, or go for disability and can’t keep current on their payments. I could’ve been debt free ages ago if I hadn’t co-signed that near death sentence when I was 25. I am 36 right now. I’ll be 37 by the time I’m done with this (universe willing!). I’ve been in debt since I was 21. It will take me more than 1/3rd of my life to become absolutely debt free. Be smart with your credit. Your signature is your most precious possession. Don’t give it out just ’cause.

And now, time to get ready for a lecture I have to do in not too long.




Remembering my staff-versary

6 years ago today I made the move from Canada back to the US. I landed in NYC, the greatest, most amazing city I’ve ever lived. It just dawned on me that today was my staff-versary.

A bit of the backstory: I finished my PhD in the US in 2009, moved to another country (Canada), started a postdoc, became severely depressed, figured out that my depression was tied to my identity as a scientist in a particular field which wasn’t the one I’d been trained in, and decided to leave the “traditional” tenure-track way and go into staff-dom. I didn’t know if I’d like it, if I’d even survive it, but I had to try. I was lucky enough that a group of brave women, included (but not limited to): Jeanne Garbarino, Geeka, and Biochem Belle. And made the jump I did. It’s been 6 years since all that and I’ve got a lot of things to be thankful.

  • I got a super great first review back in 2012 for my work in 2011. I made lots of progress, and even though my boss drove me bonkers sometimes, he was smart and engaged. I got to meet tons of new people, make great friends, go to local get togethers in the city and do awesome science.
  • Mr 27 and a PhD became Dr 27 and a PhD and we got married.
  • I read tons of books, like a maniac, given my long commute, but even though it was a chore at time, I looked forward to the quiet time on the subway and/or bus.
  • I met some of the most amazing minds in my field of training and got to help their labs.
  • Learned some new techniques and approaches which made life in the lab way more comfortable.

Eventually I:

  • Was approached by my old (PhD) school to help run what had been my PhD lab, operating now as a core facility.
  • Because of some serious debt I was saddle with thanks to lending my signature on a $50K loan, I had to leave NYC.
  • My husband was diagnosed and treated for a serious heath issue by a world expert at my PhD uni.
  • I created protocols and SOPs to run the lab, organized stuff, trained students.
  • But I also struggled with a couple of supervisors who were of the idea that if you weren’t in the lab 7 days a week for at least 10hrs, you really weren’t committed to science.
  • One of the bosses in particular appeared to have a PhD in gaslighting. This wore me down, to the point that I thought I was losing my sanity.
  • I went into an outpatient program for a couple of weeks and got the jump start I needed. My meds were adjusted, I did a lot of talk therapy and it actually helped! Just because I have a PhD doesn’t mean I’m smart at everything and I honestly thought that talk therapy was just BS.
  • Being in a setting where there were others who had gone through severe losses and trauma, people with bipolar disorder, severe depression, OCD, etc, helped me gain some empathy, especially towards those in our society who suffer because they don’t have the resources to get the help and support to treat and thrive even when mentally ill.
  • Once I returned from my stay at the psych hospital I decided on concrete changes: I talked to my boss and asked to have the gaslighting person removed from his supervisory roles, I changed bosses and things became better, I actually enjoyed my job. I finished training some of the grad students I’d started training earlier and they were masters at troubleshooting the equipment I ran.
  • I went on the job hunt, even though I was seriously discouraged.
  • I got a few phone interviews, and eventually was flown to a fancy pants place (not NYC) and got to meet even more amazing people in my field. That job didn’t pan out, but it was a fantastic opportunity.
  • I interviewed at a fancy pants university close to where my husband got his first full-time faculty position, but I was still recovering from my depression, so I wasn’t sure whether I was making the right decision.
  • I got an offer and asked about terms of the position, support, culture, I got all questions answered in a manner that gave me the strength to take a leap of faith and jump into the unknown.
  • I suffered a miscarriage, lost my BFF to cancer, lost other dear friends and coworkers to illnesses.

… and just last week I got my performance review for the past year and it went very well. It wasn’t perfect, but the goals set for next year are within reach, and that experience has helped me fuel my system and get really pumped about doing science.

I don’t know what awaits me in the future, but I seriously hope that I get to work at this place for a long time. It has provided hope and stability that both my husband and I needed. It has taught me that I have more to offer, and that negative people can be cut off for good, one can move on and thrive.

20 months in

I had my performance review recently. My second one since I started this job. I look at these things in terms of pass/fail. Looks like I passed, but I do have a lot more to learn and improve. THAT is a huge difference, compared to jobs I’ve had in the past. In the nearly 3 years I was at my previous job, I only got evaluated once, and it was a disaster. I fell into a deep depression. There were other factors that, when combined with the evaluation, made a perfect storm which lead to my eventual diagnosis of depression and anxiety. I look back and it feel as if this was in a different life, even a different person.

I got two thumbs up for doing an honest self-evaluation (I understand why stuff like this is done, but seriously, you don’t want to come off as a total braggart, but you don’t want to do a slob job and fail to recognize the good you did in the past year). The boss said so more than once. And that served to start the conversation (as they call it here).

I have to say that my first year was full of learning, of getting into a whole new mindset. I was walking around very cautiously … it took me nearly two months to let loose and start to believe that I hadn’t messed up by switching places. I wasn’t being treated poorly, I was, however very afraid that anything I did would cause me to lose the job. I was so scarred by the job I was leaving, and the imposter syndrome in me was at an all time high. Once the first year review happened, and I got so much great/constructive feedback I felt pumped to do more. But I fell into a rut … nah, I fell into a comfort zone and took it easy. Even with that, I managed to get some really good things done, and people noticed. I got lots of +++ for my way of treating and interacting with people, they like and appreciate my energy and drive. But, equipment-wise, I let some things slide. At times it felt like I didn’t have the energy to do all that was required of me, and instead of propelling me to do more, I just got so overwhelmed and got stuck in self-doubt.

The boss noticed that and offered some (actually) good feedback and shared some strategies, since he’s been where I’ve been. That is one key difference between my old job and my current one. I’m not being evaluated by someone completely removed from equipment and users. My boss was a lab manager before and though a lot less now, he’s run equipment and fixed stuff like me, so he knows (and remembers!) some of the constraints and pitfalls. Phew.

I was able to lean onto some of my co-workers, who rallied around me when I was sick … when I had the miscarriage in the spring, when I needed extra hands, or to be taught how to fix X or Y machine.

I’m still amazed that I have the job that I have, that I’m surrounded by genuinely smart, capable and HELPFUL people. I don’t know how I fell into all this, but 20 months in, even after some heartbreaks, and headaches, and lots of challenges, I feel like I am where I should be, where I belong. And I still find it surprising because I look around me, and see world-class researchers and ideas, and I have to pinch myself and remember that I’m up, alive and functioning, and that I get to bounce off ideas with these people, that I get to teach their students and trainees, that we have a close relationship with some industry leaders and that this translates into having unparalleled access to world-class equipment, and minds, and resources.

And I’m humbled, because even as small as a cog that I am in this enterprise, I finally feel valued and cherished. I don’t have to raise my voice above the noise to get heard, I don’t have to pound my fists against my desk and get sad and frustrated and feel miserable because I sold myself short and ended up in a place I hate. I don’t. I thought I felt lucky when I went back to my “old” scientific family at my previous job (minus some key players, especially in the administration), but I wasn’t. I did have a job, it kept me clothed and fed, and helped me gain my mental strength back (eventually) … but I am now where I was meant to be, when I am meant to be. And that is incredible, and humbling, and it makes me really, really want to fight for my future and the future of my center. It drives me to continue to dispense advice and tips to each and every one of my trainees. They see how hard I want to fight for their science, for their resources, for their eventual presentations and papers, and that in turn fuels me to do more.

Even though I let some things slide this past year, and I fell into this comfort zone, since the evaluation I have this insane drive, to do, to achieve, to complete. My husband has noticed this and he praises my efforts. He sees when unfair things happen (because they do happen; my job isn’t a fairy tale, it has its challenges and frustrations), and calmly offers perspective and/or cheering when needed. But just the caliber of people I’m around, how their whole attitude is so very different from anything I’ve seen in the past (except in NYC because OMG there were some nice faculty members full of ideas, and money and energy to fuel my drive). And that gives me the strength to move my lab forward, to purchase equipment and fix what’s broken, to make my users happy and always ask for feedback. My students have gotten used to hearing me say: what can I do to make your life and your science more comfortable? It can be something as simple as more padding on a chair they spend the whole night on while collecting or visualizing data. Or it could be a machine, a new centrifuge, a different set of tubes or a faster way to move data. Making THEM happy makes ME happy. And that is my reward (besides any extra $$ that comes around after I get a small recognition for getting things done).

These have been some of the most intense and exciting 20 months of my life. And I hope I get to continue to do this for a very long time.

Pregnancy loss

As some of you know, I lost a pregnancy last week. I was looking forward to being a mom. I’d even started wearing maternity pants because all of the jeans that sat slightly below the waist weren’t cutting it. This pregnancy had been planned, wanted, loved.

I’ve had some great support at home and at work. My husband was able to join me during some of the most difficult times, and all of my trainees sent messages of love, hope and encouragement.

I’m very lucky. I can’t imagine having my miscarriage in the midst of my job from hell two years ago. Coincidentally, the miscarriage occurred on the 2nd anniversary of my “graduating” from my depression and anxiety hospital stay. I looked back, since dates and times are very important to me, and was amazed at both how sad I felt, but also how different I felt. I now have the tools to not obsess over the loss, to understand that nature happens, and no matter how much folic acid and good fats I eat, miscarriages do happen, especially to women my age.

I’ve had a very decent (and fast, IMHO) recovery. I stopped bleeding 5 days after, most of my symptoms were gone in a few days too, my jeans fit once again. My mood comes and goes. I think that because of the hospital stay 2 years ago, along with great meds, I’ve maintained a decent outlook.

Will we try again? Will my fertility remain as it was this last time? Will I be able to be and stay pregnant and deliver a healthy tiny human? Those are the questions I have right now. My ob has been checking hormone levels and mood to ensure that all products of conception are expelled and that my body recovers.

I’m scared of trying … and failing again. The hubs doesn’t blame me, and I feel that this event has brought us closer. It was scary, and very lonely … but fortunately short and nearly painless (that freaked me out a bit because I was expecting to have all the pain and discomfort in the world).

Last week was holy week, and for the first time in my life I spent it as an atheist. It was weird that the miscarriage happened last week, on a week that’s so important to so many people, especially my family. I compare this to how I was 10-15 years ago, and can definitely tell there are big differences: I kept going back to the science of pregnancy and miscarriage, and though I would have done the same when I was a believer, the super conservative part of my psyche would’ve been obsessed with finding out what “sin” or fault caused me to lose my pregnancy. I googled symptoms, read patiently in the waiting room, even with tears streaming down my face. I kept going back to what the science said, what I should expect. Instead of praying to a being, I kept going back to my experience, my body, my feelings, and tuned in with it all. I didn’t want to lose a second, to forget what was happening. I wanted the sounds, sights and feelings to be with me, a part of me. I told my MIL that I felt this peace, and that I knew that if this had happened when I was a Christian, I would’ve been obsessed, angry, sad, but mostly, I would’ve concentrated on trying to find a way to understand why a god would allow me to suffer, since I was a card carrying good Catholic girl and suffering and martyrdom are still signs of being a “good” Catholic. I would’ve questioned that very god probably until the end of my days, trying to understand where I failed as a believer. Instead, I’ve been thinking of just how wonderful and capable women’s bodies are. How we can grow and nurture, and sustain a tiny life and most of the time, bring it into this world. I realize thinking that and being a christian are not mutually exclusive, however, as a non-believer, I’ve chosen to focus on the wonders of the human body. You could say I’m not an atheist but a secular humanist. My loss, even though I called it my baby, our baby, doesn’t negate the fact that I’m still a staunch supporter of choice. What’s good for me isn’t necessarily good for the woman sitting next to me. So many thoughts … such little ability to put in words all the things going through my head.

We’ll see where life takes me next. For now, I’m letting my body rest. I’m trying to sleep well, eat decent (well, better than before I got pregnant, but certainly allowing more doughnuts and chocolate in), let thoughts go in and out and celebrate that I have a working body, a body that sustained life for a bit, a body that understands that sometimes defects happen, and it is programmed to protect me and my organs, and unfortunately get rid of a pregnancy if it detects something’s wrong. I’m thankful too all scientists and researchers working in reproductive medicine, for the ability to see, hear and feel, and for having access to modern medicine and care that allowed me to safely monitor my pregnancy and my miscarriage. I’m thankful I took so many physiology and genetics classes that I’m familiar with checkpoints, pathways, genes and molecular biology. And that all this helped me be at peace during one of the toughest times of my life.

March 31st 2018

I measure certain things in life, things (and events) that are meaningful, on numbers. Numbers of countries visited, how many times I’ve been to Europe, places I’ve interviews, credit score, jobs held.

March 31st, 2018. That’s the date I came up with a few days ago. I was plugging away numbers. And that’s the goal, the end date, of my debt. If all goes well, in a year and 30 days I should be a free woman. I should have all my debts in 0, almost all my accounts/credit lines, reading a big fat 0 … should I keep them open.

Around this time last year I was well on my way to paying 2 debts: credit card #1 (our of 3) and not-my-loan-but-I-was-a-cosigner-hence-I’m-paying debt #1. I was hoping to have cc #2 cleared before the end of the year, but as usual, it didn’t happen. I have added a significant amount of $ to that debt, to the point where there is a comfortable amount of money free, should I have an emergency. I’m paying it off slowly, and hoping that this will be the year I erase that debt once and for all. I still have credit card #3 to pay off, and the send one of my ‘not-my-loans’ loan. Given that those two ‘not-my-loans’ loans were due to my father’s inability to stop himself from going deep into debt, he’s at least savvy enough to look at ways to help me finish that debt ASAP. Should his strategy work (I’m being cautious about it but a little optimistic), I should be free of that burden by early fall of this year.

If/when that happens, I should start making some serious dent on credit card #3. And by March of next year, I should be a free woman. I should be able to save as much as I want, for whatever I want. Some of my goals include: taking over the car payment for a new car my husband and I got (and he’s paying it, but we agreed to split the cost, so he’s paying “his half” until I can take over). It’s been amazing to add a second car to our family, since we’d lived for over a year on 1 car, and I had to do most of the driving. It’s great to be able to work late and for him to drive to my place, grab dinner, then relax at home for the weekend. My car has been paid off for nearly 10 years now (10 years!!!!), and it runs like a well oiled machine. I’m amazed at how taking care of the oil, doing its schedules PMs and fixing minor things (a new battery here and there, some cosmetic fixes, new tires every few years), had managed to get me a reliable little bug, that while old and basic, it takes me from point A to point B without a hitch. I’ve had my car since my first year of grad school. It lived with me in Canada, in NYC, at old job city and now at new job city.

I should be able to increase my contribution to my tax-deferred account, put $$ into my savings account and start working towards the goal of having 3-6 months the equivalent of my expenses, should anything happen. I don’t anticipate much of a chance in my work situation. Honey has a contract, and for now it looks good … but he’s got a new departmental boss taking over in the next year, and a new boss could mean new departmental goals/people (my hubs is not on the TT, he’s a FT lecturer).

It’s insane that nearly 6 years ago I was interviewing back in the States, hoping to get a job in a lab/facility, away from the TT, with benefits. Only to find out that, as I was starting to celebrate my new digs, my dad would admit he’d done really bad money wise and had gone behind my back and wreaked my credit.

It’s taken time to get back in the 700s (my credit got as low as mid 500s!!!).

I sometimes want to pinch myself and ask if this is all real, if I’m truly this close to being debt free. It feels crazy, and insane, and gives me all the feels.

I just hope I’m patient enough and smart enough, to follow through with something, for once in my life, and get to the goal without too many crazy turns.

Living while brown

My husband and I were not raised in the US. We’re (proud) latinos. We excelled in school, got good grades, went to the US and Canada for our fancy degrees. We do cool stuff in the classroom and in the lab.

I can sometimes pass as a white person .. until I open my mouth and start swearing in Spanish. Spanish is my mother tongue .. one I am proud to speak, celebrate, live and breathe.

My husband is brown. He’s got dark hair, facial hair, he’s tall, skinny, uses his hands  more than I do, and speaks Spanish even louder than me. He’s proud of everything he is and everything he does.

We both went to good schools, passed all our standardized tests, got into even better schools, completed PhDs. We’re hard working US citizens, we pay our taxes, he goes to church. We’re not on the lookout for trouble. We’re proud of who we are, but also recognize we’re part of a much bigger picture.

Yesterday, while driving around, he shared that he now carries his passport with him at all times. It’s on the briefcase he uses to carry tests and class materials. He’s even thought of carrying his birth certificate (in English), just so that if he’s stopped, he’ll have proof that he’s a law abiding, brown person, that happens to live in the US.

We don’t carry guns, we don’t like wars, we recycle, we don’t drink or smoke, we were both raised in Christian households …. one would think that all that would be enough to avoid some of the hate and intolerance.

But we know better. We know that the current political climate (and let’s not kid ourselves, as far back as 2001 (when my husband got stopped many times, even while not sporting a beard)), and especially after the 2008 and 2012 elections, brown folks, black folks, people with facial hair and/or hair coverings, they all get harassed and discriminated. A lot.

After the Women’s March we wanted to try a new place in town … a town that’s a liberal den, for the most part. A man saw our shirts (which identified us as participants of the march) and went on a tirade about how protesters should STFU, suck it up, and look for a job like the hard working AMERICANS who voted for the current ruler of this land. He added that if it was up to him, he’d shoot protesters for causing all this mayhem (referring to the people who vandalized property in DC the day before the march).

My husband and I looked at each other and repeated his words in our minds. We held hands, waited till Mr Patriotism vacated the premises and immediately left the local place we were excited to try … because we happen to like supporting local businesses and keeping our hard earned dollars in our town but decided to join forces with thousands of others to denounce racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia.

I feel tired, restless, but also afraid one (or both of us) will get shot. Our jobs (unfortunately) can’t be done by the average folk who depended on (sometimes local, mostly national) manufacturing or mining, or construction, industries. We’re too specialized, invested too much time, in learning a tiny niche, in the grand scheme of our areas of training, to be easily taken over by the fine man who threatened to shoot protestors. We’re part of the liberal elite, disconnected from the fears and struggles of the average Joe. It’s not like my husband teaches about what monopolies do to the local and national economies and why and how that contributes to Mr average Joe with a gun not having a job, a livelihood. It’s not like he teaches about power and class struggles and how lack of regulation of markets, economy and resources affects people’s everyday lives. Nahhh … he’s just smoking a pipe of fancy tobacco, wearing tweed, filing  his nails and telling his students to STFU and grow their hair like hippies … nahh, it’s not like he’s teaching rich kids from the rich parts of Nassau county how to make informed decisions about anything from the products they consume, the decisions that make it easy (or hard) for average Joe to actually get a job. Nahh.

I, on the other hand, scratch my imaginary balls, while killing unborn babies with my lab instruments (FTR, I’ve never worked with human tissue and hope not to). I absolutely DON’T work with local companies to help them understand their products and how to make them better, and expand their services to help revitalize the area. Nahh … that’s stuff big wigs in the cabinet of the emperor with no clothes do.

Ultimately, I don’t know if our differences will be resolved, IF we’ll get to understand each other. But while my living in your neighbourhood and going to work every day does not threaten YOUR existence, your shitty decisions, your hate for what my husband and I do, your lack of understanding, even when we try to communicate what we do … the very decision to call protesters terrorists and tell them to STFU and better yet, threaten to take me and my fellow human, peacefully assemble to protest injustice, to say that racism IS a problem, that sexism HURTS, that not protecting the rights of “the least among you” … all those DO threaten my existence. If you can’t see and accept that, then you may as well erase who I am …. because in your view, I don’t count. I’m nothing, not a human … because I’m not white, don’t practice your exact brand of Christianity, and don’t defend the “rights” that keep me oppressed, and worse, are a death sentence to everyone like me.

Credit scores

IDK if it was due to financial reform or what, but most, if not all, credit card companies seem to be offering (soft check) credit scores these days. I have two accounts that offer such a feature, and thankfully they’re both from different companies (one is Experian, the other is TransUnion). So, as I slowly crawl out of debt, I get to see the impact of being on time all the time. I’m very lucky in that I have a job that allows me to do this. I realize not everyone has this privilege.

If  you’ve been following my story for a while, then you know how much I hated (and still hate) my previous job, and how my economic situation has been since I started blogging (back in 2009!).  I chose to get out of the tenure track back in 2010-11 and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve held 3 jobs, in 3 different places since then, and I finally feel like I’ve found a place I like and where I see myself staying for (hopefully) a long time.

As a consequence of reining in my spending and being a bit more careful with my money, I’ve been able to pay off 3 debts (all of them in 2016, after contributing steadily for years) and I’m on track to finish the two biggest (and last) ones this year.

Based on what I mentioned in the first paragraph, I check my credit score whenever I want. In July of this year, both Experian and TransUnion said I was in the 660 range (my credit score got SO bad due to what I mention here, that I was honestly considering filing for bankruptcy). It got down to 520 at one point, and I remember seeing the letter from my credit card company and just holding my head and saying no. Something had to change. Once I found out what my dad had done, I asked him to give me full control of the accounts. I negotiated some lower payments to keep the cash flowing into those debts, but at the time (2011-2013), I wasn’t able to contribute even the minimum. Lucky for me, the guy in charge of my accounts was kind and understanding and he was willing and able to work with me (thank goodness for credit unions … I can’t say the same for you Bank of America … I hope you rot in hell and I can’t wait to finish paying off my account just so I can call you and say you can shove your card, your interests, and lack of humanity up your ass). Like I said here:

If things continue as they are, I should be nearly debt free by the end of this year. I honestly can’t wait to see what happens. I’m currently sitting at 705 …  not great, but definitely better than 520 or 660.