27 and a PhD

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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.

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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.

Near the end of the F year

I have to say that, career-wise, 2016 has been a good year for both my Mr and I. We’ve been doing pretty decently at work, managed to get away for about a week in the summer, got to spend a good chunk of the year together, and we’re gearing up to spend the holidays with our families. Phew.

But the world, the US, science, pop culture … well, it’s been a pretty crappy year all around.

I’m glad we’re near the end of this year. 2017 promises (at least in my head), to be a year of lots of achievements and completing goals … so we’ll see.

I think I’m ready to write down some resolutions for the coming year. As a reminder, here are the things I hoped/wanted to achieve by the end of this year:

  • Pay off/eliminate at least two of my 5 debts. Done and done. I eliminated two debts by June of this year. I really wanted (and worked hard) on eliminating a 3rd. However, I did charge some things (like getting a new battery, new brakes and some other work done on my car) to my card … so I didn’t do this third one.
  • Finish training (and feel confident in teaching) on a new tool in my  lab. It’s really a work in progress. Every week I learn something new … but I still have lots more to go through.
  • Get a good (if not great) review …. and perhaps a raise. Done and done!
  • Attend a conference, or at least a workshop. Done. It was so cool.
  • Have a mini emergency fund (ie. $1000) available before the end of the year. Was pretty close to achieving it, however, between the trip home and some other stuff, I’m only 20% done on this resolution.
  • Do our taxes ASAP (and find out IF we’re getting a refund). Did and applied the refund, in full, to my second of 3 credit cards. I hope that if I do get another refund this year, I can add to cc #2 and put it in the paid off list.
  • Go home for Christmas. ‘Nuff said. Yeah baby!!
  • Appear on a publication, even if just in the acknowledgements section. Always a fave resolution of mine. Not on a publication (yet), but I was acknowledged in a couple of presentations and posters … I call that a start.
  • Get a couch, or at least a recliner … since mine were left behind in the move (boo). Didn’t do. However, I did find the same couch I had, online and perhaps next year I can buy it.

Not on the list but still worth mentioning:

  • Finishing most months on the black!!
  • Visiting NYC for work and pleasure more than I thought possible 🙂
  • Getting a freakin’ new laptop!!!! I mean, I love my iPad .. but I still prefer having a physical keyboard and a bigger screen.
  • Buying a car. So hon can go to school and do groceries and not have to wait until I made it home.
  • Donated a lot of clothes. Recycled a good chunk of boxes and moving supplies. Organized closets and furniture. Trying to be a minimalist (still not perfect … not even close, but dang it, has the idea of minimalism been a catalyst for good things/changes.
  • Met a couple of Twitter peeps in the flesh.
  • Ventured into Canada twice! Both times were to places I’d never been!

For 2017, I hope to achieve/do:

  1. Pay off cc #2 and pay off a good chunk of cc #3. Maybe get rid of my not-in-my-name-debt-but-still-paying-anyway.
  2. Go on and spend some time with my students and pick up some of the cool stuff they do with their samples. Be better at troubleshooting stuff I’m currently not so well versed.
  3. Get another good review. A raise too, maybe?
  4. Go to a workshop or conference … hopefully a high profile one.
  5. Complete my emergency fund and finalize the rollover of my old retirement account into a new one.
  6. Do our taxes before mid-February, and if possible, apply whatever refund I get to cc #2, or maybe #3 if I stick to my guns and pay off what I can but I’m scared of (my mind is really a work of … who knows, I’m a little kooky).
  7. Go home for Christmas. And save money and not go through all my vacation time.
  8. Definitely appear as a co-author, or at least in the acknowledgements. I simply can’t give this one up.
  9. Go to the dentist and get a nice check up (after all, I do have dental coverage).
  10. Perhaps lose a few pounds.
  11. Put some of the money that (hopefully) will become available once I’m closer to being debt free into either my retirement account or a high yield savings account.
  12. Develop better organizing and scheduling habits so I can try to be available (and efficient) on as many instruments as possible (I do have a lot of instruments under my belt … kinda scary).
  13. Cook at home more often and bring leftovers for lunch.
  14. Get to work earlier/leave earlier.
  15. Open a separate savings account, perhaps with a local credit union/bank and deposit some $$ I have that’s been sitting in my drawer for way too long.

 

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.