27 and a PhD

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Prada shoes, lab attire or why do I dress like a soccer mom

I do not dress like this ... always ... but I do

The BF and I have been going to bed SUPER late. But it’s not because of that … you and that filthy mind of yours. Well, we’ve had some really awesome conversations regarding us, our future and my job frustrations. I’ve mentioned before that I am overweight. That isn’t changing any time soon due to money, and some issues with my feet. The BF now understands  my frustrations better. My frustrations with the lab, the research and what goes on in this little pretty head of mine.

But this entry is not about that. Well, not exactly. Part of the reason I am depressed is that due to the overweight, and that fact that I work with acid (ie. I made a buffer every 2-3 days, and not just 1L, but tons of it) I dress like a slob.  I do not want to damage whatever amount of decent, “brand name” clothes I have by spilling HCl, or bacteria, or gel stain on me (which I’ve done, trust me, especially the stain). I am a responsible lab member, and I wear goggles and a filthy lab coat whenever I’m making buffers or dealing with cell cultures. Most of the time, at least.

With that said, I cannot begin to understand why is it that some of my fellow lab members, and department mates wear nice clothes, shoes or jewelery to their lab. I would not wear my 2-carat diamond and platinum ring. Nor would I wear a nice pair of Guess jeans, or a gorgeous 180$ Club Monaco blazer.

I cannot begin to wrap my head around why guys and girls at my school (and apparently other schools too) wear stuff that is fresh off the runway. Really. I mean, it’s good to take pride in your appearance. It helps to boost self-esteem, helps you look cute and overall looks better than tapered pants and pair of kicks from the Zach Morris’ era.

But, why is it that Abercrombie it not enough? Why is it that my labmates seem to manage to wear Guess Jeans, and a pair of 120$ flats, and a 70$ Banana Republic “basic” top to grow 12L of E. coli, or prepare 2x 6L of Tris HCl + glutathione pH 7.8? It baffles me. (more…)

Vacation destination

I have not checked my blog in like … forever. It’s been such a couple of really intense weeks, as my days off get closer and closer. I’ve done a thousand and one experiments, left things ready for my coming back and now, I’m so very close it’s surreal. The boss’s excitement is still noticeable and I’m so very happy for that.

Being so close means that I can reveal the destination. The BF and I are going to …. Spain!!!! Oh I’m so very excited. I’ve visited a couple of European countries and I can definitely see myself visiting Spain. We are keeping a somewhat open schedule, and will get to spend a few days at the capital, Madrid. We’re thiking about going to Seville, Cuenca and Toledo, but we’ll see. I’d personally love to go to Granada, but it may be too costly and farther than we want to go (or have time to go). When I’m not doing research on my project I’m doing research on Spain and Madrid. And I’ve also found a few guides for Madrid and surrounding areas, like here and here. I can’t wait to get there. For a few months now I’ve been saving money and exchanging whatever I can into Euros. I’ve been carefully planning outfits, and covering all the bases so that it is an enjoyable experience. I know some spanish, thus I hope we can navigate our way through the country. I’m thinking we’ll mostly stay within the centre and south of Spain. And we also know it’s going to be super, super hot. Therefore I’m taking a bunch of shorts, a dress or two, comfy shoes and a bottle of water so I stay hydrated.

We leave in a few days and will be there until mid-July. I certainly won’t be able to update from there, but I hope to have my own guide (photos included!) or at least an entry or two about what we did and how we spent our vacation.

More to come in mid-July! Au revoir. Adios!


***** 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 🙂

Q & A from search terms

Looking for something to write about, besides work, I enlist the help of the trusty WordPress search terms to answer more questions about grad school. These are just my opinions, so they don’t need to be regarded as the official word of the grad school lords, but some of these answers have been passed on to me, and others are just part of my experiences while getting the PhD. Here we go.

  1. Is the PhD qualifying exam hard ? – per usual, whenever I get a question about quals I direct readers to my entry on how my own qual went on. Check it out here. The qual exam basically serves to test the knowledge acquired over the 1st year or two of grad school. Depending on your school’s or department policies it may be super comprehensive, or just about your own topic of research. Mine was comprehensive in the sense that I got asked questions about biology, basic biochem, biophysics, along with more targeted questions about the research I was proposing. It can be hard in the sense that there might be tons of material to read in what appears to be very, very little time. My advice would be to familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures about quals, and start doing background research on the topic (or possible topics), especially if you know you have certain deficiencies. Consult books, reputable websites, review articles, or maybe even one or two of your profs who might be a great source of info. The more prepared you are, the more bases you’ve got covered the better you’ll do.
  2. PhD first year achieve little – I think that this is very common during your first and maybe even 2nd year. There are interdisciplinary programs which might require you to take classes for longer than if you had entered directly through a department. Therefore it is very normal to feel like very little was accomplished during the start of your grad career. My best advice is that as long as you’re learning, whether is hands on or not, you’re still learning. Learning and training with the basics is very important so that when it’s time to do your research at full speed. Also, if a considerable amount of time has passed and you feel like things aren’t going anywhere meet with your committee, talk to your boss, and be ready to change directions. Two things are very important, a) to not compare yourself with every single person from your class, and b) to know when it’s time to move along if the project looks like it’s not going anywhere.
  3. Things to get PhD grad – I’m thinking that this refers to what to get to a recent PhD graduate. In my case I was moving almost 800 miles away from where I did my degree, thus I knew I had tons of things to sell, donate or throw out, so I was most thankful for not getting furniture, or heavy things. I was very happy to get money, which was scarce at the time as I had to pay for the moving equipment, gas, lodging along the way, a worker’s visa and the 1st and last month’s rent (apparently) this is very normal in Canada, while where I lived before you only had to give a tiny amount for deposit and the 1st months rent. Jewelery is also a nice things to get a PhD grad. I don’t see anything wrong or not polite with asking the grad what he or she really wants. A nice vacation is also a great gift, but unless you have limitless resources it will be hard to get this one. A tie or a piece of clothing or accessory for the defense is also a nice happy and thoughtful way of gifting the grad.
  4. How much does it cost to move to grad school – I don’t have exact numbers, but you end up paying a few thousand dollars, in general, especially if you’re moving across the country (like I did). You have to consider that you’ll probably need to visit a time or two to look for a place to live. Then there are the expenses associated with driving (your car or a moving vehicle), your deposit, lodging along the way if you’re moving across the country or several hours away, gas, food, and furnishing your place. You may also need to purchase renter’s and car insurance if you already don’t have the latter one, and the initial costs of setting things up, moving or acquiring the furniture. All these are some of the things to consider (electricity, phone, cable, internet, water, etc are also part of this equation), so, as you can see it can go from a few hundred bucks to thousands in a matter or a few blinks. What I did was that I packed up stuff I would need (books, clothing, some small furnishings) and sent those ahead via the USPS, then packed my everyday clothes, shoes and other essentials and traveled by plane. I did do a visit prior to moving to find an apartment (expenses included transport, lodging, food, taxi and a bit of sight-seeing after the apartment was  scored, as well as deposit). I had been saving for the last 6 months of my undergrad. I saved about 3K and ended up putting some things on the credit card, so this gives you a general idea. Some schools might offer a tiny stipend for moving, while most schools I know of don’t, so keep this in mind. Also, keep in mind that it may take up to an entire month for you to start receiving your stipend money, so factor that into the equation.
  5. How do I manage my PhD stipend? – this is SUPER important. Especially if you’re carrying debt from undergrad or master’s degree. I’ve written a few posts about how I did NOT managed my money wisely while I was in grad school. To try to avoid my mistakes please read here and here. Know that you’ll more than likely be paying for rent, so factor that into the equation, along with insurance costs for the apartment and transportation if you will be driving to school. Factor in also parking and recreation activities (universities are crazy about charging grad students for rec fees associated with using (or NOT) the gym, so take this into account), health insurance is usually included in your package, but may not include a dental and vision care. Any expenses associated with medicines you take (for say high blood pressure or diabetes). Money for food is also something to take into account. And you may be paying for credit cards, so keep that in mind. The general areas where my grad student stipend went were as follows: a) rent (about 20-30% of my take home pay), b) car and apartment insurance, c) cell, power and cable+internet costs, d) minimum payment to 4 credit cards (at the time), e) monthly payment for my car (about 10-15% of my take home pay), f) food and grooming (shampoo, soap, undies), g) tithing, h) if there was something left, entertainment. So, this gives you an idea of the areas the money had to be distributed in. I finished paying my car a few months before my defense, and some of the money was funneled into paying off one of the credit cards. My last apartment was also the cheapest place where I lived, and my car insurance premium went down. I also started cooking more at home to save some cash and I stopped tithing.

Saturday outing – a traveling couple

I joke sometimes with the BF that we are a traveling couple since our first date took place between NYC and Boston (we absolutely LOVE Bean town) and ever since then we’ve traveled to many, many places … particularly since the BF likes to go on little outings during the weekend.

I love to travel, I do, but in the cold weather it’s kinda hard, especially when I don’t know any super awesome tricks to de-fog the windows in the car.  So sometimes I’m a bit …. mmmm, anal about traveling, especially if driving is involved. I do the driving because a) it’s my car, b) I’m a control freak, and c) the BF is awesome with the GPS his parents got us for Xmas a few years back.

So today we went close to Lake Huron. During the summer we were in a lovely town, about 45 minutes from home, but there are a whole bunch of other little towns around the lakes. We’ve been to one of the cutest towns ever, one called Niagara-on-the-Lake which has a quaint Main St. filled with lovely little shops. Today’s town was no exception. Many little stores filled with glassy-artsy things, colourful clothes and a few with some very pricey tags. Nonetheless I managed to score a lovely and colourful mouse for the BF’s mom, a lovely owl dish (tiny, less than 5 in), and a kitty cat with a springy tail. I heart cats like you have no idea. Then we went to a jewelry/metal store where the had a BOGO sale, and I scored 2 lovely pairs to earrings, with squares and colourful bits.

We drove back to our place, stopped to get a cup of hot cocoa (with soy milk) and on I went to look at snow boots. Poor girl at the mall .. I feel for her. I went in to the store, tried about 3/4 pairs, left with none. Then, when we finally got home I scored a pair of snow shoes from Landsend for 35$, shipping included.

Overall it was a lovely day. I’m super happy with the findings, and most of all, the BF is happy because we didn’t spend the day bored at home, instead we visited Lake Huron, all frozen (or at least as far as we could tell), all lovely. Now I have to start collecting and storing all the ornaments and candles, and such.

How was your weekend?

End of the year MeMe

I love doing memes …. just because I enjoy reading them years later to see how things were in the previous years, and what and how things have changed since. Without further delay, here’s my 2009 meme:

An end of the year analysis… in meme form.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Moved out of my “home” away from home for 6 years and into a different country and culture.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I’m not a huge Resolution person. But I did moved out of the States, into Canada and finished my degree. I also got to learn new methods for doing research (new to me anyways) and moved in with the boyfriend for the second time in my life (well, previously he was the one to move in with me).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Mmmmm, not that I remember now. My sis did get preggo.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Mmmmm, not so sure, I don’t think so.

5. What countries did you visit?

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Mmmm, less debt, less weight and more peace family-wise. A better understanding of my research project and expectations from the boss and a happier attitude towards life.

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory?
July X, 2009 …. the day I finished my PhD.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finishing the PhD.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not paying off my debt sooner and not meeting as much with the new boss as I should have.  Oh, and not taking the phone to place a call to a certain postdoc from hell who behaved like an idiot and a selfish bastard with the last paper stemming from my thesis.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A stupid flu that I thought was the H1N1.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Mmmmm, health insurance in Canada …. and my yellow purse?

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
My mom and my BF’s prior to my defense …. too much undeserved patience. Oh and my upstairs neighbour from the States who bought like 130$ in furniture.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Stupid postdoc from hell.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Moving …. and moving related expenses, and starting up in Canada.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
New job, moving and my Xmas gifts. Oh and my new shows and my 89$ Parka from Joe …. Joe I love YOU!

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2009?
A few oldies. I cut cable off at the beginning of the year to save some $ for the move and tuned off VH1 and MTV. I occasionally liked a song or two from watching The Hills.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
1. Happier or sadder? Happier since I don’t have a thesis to worry about.
2. Thinner or fatter? A few people at home have said that I look thinner than last year. I do not believe them, but maybe I am.
3. Richer or poorer? Debt-wise about the same, but my car is paid off and I’m not getting slammed with thousands of $ “health insurance” and “activity and recreation fees” from school … really, do grad students have to pay for a gym while they don’t have the time or energy to lift a finger?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Traveling and photography.  Oh, and sleeping.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Complaining and not sleeping.

20. How will you be spending/did you spend Christmas?
At home with my family, juggling between attending church with my mom, helping my sis move out of my parent’s house, and spending a few short hours with the BF.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
The BF texting, an my mom on Skype.

22. Did you fall in love in 2009?
More and more with the same adorable guy.

23. How many one night stands in this last year?
None; though it would have been interesting to have one or two with the BF, hehe.

24. What was your favourite TV programme?
OMG, Little Mosque on the Prairie and The City.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I dislike a lot of people, but hate is kinda strong.

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Baking Cakes in Kigali

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Vedera .. from The Hills

28. What did you want and get?
A completed thesis and defense, a first author paper, a successful move and more vacay time.

29. What did you want and not get?
Even more money, tons of undies, more cool music and better spending habits.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
Mmmm, a few, mostly indie ones. I can’t remember all their names.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 25 + 3, I think I spent it alone since the BF and my mum were traveling to see me a few days later.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Finishing earlier and getting that darn postdoctoral fellowship, also getting the first author place on MY second thesis aim paper.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Sadly none. There are styles I like but probably can’t pull off and I’m afraid of being too out of the box, so I stay with jeans, snickers and a basic tee.
34. What kept you sane?
The BF and my mum.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Mmmm, trying to think … Penelope Cruz … probably.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Healthcare bill in the US and same-sex marriage, both of which should pass because the government shouldn’t intrude in people’s bedrooms and conservatives should shut up, and a supposedly “big” country should have a universal, affordable way of caring for their sick.

37. Who did you miss?
A few southern eateries and the family.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Lab tech, insanely knowledgeable and talented … and patient.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
It’s OK to think outside of the box, and to talk things over before making a huge fuss about a misunderstanding.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

Not a clue. I’m too tired to remember.