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Let them eat persistence, as Chemjobber would say

Coincidentally, Belle discusses the same issue here. Go on and read. Then come back.

You know I’m intrigued by job trends, job searches, success stories while looking for something to do in science besides the TT, etc, etc. I tend to RT a lot of stuff about the state of the job market, career advice type things and I also write about my “alternative” career in science.

Yesterday I noticed a link on my Twitter timeline about **Chemjobber’s reaction to a letter written by the executive director and CEO of the American Chemical Society on the job (lack of positions) situation for chemists.  Ms. Jacobs mentions that compared to other disciplines, the state of unemployment for chemists is below 5%, and that such a figure is good news. In addition, she comments on a post I read over at the WaPo, where a mother tells her daughter (or would like to) that even if she likes science, math, engineering, etc, she should not pursue a career in any of those fields, as job cuts, lack of funding and many other factors will make it difficult, if not impossible, to secure a position later on. Chemjobber does a superb job of writing on the subject, go check it out. I happen to agree with the post.

Chemjobber’s reaction is that this mentality of trying to keep going, despite the bleak economy, is not going to feed anyone, or bring money to the table. I couldn’t agree more. If you’re curious, I wrote about my experience looking for a job between October of 2010 and June of 2011 extensively (see here, here, here, here, and here). Looking for a job during those months was a bitch. I was depressed because of things going on in the lab, and the crappy economy, and the fact that I had no clue of what I wanted to do, and once I found out a possible route, finding job postings in areas that were not remote, or crazy (like Rainbow Lake, AB), or that had decent pay, reduced even more the pool of possible openings. In addition, some searches were closed due to lack of funding. It was a bitch (didn’t I say that already, oh yes, but I want to make that point SUPER clear). I was lucky, blessed or whatever with the chance to find a job. But it was tough. I felt like giving up. I even considered ending my life at the lowest points of the search.

Many, many times I considered quitting science, kissing goodbye to the possibility of securing a position and seeing my name in publications, and doing God knows what. The level of despair and anguish (yes, anguish, frustration, despair, annoyance, the feeling of worthlessness) was almost intolerable. When I finally secured a job, I faced (and still do) many money constraints, and of course I make significantly less than my male colleagues with similar preparation (I also found out that the super in my building makes the same amount of money I do, while being an electrical engineer in his home country. What the everliving fuck?).

Would I tell my 20 year old self to stop dreaming and try to make a career in something else based on what I’ve learned? Could I possibly tell my 18, or 20-year old self to forget about plain biology and go into biotech or chemistry, or heck, do a double (or triple) major, learn computer programming and become a math or physics wiz? You betcha I would. Do I love science any less? I don’t care what you may think (whether you call me a sell out), I truly love science. It just doesn’t pay to do it. And don’t get me all riled up saying that if I’m looking for a way to make money, then I’m in it for the wrong reasons. You couldn’t be more wrong. I happen to think that it should be possible to make a decent living, and not worry about whether you have enough money to pay for cereal and milk at the start of the week (yes, even as a staff scientist, even with a flexible spending account, when you’re in debt due to your own doing and that of certain family members, you’re in a very dark place, a very deep hole). I’m not talking about buying organic produce or being able to afford sushi … I’m talking about buying the basic stuff that you need to have breakfast, lunch or dinner and not worry about trying to charge it to your credit card because you still have 1 more week to go until the next check. It sucks. And I was not expecting this when I went into science.

I went into science because I like it, but I wasn’t sure of where to go, or where to turn. I went in it thinking that I’d be able to make a decent living, start a family at some point, afford a decent vacation every couple of years. I didn’t go into thinking that I wanted to drive a BMW by age 30 or have a net worth of 300K by age 35. I wanted to make a decent living, afford a decent place to live, go to the movies once a month and be able to afford to get a haircut (even at your corner Hair Masters) more than twice a year. I wasn’t expecting that there would be 500 people behind me with a similar background and even a worse economic or family situation competing for the same 3 jobs.

It was, and it is, a very sobering situation to live through. It is not right, it is very depressing and if you let it, it will eat you at the very core. A condescending look, finger wag, or pat on the back telling you that you should have gone into business or become an entrepreneur  won’t make up for the years, and tears, you’ve invested in this path, only to be greeted with a lack of jobs, lack of funding, lack of everything, once you stop being a grad student or postdoc (heck! even while you’re still training you could face that). It is a very hard situation to live in, to worry about whether you’re going to get evicted, or how are you going to afford to move to NYC for your first job, when you have 400$ at most to survive for two weeks prior to your first check. It is fucking hard.

If I could go back and tell something, anything, to my 18 year old self, I’d say, think of money first, not because it’s right, but out of necessity. What you like now, may not provide a way to keep a roof above your head in the coming years, even in a seedy side of town (hello Jamaica, Queens). Be smart, be proactive, study hard, but also network hard, take tough classes, stay in college a bit longer, become proficient in things you never thought you’d need, don’t just memorize, really think things through. And for all that is holy and good, consider whether you’ll achieve similar results or a similar path with a master’s before you embark on the PhD. Try to get a job sooner rather than later. Realize that positions are slim in your chosen field, and while you may be very well prepared, and come from a respected lab, so are the 100, or 1000 others who saw that same ad. And don’t drink the Kool-Aid when it comes to going into science to become a TT, you’ll finally realize you don’t want to become one, and it will feel like it is too late to change paths.

It is a hard pill to swallow, it’s humbling and sometimes humiliating. Hope, faith and persistence don’t feed a family. That’s just something I experienced (then again, I’m just a tiny data point in a huge landscape of numbers). Thinking things through, having a plan B, all the way to a plan F are good strategies. But even if you’re as prepared as you can be and have the ability to move and stretch as needed, there’s a point where your tolerance will hit a limit. There’s a point where you’ll start questioning whether your profs and granting agencies, and all their promises to brilliant minds, coming stars, women who happened to be minorities, will materialize. It is a bitch when those dreams happen to be just castles built up in the air. I can only think of the victims of Bernie Madoff and feel a bit of their pain … it feels like a giant Ponzi scheme.

While it is good and holy to try to make it in science, or any of the other paths of STEM, it is very, very hard, and you face lots of hurdles, be it family constraints, lack of money, poor money decisions, or how transient some of these positions are (or all of the above). Have a back up plan, but also, lobby hard so that the average citizen, your local politician, and the CEO of the organization that supposedly represents you and your interests, help create jobs, permanent jobs, jobs that pay, jobs that are fair, jobs that are based on something more than persistence and thin air.

Note: I normally try to stay calm and out of “trouble” but having lived through months of despair during the job search, reading email after email from readers like you about what to do after the PhD and/or postdoc when job prospects are bleak, knowing what it feels like to be the ‘token latina’ of your class (or department) I felt I needed to speak up. Finding a job in science is a job on its own. Combine that with dwindling funds, poor money choices, living away from every family member you can stand and it sets the stage to get me out of my shell and take a stand on the job market for scientists. Yes, in order for innovation to happen we need brilliant minds and hands to do the job. But if no one is willing to pony up the money and grant some sort of security .. then, is it really worth to devote your career, get of k3rn3d, only to be spit right out and kissed goodbye? It’s not worth it for me. Call me a coward or sue me. I just happen to think it’s insane to try to sell the impossible dream, as I like to call it.

** Thanks to @chemjobber for making sure I spell hir name right!

Resolutions 2012 – 5 months in

Here’s how things are going five 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 even more. So, without further ado, here’s what I hope to accomplish have accomplished 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 I’m 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.  *** I did get my driver’s license and I got the papers for transferring the title … one step at a time.
  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. I did, and I did attend my nephew’s birthday. I love that little bundle of awesome 🙂
  6. Attend hon’s defense and graduation. We can call honey Mr 30 and a PhD.YAY!
  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. I have no money to attend, and work won’t cover it unless I pay in advance, so not this year.
  9. Appear on a publication, even if it’s just 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).

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).

Resolutions: 2012 edition

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.
  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.
  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).
  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.
  15. Find a good, local brewery and try a new beer every month (suggestions are more than appreciated, also #drunksci).

See also:

Resolutions 2011

Resolutions 2010

Things nobody tells you before starting grad school

I may sound like a broken record. Always complaining about grad school this, job that. Maybe I’m in a funk. Who knows. But basically that last entry about the overproduction of PhDs has given me some food for blog. Especially now that I’m done with all this thesis business and doing a postdoc.

When I started grad school I saw it as a way to have time to think about what I really wanted to do with my future. I was 21, very insecure, thinking I’d marry off some rich guy and not worry about the future, and I’d forget all about school. Mmmm, the part about finding the rich husband was only partially true ;-). But I saw it as a time to explore options. After all, there was that pesky thing called qualifying exam, so if half way through the grad school adventures I found myself liking something else I’d jump the grad school ship and move on. Or so I thought. So much for devoting time for soul-search. I like to finish what I start, so leaving grad school half-way without finishing what got me there in the 1st place was not going to be that easy.

But with all the hustle of grad school I never really sat down to think “hey, the field might be saturated and this may be all the publishing you’ll get done, you’ll have to think of something else to devote your life to if you want to be a breadwinner someday.” I was also very clear in what I liked and didn’t and I truly felt like I’d found my niche. I was happy in my little lab corner, doing cool biology and not caring about a thing. Until that glorious day in 2009 when the defense happened. (more…)

Postdoc taxes, a semi guide for US postdocs in ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resolutions

***** 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.