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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!

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Poor for yet another year

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just can’t catch a fucking break.

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

Delicate issue

Dear All:

Thanks again for your continued support. Words cannot describe how your collective wisdom has helped me while this whole process of finding, applying and finally interviewing for jobs has unfolded.

As always, I have questions, and would like to know what are your thoughts regarding a delicate matter. It concerns contacting my interviewers and asking whether or not they’re still interested in me. I don’t know what’s the etiquette here and would love some perspective. Leave a comment, tweet, DM me or shoot me an email, I’d love to know your opinion. So here we go.

When I got accepted to college I had only applied to two schools, both within the same state university system and I was pretty sure I’d get into one of them, and my department/major of choice as I had the grades and the scores to get in. I got accepted into my top choice, which automatically made me unavailable to the second school within the system (some complicated something, which tells the system that I’ve been accepted and took the offer from school #1). When I applied to my first summer internship, I only applied to one school, which luckily said yes. When I applied for my second internship I applied to 3 systems, 2 schools separately and then an umbrella application which covered applications for 5 other schools. When I was accepted at the separate schools I notified my final one by email and I called them second one. I never heard from the umbrella one. And finally, for grad school, I got letters of rejection from 5-6 of the 7-8 schools I applied, and I called the recruiting officer of the one I declined to notify. All the schools and programs had a date set by which to send acceptance letters and such, and all were very similar, so I felt no pressure to tell a school to hold their breath until I got an offer from another school. I’ve never had to deal with negotiation, and pulling strings and complicated things to tell a school or PI to hold their horses until I’ve considered all offers. I’ve never really had many offers/options to consider.

But, with this job application cycle things have changed. As I mentioned on my earlier entry, I applied to a total of 5 jobs within my area of expertise and got a call from most of them. I also applied to 60 or so other jobs in more general areas, most outside of my expertise, from computer admin, to editor of this or that, to administrative assistant (for real, I was that desperate to get out of my postdoc), to a whole other number of places which I forget. Needless to say, out of those 60 or so non-PhD or postdoc-related are job apps I got a call for one place soon after applying, but it was just a screening call and never materialized. On this more recent cycle I got calls from 2 schools in the States (one in the South, one in the Midwest), a centre in the Northeast, a patent-something something at my current school, and a job in the arctic, near Rainbow Lake, AB (it exists, for realz peeps; no, I’m not going to RL, but it’s darn close to it). Soooooo. Rainbow Lake place has made a very tempting offer. I normally wouldn’t even consider the other two places … but I am. It may be my ego or my 6th sense at play, or both, I don’t know. Or maybe that’s just how I’m wired. Partly because I’m a coward that in some way wants to go back to the familiarity of the US and partly because … well, Rainbow Lake is in the arctic I have my doubts about accepting this offer, or saying yes without factoring in the other two places … if there’s anything to factor. There’s a shit-load of snow at Rainbow Lake and y’all know how much snow et moi don’t get along. Although it’s in the Taiga, it’s supposed to be drier than it is here, and they have both good and bad winters. I’ve been searching everything and anything about this place, and honestly, it looks amazing, and I can picture hon and I living there. I think I’d like it there. It’s not as glam as the location in the Northeast and of course it would take me forever to get to see my family, especially during the holidays. The locations where I interviewed in person (the South and Northeast locations, S and NE respectively) were very nice, and good, solid science is done there … but I did notice a couple of things which worried me a bit, including one of the PIs.

Like I said, I normally wouldn’t hesitate in saying yes to Rainbow Lake, but it’s so far away that I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the idea of driving or taking a plane (or multiple planes) there. It would be similar if I moved to the South again … so that’s one of the less than glam parts of the issue.

But the real issue is that Rainbow Lake wanted an answer last Friday. I had interviewed with them the week I left for S, and I thought I’d done terrible … but aparently it was just my glass half empty mentality. I was able to squeeze in a few more days, hoping that I’d hear something from S or NE locations. I know that NE PI said that they’d take their sweet little time to let me know, and S said I’d have a definite answer by last Friday … still no email or call from them. So, my question dear reader/follower is … do I check in with NE and S PIs and tell them or ask them what’s the deal? If so, how should I go about it? Though I loved each of the 3 strong contenders (RL, NE and S) I’m considering, I only have a solid offer from RL. Is this even an issue? I’d honestly hate to wait forever, lose my chance with the RL group and miss out just because I decided to wait. On the other hand, I don’t want to be rude to S or NE PI … but I don’t know how to approach the subject, if it needs to be approached at all. I don’t know what’s the etiquette and I’d hate making a fool out of myself. I guess my main question is, if I decide to contact each PI and say, hey RL super awesome group of X has an offer … a) how do I let them know that and b) how do I ask if I still have a real chance with them without sounding like an idiot? South PI had mentioned in passing that they had another good candidate, so there was a chance I wouldn’t get a call as first choice, but I’m a bit bummed that they didn’t even contacted me to say, hey, we’re giving candidate #1 the chance, but you’re candidate # 2, or there really isn’t a chance you’ll get the offer. I suck at being assertive, and I’d hate to make a fool out of myself, but again, I’d like to have a really clear picture of what are my options, if I have more than one, and make a decision with as much information as I can. I honestly don’t know if the southern position, location-wise, would be my top choice.  Instrumentation-wise, the NE position would be even better, and I wouldn’t have to prepare any samples, at all (which is a plus in Rainbow Lake also and has me day dreaming about not having to do yet another purification!!!) … but, the PI and one of the higher-ups could become sore spots and NE …

So dear reader, I ask: should I get in contact with the other PIs and ask point-blank, but delicately, what are my chances, or if I even have a chance of getting an offer from them? Should I interpret their silence as them not being really interested in me as choice #1, and I’m more of choice #2, 3 or 4? If it’s OK to ask them, what would be the professional way to go about it? As you can see, I am a complete mess when it comes to this. I can totally kick ass with presentations, writing letters, CV … basically everything pre and during an interview … but when it comes to after-interview manners and situations, I become a moron and my PhD goes down the drain.

I appreciate any and all input and suggestions. I promise to update on my choice of words and final choice in the coming weeks, as things unfold. Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂

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.

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.

To quit or not to quit … that is the question

Sorry for the hiatus. It’s been SO crazy lately. I almost walked into my boss’s office last week as I was having one of those weeks where not only the PMDD was acting up, but also my protein and equipment were driving me crazy ( I was very close to calling it quits).  But this entry is not about me. I’m staying with my job (and crossing my fingers that it will get renewed pronto) but some peeps around me (or the blogosphere) might be venturing into the unknown, and quitting or forgetting about getting their contracts renewed. .

I can’t go into too many details as things are yet to come full circle, but a few months ago I met this lovely postdoc who turns out is just going to be around for a few months while her hubs is looking for a permanent position anywhere they’ll have him (and her). New postdoc is very nice, friendly, from a similar geographical (grad school) area and …. she’s in trouble. Not because of something she did, but because of the group she joined. New postdoc friend appears to be very happy and responsible, BUT her boss is being less than firendly. Mean boss is driving new postdoc friend crazy. So after much talk back and forth and some talks with new and old department chairs she might be leaving her job soon. I feel for her, for very many reasons. As a female, educated in the US, prolific author and new to the department many aspects unite us (except that my boss is “da bomb” and hers is … well, less than nice). Not only is mean boss nasty (and bad mouths the entire lab against the other) but also mean boss is very stingy, to the point where people go into other labs to beg (BEG) for reagents and pippetors (peeps, it is bad).

And this whole situation has got me thinking. About when to call it quits, when you get fired or when you’re simply done and need to move to a different pasture. I can’t say that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been (as a new postdoc in a completely unrelated field as that of my thesis I find this changing and adapting a little bit more than challenging), but I’m trying to learn and process and do things faster and keep myself moving and being productive (others might not see it that way, or so I’ve heard).

I’ve been in this position for almost a year (well, a little less, but who’s keeping the score?). And I’ve heard some of the best and worst advice about staying or quitting in the last few weeks (yes, problems with mean friend’s boss have stretched out for almost a month!). It’s gotten me thinking about what to do and how to refer to this period of time in which you’re transitioning and how to explain it (or not) to future emplyers. Postdoc friend has been at her current position for a little over 2.5 months. Technically she doesn’t need to justify or refer to this time, she might simply say it was something on the side (but I don’t know what’s worse, lying about a previous job or saying you quit because you’re previous boss was/is a nagging bitch). Anyways, the point is that I think my friend has endured enough. If I were her I’d be gone by now. It appears as if she’s tried every single trick and tip to negotiate a better attitude from her boss and she’s yet to see any changes (for the best).

I wish her well, and I certainly hope that she moves on to a bigger and better future, but it’s truly gut-wrenching when you see young, talented, driven people treated the way she is without the department taking a stronger stand and (possibly) getting some counseling so that mean boss can fix her was. Just so you know, if new postdoc friend goes, she’s going to be the 4th or 5th postodoc to leave said group, and overall the 6th or 7th person to get the hell out.