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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!
Aaaaaaargh. I really don’t know if 2011 was crappier than 2012 thus far. I know, I have a new job, and I shouldn’t complain, but every month something happens that leaves me out of breath (and mostly, out of money). In January I started the year pissed off … somewhat. I didn’t get to see my family for Christmas and that had me in a bad mood. In February, I lost my unlimited metrocard two days after purchasing. I had to call the MTA and they did a partial refund, but I still had to purchase another metrocard (not unlimited) until I got the refund. Then we got a new staff member in the lab, and of course, my boss had to display his superior skills of being a bully in front of the new person. I was very happy that day. Then in March I applied (and got an interview by phone) for a job back home. The prof was so-so, and I didn’t get an offer (that’s OK, I still have my job that I really like). Then I did my taxes. I got a federal refund which had to be completely funneled to paying Canadian taxes. And because I only lived in Canada part of last year, I didn’t get the usual standard deduction. I had saved some money, but still, it was a bitch. And I ended up with over 2K to pay to the Harper and his cronies (why Canada, why the hell did you vote for this idiot, the clear choice was the NDP, as the liberals had no standing, come on!). And because NY is a great state to live in (hell to the no), I was slapped with a State AND city tax bill. Luckily my tax guy was able to help me cut the losses on the state by adding what I paid in Canada, but I still ended up paying city taxes because guess what … the idiots at HR didn’t give me the state form. I had a tiny, tiny raise at the beginning of the year, which is now non-existent, as what I got is exactly what’s taken out for city taxes. Finally in May I got to see my family thanks to my wonderful sister’s generosity. But I almost didn’t make it because when it came time to move my car to the alternate side parking place for the days I was going to be away, I discovered that it didn’t start. Some mice ate some cables and stuff and I ended up paying 300$ in repairs. You may say, but 27, you can get rid of it. I sure can, but when every time you’re going to do what needs to be done to sell it, you get slammed with a new issue (be it the car, the city taxes, illness or your missing metrocard), it really sucks all the air in your lungs. It’s like being sucker punched every few weeks.
The best part is that now I have to move. I signed a lease for about a year last year and I was ready to renew it. In truth is a sublease with my roommate. It worked great because I got the city view without being in the city. I know and love the neighbourhood, I had kitty with me and I had a big room with an A/C. And now she needs to move in with her BF, as she’s expecting. I found about it days after returning from my break at home. I left me speechless and breathless. Now I’m apartment hunting again, a “sport” that I hate. And because my savings account are low, it’s going to suck some more if I have to pay several months of security and this and that. And don’t even get me started on the move itself. I should have a tipping jar for my blog. But it feels wrong to ask for money. I need a second job for sure. Ugh.
Oh, and I forgot … I accidentally dumped some food on my little computer. Now half of the keyboard doesn’t work. It makes strange noises whenever I restart, and the brightness control doesn’t work, so it’s always dark. I managed to get a tiny and cheap keyboard … but I do need a new computer. Now I just need to sell my soul on eBay to get it. DFS
Can’t give too many details but, there is a possibility of work in the States. In a couple of days I leave Canada. I’m packing away my life of 2 years in Canada and 6 years in grad school city to move to the unknown. I have to downsize drastically, and sadly I have to move alone, as hon will stay in Canada to finish his studies. I can/will leave my things in Canada and it’s possible I get reimbursed once I’ve completed the move, but first I have to spend money.
I got a call from one of the places I had visited earlier this year. The place was very welcoming and nice. I liked that almost everyone is/was a staff scientist and that I wouldn’t have too many people to share my working quarters with. I don’t hate people, I don’t mean it like that. But, rather than sharing office and lab space with 15 people, it’s possible I get my own (looooong bench space), and maybe a bit of office space (but the offices and lab quarters are way apart, so people mostly stay at the bench). It’s a science place, but it’s neither industry nor academic.
I’m going back to what I know, but applied to something completely different. I may get a “fancy” title with the word ‘scientist’ in it (it’s true peeps, I’ll get to introduce myself from now on as some sort of fancy scientist). In paper I should be getting more moolah, but in practice I’ll be taxed on 3 levels (city, state and fed), which will invariably have me seeing a lot less money than I would have wanted (I did negotiate, but there’s no way to compensate for taxes, and no, I’m not complaining about taxes, it’s my civic duty and I’m happy to do it).
I’m thinking of renaming the blog ‘female scientist and homeless’ because I barely have money to move to uber-cool-city-with-great-science-and-too-small-apartments and I may not see more money for a long time. Possible new place of work will provide a roof over my head for a couple of days (read, a couple). I have a couple of (very, VERY) distant family members, and a grade-school “friend” who live there, but (sadly) can’t play hosts for me while I get my feet off the ground (in an ideal world I’d be happy to crash on somebody’s couch for 1-2 months while I get started, but reality is a bitch, and I don’t have any money, for realz). And because uber-cool-city-with-great-science-and-too-small-apartments is cool, landlords need to see a lot of moolah in all sorts of deposits and this and that prior to letting me in one of their (possibly not so fancy) apartments. I won’t have a car, furniture or even pots and pans to survive the first days (or months, at this stage, who knows who long it’s going to be). I’m taking a sleeping bag, and hoping I can pick up enough loose change on the streets of uber-cool-city to buy a pump and sleep somewhere (I’ll investigate whether there are showers at (possible) new job).
So, to summarize, I (may) have a job (I haven’t exactly signed anything, so to me, it’s not real at all, and based on the last 6 months they could back out at the very last-minute) which requires me to move back to the States, to a state I’ve never lived in, to a complete unknown, which is hard for me to swallow since I’m a type-A, planner-to-the-max kinda person. Yeah, I want to pull my hair to say the least these days.
We’ll see how that goes. Oh, and I’ll also turn 30 alone and (possibly) homeless. I am strongly considering renaming the blog female scientist and homeless.
Dear!! Oh my, how I miss writing. I’m happy to be back. I’m back on my medicine and feeling so happy and relaxed. It’s incredible the relief one feels once PMDD is not wreaking havoc on one’s system. This week has been exceptional. On monday I showed the boss some very preliminary results on a complex I’m trying to form. Oh my, for the first time in ages my boss was not only smiling, but really excited. And I guess those things and gestures are contagious, as I spent the rest of the week on a natural high :-). By the week’s end I had some results on a second project I just started working, and again, the boss was super smiley. And then … I asked the question I had been dreading to ask for a little while …. if it would be OK to go on vacay for a few days.
I’ve always been very apprehensive about vacation time since I feel like a boss would say no (especially after an experience I had back when I was a grad student). Briefly, I went on vacay with the boyfriend to Europe. On my way back I traveled again 3 more times (2 of them for weddings) and the boss was not too keen on that. I was bummed. Because I felt like I had been giving my best, I had 3 publications behind me, and yet, it was not enough. That year I only visited my family for a very shot time during the winter break, even though I was entitled to taking more than 10 days off. Since then, I’ve been very hesitant when it comes to ask for time off.
I paid attention to the advice a friend in the lab gave me, waited to have results for both projects I’m working on, and then after presenting them, I casually mentioned that I wanted to take time off. The boss said no problem, seemed interested when I mentioned the location, and said “have fun”. Have fun??!! AWESOME!!!!!
I was on cloud 9 for the remainder of the day. And now I want to work harder and better, and have several things purified and waiting for when I come back.
I’m going back to Europe, and will be spending some time in Spain. I’m leaving by then end of the month and come back mid-July …. YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY. I hope to provide a small guide on the sights and places I visit .. and may even provide a photo or two … but not featuring me …. of course! I’m thinking about a couple of posts I want to write. I certainly hope to post something before the end of June (and before leaving for vacay!).
***** 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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.