Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A change in the tides

I don't know what kind of president he'll be. He might screw up, he might not do everything he promised. He'll compromise on things that I think shouldn't be compromised (gay marriage for one). And he probably won't change the way that Washington operates as much as he would like to.

But damn. It feels good to have a president who shares my values again.

Can I get an Amen?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wait, do you work here?

2009 has gotten off to a kind of rocky start. In addition to finding out that Husband’s change in funding source meant a net decrease in take home pay (and that he doesn’t qualify for his institution’s retirement benefits because he’s apparently a “new” employee), my paycheck dropped as well as our health insurance premiums quietly jumped 33%.

But the thing that really has me down this week was a more long-term stressor. Husband and I want to have a second child, and I’ve always been biased towards trying to space the children fairly close together. I was hoping for 2 years between babies, but with Husband’s job search happening a year later than we had hoped, we figured three years apart would be the most practical. Which would mean trying to get knocked up sometime this summer.

As we try to figure out where the hell we’re going to get the money for a second child, I tried looking into what the maternity leave policy would be now that I’m being paid by a private fellowship instead of off my boss’ grant. I couldn’t find any information on family leave in my Fellow’s Handbook, so I contacted the American Cancer Society directly. The response shocked me.

No paid parental leave. As in 0.00 days of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Instead they offer to put the grant on hold until I return to the lab and extend the grant termination date.

I was really taken aback by their response. In 2008, the NIH extended their parental leave benefits from 30 paid days to 60 paid days of leave. Damon Runyon offers their fellows 12 weeks of paid leave. So I was really really surprised by the ACS policy of no paid leave.

It’s really frustrating. As a postdoc, you don’t accrue vacation days or sick leave or personal holidays. Postdocs are often in a weird unclassified vortex of suck. We’re not employees, we’re volunteers… who happen to have bosses and get a paycheck. We sometimes qualify for benefits. Sometimes not.

I know that I’m lucky to have a paycheck and health insurance and some stability in my employment. But I’m getting old here, people, and it’s frustrating to feel like I still don’t have a “real” job. Instead I’m still stuck in the confusing world of not-quite-an-employee. It makes me feel like I’m still a grad school.

I’ve contacted one of the officers of the Postdoc Association here at the University to see if I have other options, and I’m waiting to hear back. But I’m frustrated and grumpy.

I’ve also started reading “Nickeled and Dimed” to remind myself just how lucky I am.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An open letter...

To the lady who happens to take the 6:30 a.m. bus with me from the Park and Ride:

It is 6:30 in the morning. I am a pretty polite person in general, but you should be able to tell from my body language that it is too early in the morning to engage me in a conversation about the weather, the bus system, or about pretty much anything at all. Until I get in a cup of coffee and my run, you are dead to me.

Grumpily yours,


To the driver who tried to run me over this morning:

Look left AND right before turning right on red.

See you in hell,


To the forces of nature:

Thank you. After weeks of temperatures below freezing, 40 degrees feels downright tropical.

Happily yours,


To the Bean:

Please, please, please... go back to sleeping through the night. Mommy is so tired. So tired.


With love,

Climbing up the academic ladder

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The ghost in the lab

It’s the beginning of a new year, and Husband has run out his time on his training grant. So for the first time in five years he’ll be paid by his PI.

The change in funding source shouldn’t bring dramatic changes to ones income, but it always does. The most obvious example is going onto a private fellowship. These often pay slightly above NIH scale, and can provide a little bump to your paycheck. But there are much trickier ways in which the funding source can affect your net pay.

For example, the last two years Husband was on a NIH training grant. For some reason, getting paid on a training grant (at least at Husband’s institution) isn’t treated like regular income. Taxes, Social Security, Medicare weren’t taken out of his paycheck. But it’s still taxable income. So Husband dutifully paid his estimated taxes each year, but got to pocket money that might otherwise have been taken out for SS and Medicare.

Moving onto his boss’ grant, those things will now be taken out of his paycheck, to the tune of something like 8% of his income. That’s a huge net loss for us. A couple hundred dollars a month.

The bright side, we thought, was that Husband would finally be allowed to participate in the institution’s retirement plan (with associated fund matching). So yesterday Husband marched in to the benefits office to sign himself up.

No dice they told him. He is considered a new employee and won’t qualify to participate in the retirement plan until he had been at the institution for a full year.

Um, he’s been there for almost 6 years.

Crap like this happens all the time and it’s complete bullsh*t. I don’t understand the principle of penalizing your grad students and postdocs for successfully acquiring their own funding. At both of our institutions your position is classified according to who’s paying you, and it changes the number and types of benefits that you qualify for.

No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.