Monday, September 4, 2017

It's like The Moth but for science!

I must be so late to the game on this one, but I recently discovered The Story Collider podcast and I love it! People tell stories about science, and it's a lot of scientists telling the stories.

It has been around since 2010! What have I been doing with my life?!?! I anticipate a lot more Story Collider keeping my ears occupied in the future.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A decade of blogging

I started blogging 10 years ago, right before starting grad school. This blog chronicled 6.5 years of grad school (approximately 13,507 hours of work) and the 3.5 years since officially graduating. During that time, I lost 3 close family members, got married, spent over a year doing field work in Africa, got a dog, had a baby, moved to a new city, and had three different jobs as a PhD. This has been an eventful decade.

For the first few years, I blogged several times per month (or even several times per week). It was an opportunity for me to reflect on my experiences and practice writing. Looking back on many of my early posts in the writing of this, I am struck as much by the things that haven't changed as much as the things that have. I still love Small Friendly College just as much as in 2007 (and the post made me teary again). I see major parts my current self in these older writings. In some cases, I captured events that I see now had outsized importance in shaping my current career, like a workshop on science communication and an interdisciplinary project. There are threads and early hints of the ideas and concepts that are hugely important to my present work, which makes me feel like I'm in the right place now in my career.

In some ways, I don't think I've changed substantially, but I've learned so much about myself in the last 10 years. I've grown. I wrote in 2009 that I needed to be more of a badass. I most definitely am. My moments of greatest badass-ness are probably still finishing my dissertation before my daughter was born, then giving birth to her and going through (and recovering from) serious complications. To finish my dissertation, I toughed it out and kept my eye on the prize with intense focus to the exclusion of everything else non-essential. When recovering from childbirth, I refused to accept my limited mobility and searched and read until I found the right people and resources to help me heal. During grad school, and especially during field work, I became aware of my common mental traps and I'm much better at avoiding them now that I know the signs (like being indecisive). I am nothing if not resourceful, and as my personal networks and knowledge have grown, I have an ever-growing pool of ideas to draw upon. This last year in my new job has especially helped me realize and appreciate the breadth and depth of skills and networks I have, and given me many more ideas for how I can leverage them to do good and awesome things. I, too, can stand on the shoulders of giants—in life as well as in research.

My favorite genre of books is scientist memoirs (e.g. Richard Feynman), especially field biologists (e.g. Jane Goodall and Robert Sapolsky). I love reading about the adventures that happen in the pursuit of science. I love reading about how they live their science-y lives, what their families think, how they raised kids, what went wrong, and how they overcame adversity. Their stories have helped me imagine what my life could be. Blogs by scientists about their lives scratched a similar itch.

Blogging was also a community, and the other women in science bloggers were my mentors. I learned so much from them. I read blogs of more advanced students describing drama in their committees (I learned years later that managing your committee is a classic example of "managing up"). I read about postdocs applying for faculty positions. I read stories of scientists in all career stages struggling with chronic health issues, infertility, and difficult relationships. I was unquestionably better prepared to be a good graduate student and navigate the potential job market afterwards as a result of the science blog community. I'd like to throw some nonspecific thanks out into the universe to the dozens (hundreds?) of bloggers from whom I gleaned wisdom and advice. Thank you!

While blogging during grad school, I accidentally discovered the identities of a few bloggers I followed, and a few people discovered me (one person anonymously and mysteriously tried to "out" me). I made real life friends because of this blog, and it was a way to re-connect with a handful of trusted people that I invited to read it. A few of you are still reading. Thanks for following my sometimes vague and pseudonymized adventures!

I watched, always with sadness, when other bloggers decided to call it quits for one reason or another. More often, they didn't have closure and just stopped writing, or I just stopped reading. Probably kind of like this—I stopped writing so often. In part I blame the declining popularity of RSS and therefore the declining options for good feed readers. Somewhere along the migration from one feed reader to another, I lost track. It has been a long time since I regularly read other people's blogs, so my blogging is overwhelmingly an introspective exercise.

It would probably be fitting, after a decade of blogging as an "aspiring ecologist", to declare this the end. But I imagine I'll still want to blog occasionally, and I'm frankly not motivated enough to set up another blog, so I'll stick with what I've got. Those of you who are friends in real life know where to find me, and if you've been reading this for years and still don't know who I am but want to be friends in real life, drop me a note.

I'm excited about the next 10 years. I've got big ideas that have been simmering for a while now. With the right combination of preparation and luck (there's always luck), it could be awesome. Or, more likely, I'll end up doing something 10 years from now that I can't even imagine at present. Let's see where the next decade goes!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Five whole months into the year

This is my first blog post in the current presidency. I clearly lost track of time and didn't realize the last time I blogged was January 19. I even blew right by my blogiversary, which was apparently May 17. I had it in my head as June, but I think that's because that was when I figured out how to blog as Karina Anirak (I had a brief stint under a different account). TEN YEARS. I basically started my graduate education TEN years ago.

There are a couple of things I have on my mind lately to blog about, but for now I want to do just a short check in on my goals/expectations for 2017.

Help Jon get a new, full-time job with benefits
"This is the most important thing that needs to happen this year and it will make all of the financial goals below much easier!" DONE! There was a bit of a false start a few months back, but he now has a full time salaried job with opportunity for advancement. Once he finishes the trial period, he'll be eligible for benefits too. This is a huge first for us to have TWO predictable, livable incomes. 

Get Adele a passport and renew mine
DONE! We're all set for about 5 more years.

Clear my inbox every month
"I granted myself email amnesty at the beginning of the year and I think I need to do it on a regular basis." I think I did it once so far this year... but it really needs to happen. Ugh.

Celebrate my blogiversary (10 years!)
"I want to do something special to celebrate...maybe get this printed as a book!" Not yet! I think I'll write a 10 year reflection post by the June 22 date of my first non-introductory blog post. I have a lot to reflect on, including these goals for 2017 that I wrote in 2007! I just stumbled across it looking through my oldest posts; I had completely forgotten. 

Read four books
I've read one so far. I know I can do this if I buckle down.

Pay off our car

Pay off all of Jon's course/credit card debt
We just paid off one of the cards at the end of its 0% APR period, and the other one ends in October. We're almost there! Our credit scores have been noticeably recovering from carrying pretty high balances (thankfully all at 0%).

Shorten the repayment term on my student loans
"Once we're sure we have the credit card debt paid for, then we can shorten the repayment term for my student loans to pay it down aggressively..." Not there yet.

Carbon offsets
"The easiest way to do this is probably by estimating our emissions and spreading it out over monthly payments." DONE! I added up all of our air travel and other emissions estimates from 2016 and now we pay a monthly fee to a carbon offset company.

Switch to electricity from renewable sources
"This will take a big of research, which is the biggest hurdle." Turns out direct mail works sometimes, because we went with the company that sent us mail about the opportunity to switch to wind power, and they seemed ok. DONE!

Organizations we'll newly support with monthly contributions:
-wikipedia (we have given to them in the past, but lapsed)
-Pro-Publica (nonprofit investigative journalism)
-An organization that very efficiently transfers donations to extremely poor people (I believe that wealth inequality is a huge problem)
-Southern Poverty Law Center
DONE! On January 20, we set up modest ($5-10) recurring monthly donations to all of these.

With Jon getting a salaried job, many other things are falling into place. Perhaps next month I'll think about whether or not to stretch myself a little more in some of these areas since we've already met most of the goals.

I have a pretty good work life balance since starting my new job, and if anything this spring I've been stressed out by my non-work commitments that should count for some kind of "fun". That has toned down thankfully in the last few weeks, but as ever I am trying to find the balance. Adele turned four and is almost done with school for the year. We currently have an international student from Small Friendly College who decided it was too risky to return home for the summer living in our basement for a couple of months while he does an internship. The fear is that they wouldn't renew his visa to let him back in the country for the fall semester, so he stayed here. I'm sad that's the world we live in, but glad that we can help in some small way. Onward!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Looking ahead to 2017

I enjoy my tradition of reflecting each year on my goals and expectations for the year ahead. Usually I focus mostly on goals, but this year I want to devote more space to expectations in general. I am less optimistic about 2017 than I have been...maybe ever. I am deeply concerned about Trump becoming president tomorrow and I honestly expect the world and its people to be in worse shape at the end of 2017 than now. I expect my family (immediate and extended) to weather this year due to our position of privilege (employed, mostly urban, socially connected, highly educated, white), but even still I expect our lives to be diminished. Republicans in congress, Trump, and his political appointees intend to seriously mess with many things that are personally and professionally important to me (e.g. the Endangered Species Act, everything related to climate change being a real and present danger upon which we should act, protected lands), not to mention their intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But I'm not about to let these things happen easily, so part of my goals are related to civic activism. For starters, I'm attending a Women's March this weekend.

Help Jon get a new, full-time job with benefits
Applying for jobs sucks. remember. It was super discouraging. I am doing what I can do support Jon in his career-change job search. This is the most important thing that needs to happen this year and it will make all of the financial goals below much easier!

Get Adele a passport and renew mine
This is among the more paranoid goals that I've ever had, but I want us to be able to leave the country if necessary. My passport expires next year and I have a lull in international travel for the next couple of months, so I need to take this opportunity to renew it. We already filed the paperwork for Adele. Jon's is good for about 5 more years. It would also be great if we could go visit my family in Canada sometime soon.

Clear my inbox every month
I granted myself email amnesty at the beginning of the year and I think I need to do it on a regular basis. I need to let go of more things that I'd like to do but just can't find the time. I can hardly find the time to do the other important things I want to need to do. I need more ruthless prioritization.

Celebrate my blogiversary (10 years!)
I've been blogging for almost a decade! WHAT. My blogging frequency has radically changed over the last few years, but I still enjoy the focus and outlet this platform offers. I want to do something special to celebrate...maybe get this printed as a book!

Read four books
Let's see if I can meet this modest goal this year!

Pay off our car
We are one small payment away from this! So. close.

Pay off all of Jon's course/credit card debt
We've been making steady progress, but we need to step it up to pay them off before our 0% interest period expires. This is the #1 priority when Jon gets a new job. We should be able to do this.

Shorten the repayment term on my student loans
Once we're sure we have the credit card debt paid for, then we can shorten the repayment term for my student loans to pay it down aggressively (Navient sucks, so apparently that's the best way to automatically increase your monthly payment). Oddly, our car loan has a lower interest rate so ideally, we would have been paying less on that loan and more on the student loan, but the terms aren't flexible like that, so we're waiting to be able to pay down the student loans.

Carbon offsets
In the face of Republican governance that does not believe in climate change, I think this is more important than ever. The easiest way to do this is probably by estimating our emissions and spreading it out over monthly payments.

Switch to electricity from renewable sources
The Republican love affair with fossil fuels makes me concerned about renewable energy, so I want to commit us to buying our electricity from renewable sources. This will take a big of research, which is the biggest hurdle.

Organizations we'll newly support with monthly contributions:
-wikipedia (we have given to them in the past, but lapsed)
-Pro-Publica (nonprofit investigative journalism)
-An organization that very efficiently transfers donations to extremely poor people (I believe that wealth inequality is a huge problem)
-Southern Poverty Law Center

Looking at these all, they are pretty boring. If this year is boring, I'll be satisfied. This year is not about being wildly aspirational—it's about modest changes to try and protect us (in the immediate and broader sense) in uncertain times. There's a chance that I will change jobs this year, but I suspect not. There's a small chance that we could end the year debt-free, but I suspect not.

Let's do this, 2017. More than ever before, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world and stand up for what is just. All of us. Every day.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking back on 2016

Overall, 2016 was an exciting year for our family. The good outweighed the bad for us, but I know many people rightfully had very different experiences of 2016. Each year in January I like to set a few goals and in December I like to review the year so here's a look back.

Here were my goals and expectations for 2016:

Read at least 4 books
I read 3, one of which was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. One was about a fruit (took me all year to finish—not exactly a riveting page turner but I wanted to finish it), and the other was an odd aforementioned field biologist memoir. As in 2015, I also read a lot of online news (print media to a lesser extent), but that doesn't offer the satisfaction of completing a book. I still have an ever-growing stack I want to read.

Make our backyard more playable.
Yes! We got it fenced and erected a makeshift play structure. Much improved!

Make peace with having one child.
Last year I wrote, "By the end of this year I'd like to confidently and happily say we're "one and done" if anyone asks." It took me most of the year, but I'm there. I might elaborate on this in a later post.


Get another job offer.
I got four offers, including my first choice! It was hard to leave my great boss and interesting workplace, but this new position is a great opportunity for professional growth. It was also a raise!

Fix up my website
I hardly did anything beyond the bare minimum, and thankfully it wasn't necessary. But in 2017 I think it needs attention again in preparation for another career move.


Get more life insurance
Didn't do this and didn't really investigate it. Probably should go on the list for 2017.

Move retirement investments & Jon's HSA to accounts with lower fees
We made progress on the Roth IRA investments but not the HSA. We moved all of my IRA out of  Pax World and into a lower-fee socially responsible index fund with some in another low-fee index fund.

Refinance or at least change the repayment term on my student loans
Due to other things that happened this year (see below), it didn't make sense to work aggressively on paying down my loans yet but I think we will be able to in 2017.

What else did I think would happen in 2016? 
-Adele is going to start preschool somewhere, hopefully at a Montessori school. 
Yes! She is at a wonderful Montessori school that we love, and it is mercifully costing us less than her daycare.

-Jon has been working on some long-term projects that will hopefully start earning more money this year. 
Yes! He's published now, but we're still waiting on the first royalty check and it's really more a labor of love than a money maker. Another project that took a lot of time and energy this year should be much smoother sailing next year and more profitable too.

-We're planning a fun trip this summer with my parents to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. 
We did this and it was wonderful. We explored a different part of the country and it worked well for the five of us to travel together.

-There's a chance I might get to travel somewhere exciting for work for a few days, which I would welcome.
Oh boy did I ever. I way underestimated this one. I went on TWO exciting trips before I left my old job and I've been on 3 trips to 3 different countries since I started in September. The recent travel has been a bit too much and I am looking forward to less travel in the immediate future, but I'm sure there will be at least 2 more work-related trips in the first half of 2017.

-If I do travel for more than a few days in a row this year, I think Adele will probably wean. 
Even with all of my traveling, she hasn't weaned. I'm fine with that.

-I don't foresee other big events or changes in 2016 right now, but I know that life can throw you a curve ball at any time. 
I knew there were decent odds that I might change jobs this past year, but when I wrote my goals we hadn't anticipated Jon make a big career change. We basically sent him back to school for a semester and took on debt to do it. Since we had excellent credit, we put the tuition on credit cards with 0% interest for 15-18 months. It was definitely a gamble, but the whole reason for sending him was so that he will be well-trained for jobs with much higher starting salaries. We put a couple of other big expenses on the 0% cards, including the aforementioned vacation with my parents. We unquestionably lived beyond our means this year, albeit in (mostly) calculated ways. 2017 should be the year of setting the balance straight (more on that in another post).

The last noteworthy thing to happen in 2016 was that my grandmother passed away on New Year's Eve. It was not unexpected and she had been mentally ready to go for a long time, but it is still a big change for my family, especially my parents.

I hope all of my readers are ready for a new chapter in your own lives in 2017. I am thinking about my goals and expectations and will post them soon. Cheers!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year in review...delayed

I really love reflecting on the closing year and then looking ahead to the next, and I hate not getting it done before the ball drops, but it's just not going to happen this year. My mom just called to tell me that my Grandma just died (not unexpectedly, but still). I know 2016 has been awful in a lot of ways for a lot of people. I am thankful that it has mostly been a good year for us, but this is a sad way to (nearly) end it. We're hosting a party tonight which will go ahead as planned, so I need this last bit of 2016 to get myself ready (especially mentally) and entertain friends.

Hope you are all celebrating with people you love. Stay tuned for more from me soon!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Using my new job to get to my dream job

I'm trying on the idea of talking about my dream job and really trying to make it a reality. The idea has been forming over the last several months and I've talked about it with a few trusted people, but I haven't really committed to it. I'm starting to think seriously, and put into writing, how I can use my new job to get to my dream job.

I've spent a month now in my new position. I'm still swimming in names and acronyms and trying to find my footing. It's in a new field for me where I'm outside my comfort zone and expect to learn quite a bit. I'll get to travel a LOT more than in my last job—I have 3 big trips in the next 3 months! But the best thing about my new position is that it's temporary (1-2 years) and they expect us to make use of the time, connections, and opportunities to find our next career move.

So I have this dream job that grew out of my last job. I can imagine all of these ways in which I could help expand and grow this movement and community that I'm really invested in. I think it would be personally satisfying and fun, but there's no one (that I know of right now) who can hire me to do this. Part of the task would be finding the funding to make it possible, which sounds stressful and insecure from a purely financial perspective. I'd be something like an entrepreneur, but more like for a non-profit (turns out non-profit entrepreneurs are a thing). I wouldn't be starting something new, but I'd be trying to make an existing thing much bigger. I think I can do it, but I'm also slightly afraid of the amount of responsibility I would take on and the influence I'd have.

There are two big ways in which I can leverage my current position to set myself up for my dream job. The first is by gaining a better understanding of the funding environment and opportunities. The second is to learn more about different organizational structures to determine what would be best to implement at the dream job. Additionally, I have the freedom and support to explore the broader community and make useful connections in other organizations.

The dilemma I've had recently is that this is, in some ways, a very narrow vision for what I could do with my skills, especially considering all of the professional connections that I'll make in this new position. I'm afraid to some extent of pigeon-holing myself by not thinking more broadly. I know that my current job will open doors and likely lead to opportunities that I can't even imagine right now.

Still, it's been a long time since I've had such a clear vision of what I want. When I decided to go to grad school, my goal was to become a professor at a small liberal arts college. I knew that goal might change, but the goal gave me something to aim for. Perhaps I should think of this the same way. The only problem is that I'll surely have to close metaphorical doors at some point on the road to my dream job or risk letting people down and hindering the movement rather than helping it.

I hope the necessary vagueness of my descriptions still convey the essence of what I'm thinking through. It always helps me to blog it through. Suggestions welcome!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Leaving and feeling appreciated

Today was my last day at my job and I start my new job tomorrow. The last couple of weeks have been hectic since I finally gave notice after knowing for quite a while that I would leave in August. I held out as long as possible in the hopes that they might finally review my job description and give me a retroactive raise (although this possibility had been mentioned earlier in the year, it finally became clear that it wasn't going to happen soon enough for me to benefit). I am sad to leave my wonderful colleagues and the exciting mission-driven work they do.

During the last two years there, I've fluctuated between feelings of awe at how many different people I get to work with and feeling unnecessarily isolated and unsupported. But what is clear now that I'm leaving is that I worked with and/or got to know a LOT of people around here.

My boss organized a terrific going away party for me and I was floored by how many people showed up. She said such kind things with specific examples of my work and ways in which I went above and beyond. Another person who spoke appreciated my uncommon perspective in our organization and the other praised the relationship I've built with a partner organization. My boss said that hiring me was the best thing she'd done in her time there, and perhaps in her entire career. I hope that one day I can be as good of a boss to someone else as she has been to me.

It is also immensely gratifying to look back at what I helped do in just over two years. Especially this year, I played a crucial role in a huge project that was a near-perfect fit for me. Somewhere I read the tip to make an email label called "feel good' that you use when people say nice things that make you feel good about your work. I just went through all of my "feel good" tags to transfer them to my personal email and it's so rewarding to be reminded of the outcomes of my work.

Now begins a new and very different chapter. But who know, maybe I'll be back there later. Time will tell!

Friday, July 1, 2016

A new job and other changes on the horizon

I've signed a contract—I'm starting a new job in September! I haven't given notice yet officially so please don't say anything publicly if you know me in real life, but my boss and close colleagues know I'm leaving. I have mixed feelings about it for a variety of reasons, but I think it's the right thing for me to do at this point in my career. 

We're also very excited that Adele will begin Montessori school in the fall and even more excited that it's going to be less expensive than daycare! She's so ready. 

Jon's programming course wrapped up well and he's been applying for jobs. Really hoping he finds a good one! 

As expected, spring was hectic. We had a lot of help from my mother-in-law with daycare pickups and some overnight stays for Adele during the end of Jon's course and my crazy time at work. We went on a great vacation with my parents and then I traveled for work. My garden and houseplants need some attention! Thankfully, we don't have much planned for July and August and my work is settling down. I'm trying not to say yes to too many things.

I thought this would be a good time halfway through the year to check in on my goals for 2016. How am I doing? 

Read at least 4 books
I finished one back in January but nothing since then. I'm behind! Time to get reading.

Make our backyard more playable.
Done! We fenced it and immediately started spending more time out there. Definitely the right decision. Still plenty of yard projects to do, but we cleared the biggest hurdle.

Make peace with having one child.
I'm working on it.


Get another job offer.
Yes! One I accepted! See above.

Fix up my website
No, I managed to get a new job with only minimal changes to my website. Still needs an overhaul!


Get more life insurance
No progress on this front.

Move retirement investments & Jon's HSA to accounts with lower fees
No real progress on this one either, but I may spend some time on it this weekend.

Refinance or at least change the repayment term on my student loans
Jon's course really changed the calculus on this one. I wasn't expecting we'd take on a lot more debt this year. For the time being, it makes sense for us to continue making the same payments on my student loans until we pay off Jon's course. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

April showers bring…everything.

For the at least the fourth year in a row, April seems to be consistently eventful and/or hectic. Oh wait, you mean it's May already?!

Work is insanely busy right now. I tried to take Friday off and ended up taking only half of Friday off. I got more than 30 new emails on Friday afternoon. If I don't stay right on top of my emails, they very quickly pile up—and that's just work. My personal email is like a precarious stack of snail mail that I aspire to deal with but mostly just ignore. I've said yes to too many things, both personally and professionally. I want to do them, but I'm running short of hours in the day and having to do some ruthless prioritization. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I think about the dissertation home stretch and try to take some inspiration from that. Similar to then, I'm working towards a very specific goal and deadline. I can see the end in sight which is why I can justify pushing myself to do a ridiculous number of things.

I thought I'd do some work tonight, but instead I've just procrastinated. Maybe I needed a night to veg out with some tv, ice cream, Facebook bingeing, and blogging (OMG, this sounds like a sentence a childless person would write. The beauty of early bedtimes—when they work!). And now I even went back and read my posts from April of 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. It's the month of getting fellowships, getting married, insanely time-consuming field work, defending my dissertation, crushing rejection, and at least one successful interview.

Work is good, just really busy. More changes were announced but nothing that directly affects my job. Still don't know what I'll do when work slows in July, but now I'm getting positive signs for the future of my project, so that's something good at least. I also may get another offer soon.

I'm really looking forward to a vacation in June. A real vacation where I don't answer any work emails and barely even check them. Imagine that!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Updates on job prospects and school

Lots has happened since I wrote about our exciting spring. It's living up to expectations!

On the job hunting front, both of my interviews went well enough that I have more coming up soon. I've realized that the timing is going to be a little frustrating because I think I will have to make a decision about another job offer before I really know in which direction my job is headed, but I think I just have to accept that reality. For now I'm trying to go with the flow and explore my options.

It turns out I might also have more options than I thought within my organization. I ended up in conversation today with a colleague who wants to create a new position and thinks I'd be perfect for it. Really, incredibly flattering and exciting. This whole conversation happened at someone else's going away party so it was very informal. I told her that I am considering outside positions and I'm going to talk with her more soon.

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by another colleague (I don't actually know them well at all; they're more like work acquaintances) who said she thought I'd be great for a vague position that some people have talked about creating to expand an existing project. I took that as an encouraging sign.

Jon's course is going very well and the program has a great history of placing its students when they finish. So far he hasn't needed to spend 60 hours/week on it which has been a relief. His mom has been frequently doing daycare pickup and helped on days without daycare. My mom is coming to stay with us next week to help out during an especially busy week for both of us. We're very thankful to have family help!

We have some progress on preschool options next year for our almost-3-year old, but no certainty yet (except several places where she will NOT go).

Between my job prospects, Jon's course, and Adele's preschool possibilities, there's plenty to weigh and resolve in the next 6-8 weeks.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Heading into an intense spring

Since I wrote my goals for 2016, we made a major decision. Jon is about to start an intensive programming course with the goal of being able to earn more money in his freelance work while continuing to work on his long-term projects. It's a serious financial investment on our part and it's going to be a huge demand on his time. They estimate that most people in the course spend ~60 hours/week on it. For twelve weeks. Working about 10 hours/week on top of that. I think this is going to be Jon's version of my dissertation home stretch. We're trying to be mentally prepared for it to suck for us and remind ourselves that it has an end. My mother-in-law is going to help out as much as she can with daycare pick ups to give us more flexibility at the end of the day. We can do this!

In other news, during the next 3 months we'll hopefully find out where Adele will go to preschool next year and I might get a job offer. I had two interviews recently and one was great. The other one… meh.  We'll see.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Goals for 2016

I'm a little late on this again but I really like setting goals for the year, even if I don't achieve all of them. Since I started doing this in 2008, I think I've gotten better at setting realistic goals and focusing on what's important. I've been thinking about these for a while now and revising the list (that's part of the reason for the delay). So without any more preamble, I present my resolutions for 2016!

Read at least 4 books
I feel like this is kind of a silly goal, but I'm not sure I completed a book at all in 2015. I do a lot of reading online (mostly newsie-ish pieces) but it's been too long since I've read a whole book. I've got a stack of them next to my bed, and I'd like to finish that stack by the end of the year. I'm already almost finished with an odd little memoir of an entomologist that I got for Christmas (have I written before about how field biologist memoirs are my favorite literary genre?).

Make our backyard more playable.
I want our yard to be a fun and inviting play place for Adele. The first crucial step is getting it fully fenced. I wanted to do that in 2015, but the estimate came in a bit higher than I thought. Once we get that done, I can start some landscaping projects to make it more friendly for wildlife, kids, and our dog.

Make peace with having one child.
I wanted two and always imagined two (and so did Jon), but having gone through a frightening birth and a difficult recovery, Jon is set on one and it probably makes much more sense for us for plenty of reasons (especially financially). And honestly the older Adele gets, the less excited I am about returning to pregnancy and baby stages, but it does still make me sad. As most of my friends now are having their second or third, of course I'm excited for them but this jealousy also creeps in and manifests in strange ways. I've been giving away or moving baby stuff to "deep storage" for the next family member and that helps. By the end of this year I'd like to confidently and happily say we're "one and done" if anyone asks.


Get another job offer.
It still feels very possible that I'll lose my job this year. If not, I'm not sure if I'll want to leave it, but I at least need to put some effort into exploring other options. I learned that the crappy circumstances in my workplace were much worse than I realized for much of last year. All of the anxiety I had about not having support for my project was completely justified. I think there are some power struggles happening and I could be a casualty of that. My day-to-day work is fine (as it has been pretty much all along) but these undercurrents of mistrust and insecurity undermine our ability to be effective. I expect that something big will change for my career this year, one way or another.

Fix up my website
I haven't done much with it since I got this job, but if I want to explore other options, it would help to spruce it up. I think I need to move to a whole different platform so it's not just a matter of making some updates to text. It's time for serious changes that might be complicated so I've been putting it off.


There are a few kind of mundane but important things I'd like to do this year for our finances. Honestly the only reason I'm boring the internet with these is so that I've written it down somewhere and will actually feel pressure to get it done.

Get more life insurance
Jon and I both got term life insurance around the time we got married in 2009. We haven't increased it or made any other changes since our daughter was born, but I think it's time to increase it since she would need to be supported too.

Move retirement investments & Jon's HSA to accounts with lower fees
We have our modest retirement savings is in Roth IRAs with Pax World because we don't want to invest in weapons manufacturing, but I think there are other socially responsible options that have lower expense ratios. There's plenty of other things I'd like to exclude (private prisons and fossil fuels being highest on the list) but I need to choose my battles (ha!) or we won't have any retirement savings because I'll be too paralyzed by all of the options. As for Jon's HSA, it's something we opened a few years ago and at the time it was damn near impossible to comparison shop HSAs to find one with low fees, so we're paying $2.50/mo (Elizabeth Warren should add HSAs to a long list of financial products that need greater consumer protections). (As an aside, I think HSAs are total BS with incentives in all of the wrong places and I'd much rather just have single-payer health care).

Refinance or at least change the repayment term on my student loans
Since my loans were in deferment for several years of graduate school, we're still paying off my Bachelor's degree. A few years ago my loans were sold to Sallie Mae (now Navient) and I hate them so much because they make it unnecessarily difficult for me to make extra payments that reduce the loan principal rather than just pushing back the payment date. I recently learned (through some effectively targeted Facebook ads) that I could refinance my student loans. I never even knew that was a possibility. Our car loan has a lower interest rate than my student loans, so I'm going to look into it. In the end, it might be better to just reduce the repayment term on my current loans to pay them off sooner (thus paying less in interest overall). We should be able to pay more towards my student loans now and we're only about a year from paying off the car.

All of these money things are just tedious because they involve some amount of research and form-filing and it's kind of complicated. So, I need to make time to do it. Maybe I could tackle one of these each quarter.

What else do I think will happen in 2016? 
Adele is going to start preschool somewhere, hopefully at a Montessori school. She's so ready; we wish she could start now but no programs start new students mid-year. Jon has been working on some long-term projects that will hopefully start earning more money this year. We're planning a fun trip this summer with my parents to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. There's a chance I might get to travel somewhere exciting for work for a few days, which I would welcome. After a few years of not wanting to travel much, I'm starting to get the itch again. I'm missing field work. I think it's highly unlikely I'll ever do as much as I did for my dissertation again, but I wouldn't mind leading a short course/trip in the next few years. If I do travel for more than a few days in a row this year, I think Adele will probably wean. I decided 2 years ago that if we were only going to have one child, then she can breastfeed as long as she wants. I'm still in no hurry to wean but I know I don't make much milk anymore. I don't foresee other big events or changes in 2016 right now, but I know that life can throw you a curve ball at any time. I am thankful every day for our health and safety.

May you all try to make our world a better place, however you can! Cheers to 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Looking back on 2015

For seven out of the last eight years that I've been writing this blog, I've written reflections on the preceding year. This has been a year of settling in. No major life changes. This should be one of our least complicated tax years ever! Well, for me at least. Jon has continued doing a variety of freelance work that had him traveling several times (it came in waves!) and had several great professional achievements unlocked ;-) Adele is 2.5 and clearly moved from toddler to child in the last year. She's 100% out of diapers, even overnight! I enjoyed planting more flowers in the yard, especially natives, and got to know many more people from the neighborhood. Work, well, that's most of what I write about on this blog so you can just read the other 2015 posts to re-live the anxiety that was this year.

In January I laid out some goals for the year. Let's see how I did!

Get that chapter published.
Yes! I did it! It was a huge weight off of my shoulders to get that out there.

Archive data from my dissertation.
I archived the data associated with the aforementioned chapter that was finally published as well as data from a second chapter, though not the second chapter I intended to archive this year! Not bad.

Define a 5-year career goal.
I've failed at defining a longer-term goal, but I did realize that I do have a near-term dream job in mind. I talked about it with my boss, coworker, and went out on a limb to mention the idea to the person most crucial to make it happen who was receptive to it. One problem with this dream job is that it would probably pretty insecure financially (aren't they always?!); there are plenty of other problems, but maybe I'll be able to push this idea along next year.

Make a will.
We made progress on this in fits and starts. Under pressure of deadline for writing this exact post, I finally plugged our names into a basic template (approved by a lawyer in the family) and printed it out. The next time we have adults over to witness, we'll sign. It's nothing complicated and the primary reason is to have clarity about what would happen to Adele if we both died. I thought about including more contingencies if the worst should happen (e.g. if we all die, donate all of our money to Small Friendly College), but for now we're keeping it simple. We don't really have much to leave behind anyways. I think we finally crossed into positive net worth this year (i.e. we now have more in retirement savings than in car and student loans).

Open a bank account for Adele.
Done! Now it just needs more money...

Make a friend.
I've made several! When we moved here 2 years ago, Jon jumped back into his circle of high school friends and quickly picked up a few others through mutual contacts. I hang out with them too, but I was lacking in my own friends. I now feel like I have a few close friends at work (bonds strengthened by adversity!), some local collaborator-ish friends (meaning our paths cross somewhat professionally), and some neighborhood parent friends. Most importantly, these are my friends first.

Become a better conversationalist.
I've mostly succeeded in this by more often putting myself in situations without Jon and/or Adele around to lean on/distract me, but it has also gotten easier to hold a conversation as A has gotten more independent.

Start a photo booking group.
This has been a huge success and is how I got the aforementioned neighborhood parent friends. I now have about 6 moms who come over about once a month to hang out on Friday or Saturday night. We talk a lot and do variable amounts of work on photo books (sometimes none!). These are parents with whom I feel we have a tremendous amount in common in terms of our approaches to all kinds of parenting issues. Finding these folks is one of the best things I did in 2015.

Make monthly and weekly goals.
I made weekly goals for most of the year. It does help keep me on track and focus on what is most important in a sea of more things that I'd like to do than I can possibly make time for.

I'll post my 2016 goals soon. Thank you to anyone who still finds this blog interesting enough to read. Goodbye, 2015!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Yeah, that's pretty much what happened

A month ago I wrote that I was about to get told my project was toast. Almost all of my predictions were dead on. My project is ending; I'm being shifted to the project I already had a foot in. Things worked out a little differently for my half-report, but nothing very surprising.

I went in with a heavy heart and tried to keep the daggers from my eyes under control in the meeting. I'm glad I spent the time blogging the night before because it really helped me process so I didn't have to do it all that day. I probably would have cried.

Surprisingly, I was already feeling much better about the change just a day later. For the first time in months, I have clarity about my work. I've joined a much larger team of people. It's a project that I know is important to people other than just me and my boss, and I know that my role in context of the larger project is highly valued. All of the work that I did on my dying project is highly relevant for this, including a valuable relationship that I developed. I also get to do lots of networking, get outside a bit, and maybe a little travel. I like this new job.

I still haven't widely communicated this change, mostly because I've been too caught up with all of the time-sensitive responsibilities of my new project. There's also an order in which people have to be told, and the person who made this decision held up part of that chain for a couple of weeks. I feel like the reason I have to give for the project ending is pretty weak but any other answer becomes much more complicated (and speculative, considering that I've never heard a clear reason from the person in control). It has been interesting to hear responses from the people I've told so far.

Because of the current timeline of my new project, I should have clarity about my work for the next six months. Beyond that, I might re-enter a new phase of uncertainty. Ideally, we'll figure out in the next six months what's next but realistically I'm not so sure that will happen. But I'm good for now.