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.

Personal/Familial
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.

Financial
Pay off our car
DONE!

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.

Activism
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.

Personal/Familial
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!

Financial
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.

Activism
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:

Personal
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.

Career

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.

Money

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!