So. Life after graduate school.
A few disclaimers. It hasn’t taken me 28 years to behave like an adult; nor has it taken me as long to understand personal responsibility (though some people may disagree). It mainly means that 21 years of chasing education develops some regulatory capacities (e.g., work ethic) and not others (e.g., managing and building upon savings, for instance). Aside from the hell that was managing automotive needs, here’s the considerable overhaul within the areas of my life that needed, ah… improvement. Maybe they’ll be helpful for other soon-to-be PhD’s:
WORK: As most of my close (and newfound) friends know, my postdoctoral fellowship doesn’t require me to be… well, anywhere specific, much less within the typical 9-5 pm workday. At first: bliss to hear. The department gave me a swanky new office, in a swanky new building, and then told me it was up to me how/where I’d work before my mentor left for sabbatical. For three months.
With no clinical duties or classes to teach, my primary goals are reading research on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), writing research proposals, analyzing data, and then writing up the findings for publication. ‘Tis a short list, compared to what graduate school was like. Still, formula for past success still applies:
- 1 laptop
- access to WiFi
- access to a plug
- relative quiet (or just headphones and Spotify)
…and the location becomes inconsequential for productivity. Easy enough.
Ironically, I’m finding it much harder to regulate my time. Not a terrible surprise, considering the #1 reason why postdocs struggle is lack of structure. But here I was, lacking structure and thus any metric for progress. So, I devised my own plan.
- Schedule a weekly meeting with my colleague/mentor Laura to discuss my progress;
- Tangible writing and administrative goals I must meet each week;
- It doesn’t matter where I do them, so long as I go to the office more than half of my week;
- I must pick up another project before a current one ends;
For me, writing time usually means a traveling office/coffee shop tour 🙂 . I’ve maintained this traveling-office life before in a blog about Dallas coffee-shops four years ago. Haven’t yet explored enough here in SD, so this will be a blog goal for later.
So far, the schedule works. For all soon-to-be postdocs, you will probably have to come up with structure for yourself as well. I recommend finding an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that will help steer your goals. As much as freedom can be fun, one must also remember… that time should be for writing. Duh.
HOME/LEISURE: Whatever plans you make, be sure to leave a hefty reward system for your labor, particularly if you’re going to live in a place you want to explore (and hope to call home) someday! So far, I consider myself lucky to have Perly, my auntie and landlord(ish), for providing a low-cost, high-end place to stay in PQ. The commute to UCSD is a breeze compared to my colleagues farther south (~20-30 min). The house is beautiful, and Perly’s family is also really great. Though it’s tougher to get around to explore, it’s not bad now that kids are back in school, and touristy places are back to being fun locations.
Depending on your preference, meeting new people may come in hand with exploring. It has for me, depending on the experience. Meetup was a great way to dive into new areas, along with other social media outlets that tell you of good events. I’ve also said yes to every social opportunity that’s come my way, which has helped immensely (though can be tiring).
I’ve also released any guilt about buying leisure books – a practice I squandered to justify other expenses in the past (see FOOD down below).
I read Unsealed in two days, which revolves around a young woman (*cough* the author *cough*) and her romance turned unconventional friendship with an almost Navy SEAL right here in San Diego. It takes an unexpected turn that, despite a few faults (psychologist-me noted some very codependent red flags), tackles toxic masculinity straight-on. For a first time author, it’s a good debut, and presents beautifully the harsh line between conservative and liberal ideas of identity – a struggle I’ve seen too often growing up in Texas.
The second I picked up prior to my short trip to Denton. It’s filled with near-therapy laced advice behind a “listen here, bub” rhetoric that’s no less enjoyable. The core tenet is the same as most therapy sessions, and worth mentioning: You control yourself, and no one else. To try doing so is a disservice to you and the better fucks you could give. So achieve, fail, and make minimal progress with all you have. No one will give a fuck but you.
In a simultaneous effort to save, I’ve also sworn not to spend leisure money unless I’m doing so in a place I’ve never ventured. It’s been helpful in a number of ways. Goodbye, habitual coffee run; make way for mini adventures, which I’ll explore later in my next blog 🙂
MONEY/FOOD: My auntie joked with me earlier today,
“What’s $4 to try something at the bakery from time to time?”
“You’d be surprised, auntie. I’ve had 4-page billing statements comprised of those expenses.”
For me, money and food are inextricably linked, such that having one usually means I don’t have the other. In graduate school, I lived off of whatever food was available around my work schedule. This usually limited me to the cafeterias at the hospital, sandwiches and croissants at the coffee shop, or the fast food restaurant right off the interstate between my commute. I tried multiple times to change: I planned grocery lists, picked out recipes, bought the groceries and stored them away. Whatever I bought, it didn’t change my hectic schedule – time was the major culprit here. Spinach would go bad, leftovers were abandoned in Pyrex containers, and Nathan began dubbing “the top shelf” as the graveyard where food rotted, or turned to stone.
In SD, where eating out is easily $13-18/meal, I’m finally stopping this bad habit. Granted, it’s only sticking thanks to my aforementioned lack of a work schedule (yahoo!), but it also means having to double down on what I’m realistically going to eat. Those sped up recipe vids on FB are worthless if it’s too laborious to make, or if I sadly find it disgusting. So I’ve had to start with this very sad, sad recovery program:
Eating habits: Eat what I feel like (eating out included)
Tracking: Write down what I gravitated towards
Main sacrifice: Money
Eating habits: List out all the common elements in what I ate, buy those first. This meant for me: frozen chicken, spinach, sweet peppers, avocado, eggs, bagels, cream cheese, regular cheese, bread. Don’t leave house until breakfast is made/eaten, and lunch is prepared for later.
Tracking: Write down what worked. Write down the time it took to create certain things.
Main sacrifice: Time
Eating habits: Throw out what sucked or spoiled. Return to cheaper grocery store (i.e., not Vons) with refined list of things. Wake up early enough to prepare food and still leave for work on time.
Tracking: Things I’m starting to crave instead of the boring shit I bought
Main sacrifice: Sleep / Temptation to buy new food (novelty of new diet habits started wearing off around here)
Eating habits: Start adding things to refined list that you’ve been craving.
Tracking: Finances – the cumulative cost is probably what I’ll spend per month.
Main sacrifice: Temptations, and overall carefree consumer soul
Per all existing self-control/self-regulation research (and science, really), the trick is writing everything down, so you have a metric for progress. For me, it was also important to recognize what I was giving up to make these changes; putting a face to the main obstacles helped overcome them. And that, my friends, is the science of behavior change.
MONEY/ALL ELSE: Given that my loan payments will start kicking in six months from now, I’m giving myself six months to pay off all other debts. And considering the expenses of moving, it means I’m finally creating a budget that will, to the last dollar, exhaust all my monthly income (yes, with savings included). With no part-time job to buffer my peace of mind, this means if I don’t regulate well, I’ll be broke the last few days of every month. My first real paycheck is coming tomorrow, so TBD on how effective I’ll be here.
Whether you read this and find yourself impressed or just sending your condolences, a lot of this has been bonafide progress for me (obligatory pat on the back). And, maybe (possibly?), this might help someone else in the process of tightening up areas of their life that have been otherwise unregulated. The true lesson is learning how to be patient between the present moment and the goal. After all, if I’m not experiencing growing pains, how do I know I’m growing at all?