Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dude, this whole adulthood and responsibility thing is a real bummer

This week I did a lot of orientation and benefits-type stuff. I am so glad to be in a position where they give me some benefits along with a piddly little salary, but having to deal with all these signs of maturity is also a bit depressing. And confusing.

This, then is the second in my series of posts about how a postdoc is and is not like a tenure-track job. The first one was this response to Tenured Radical's post about finances as a new professor. Being the only one or one of a handful of postdocs in a new faculty benefits meeting is weird. I'm here but I don't really feel like a grownup or a member of this community. New faculty, on the other hand, see this place as their new home, as a place they may be staying until retirement. It was kinda strange hearing about the history of the university, the location, little squibs of details about past politics, and just flushing it out of my brain because I'm not going to be here for long.

On the other hand, it was interesting watching people negotiate their benefits --- some of them are more interested than others in portability. I can tell you who is looking forward to staying here and who is already thinking about venturing off again, and some of the people I talked to (or overheard behind me) have spouses who are not happy to be in this state. Which is funny, cause one of them told me this and I asked where this person had done the PhD and I don't see that state as any different from this state. Could be a close-to-family issue, I guess.

I was glad there was another postdoc in the room so that I could trade off the question "is this transferable out of state?" This means I will take the alternate retirement plan that moves instead of a state pension, which pays off better, but I know I will be moving out of here.

Then we had to discuss the depressing details of naming a next of kin, dealing with short term or extended sickness, or getting hurt on the job. You know, after watching last season of Mad Men, accidental death or dismemberment is a strong likelihood even in an office setting:


Now I have a stack of paperwork as thick as a phonebook that I have to read through and sign various things, and decipher the difference between two arcane health plans and choose one, and find all the piddly little personal-ID details to fill out the rest of these things, and then make an appointment to turn this all back in to the HR lady. Gah.

And each thing I sign up for will make my little take-home check a little bit smaller still. I'll do the 401K match, of course, since I've never had one before. But my monthly parking pass gets automatically deducted, too, and each little thing nibbles away at my paycheck and changes my budget.

You know, there's a way in which ignorance really is bliss. Just like the one up side of having no money is that doing taxes is a breeze, the one good bit about working jobs that pay nothing beyond an hourly wage is that you don't have to think about all this crap. And what's frustrating is that, since this is a postdoc, I'm going to have to deal with a new and different pile of bureaucratic crap in a year or so. It's not that I'm not glad to finally have benefits. It's just that, like the prospect of my death or surviving cancer or loss of limb or the number of employable years I have left, thinking about it is kind of a downer.

8 comments:

Bardiac said...

The utter arcana of health benefits alone is enough to make me want to cry.

squadratomagico said...

I'm amused by the "that state is the same as this state" thing. I always felt that way, too, when I lived in a certain part of the country: it all seemed generally similar to me, but there were all kinds of internal differences and snobberies that were important to people who'd lived there long term.

Good luck with the beaurocracy!

phoenixcomplex said...

I can't remember how all the jargon works, but: do you get to keep the matching contributions to the 401k even if you're out in a year? If so, good for you! If not, maybe just setting up an IRA and making contributions to it when you can would be easier on your budget? It sounds like I'm discouraging you from saving for retirement, and of course not: I recognize the importance of saving for retirement by thinking about how I should start doing it again on a regular basis. But I remember having to wave a reluctant farewell to the employer contributions when I quit my post-college job 2 years in. If you're not vested within a year, there's probably no particular reason to participate in their plan as such, since it will just mean more paperwork and hassle for the rollover. Except maybe that, by the end of the year, you'll have a sizeable pile of money to roll over, and some IRAs have minimum initial investments...

Sisyphus said...

no, they have a dbp that they put into, and which I could do their pension program or TIAA-CREF, *and* a 401k that they will match up to 50$ a month! It's pretty cool. (except for the low salary) The HR lady assured me that the 401k was portable, but I will read the fine print once again to be absolutely sure.

I also have the 400$ I made working on campus as an undergrad way back when, that the UC system holds in its retirement stuff because I was a full time employee, damn them. I have had it rolled over to my own thing and carted it all about because I was so pissed that it would be a 40% penalty to take it out when I graduated. Maybe I can consolidate them all when I finally get to a permanent job, and actually have more than a month's rent of retirement savings!

I'm totally going to have to live under a bridge and eat cat food when I retire, aren't I? Ah well.

Susan said...

I'm sure you'll find many others under the same bridge...

The 401K and TIAA CREF belong to you (though at least TIAA CREF the contributing institution can set some rules.)

And health plans give you a headache. I'm spared only because my doctor only participates in one, so my decision is made.

phoenixcomplex said...

Given the way things are going, I would buy bridgeside property and a hedge against cat food price increases *now*. Maybe we can all pool our money... Consider, also, the tiny house.

Belle said...

Just focus on the positive - remember where you were when this came through. Thinking about basement, worrying about future, etc..

You've a job, a (piddly) paycheck, benefits. I remember when I came to RNU - I was shocked that my health insurance cost more and offered less than my grad school plans had. I was here for a one here, non-renewable, non-tenure track VAP. Ten years later I'm here, full, tenured... and still amazed.

Sisyphus said...

It's just the thinking about getting cancer and dying, and getting old, that's bringing me down. Nothing avoidable, and thus more depressing.