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.