Hi readers. If you’ve been following me regularly, you’ll have picked up on some little hints lately that may have indicated the last few weeks have been a little on the crazy side. Hence the serious lack of posts at the beginning of the month. Well today I shall endeavor to lay it all out for you.
As you well know, for roughly the last 4 years, my life has been consumed mainly by 1 thing only – the PhD thesis. Well, in July it was handed in, and as of Oct 9, it was accepted! So you may be wondering – what the heck comes next?
This is a fair question and for everyone doing a PhD, it’s different. But most of us hope for some form of gainful employment. Admittedly, yours truly comes from a rather work-obsessed family, and has been trolling the job websites and receiving job alert emails for the better part of the year.
The number of jobs I’ve seen advertised in the last year indicate to me that it’s not a bad time to be graduating with a PhD in textiles. The job alerts that I had been receiving had me reasonably hopeful that I might be able to actually be employed and using the skills I’ve been working to gain over the last 7 years. And luckily for me, I could apply to jobs both in NZ and in the USA. So I have been. I have been applying to anything and everything. And somehow, I ended up getting phone and skype interviews with some of the companies I was most interested in working for. And then these interviews led to additional interviews – some which panned out and some which didn’t. Anyways, one thing led to another and I ended up flying into San Francisco for 3 days earlier this month to do an interview with a company who I would love love love to work for. The interview went well, the company was amazing, the job was offered. Think of it, SF! A huge city – so much possibility for arts, culture, food. It’s known for being a young liberal haven. It’s a mere 3 hours from Yosemite…. think of all the tramping (hiking for those of you in the USA)! Close to Lake Tahoe. Close to Napa valley. Certainly closer to MN than NZ. You could fly to vegas for the weekend. Or up to Portland. Or… well, you get the idea.
I spent the rest of my trip looking at apartments around the bay area, hanging out with my cousin and fighting off a nasty cold (I really should know well enough that long haul flights = traveling with vitamins + hand sanitizer). I looked at some shocking studio apartments. $800 for a tiny 1 room studio where the fridge was in the bedroom. $750 for a tiny studio which only had a bathtub (no shower) and the kitchen door was partially obstructed by the fridge. Not to mention the dozens of people crawling all over these apartments at the open houses! $1900 for a beautiful but small 1 bedroom in a nice neighborhood (the $1300 studio in the same building was already leased before the open viewing. Someone had arranged a private viewing and signed up that night. Yeah. Rentals in the bay area are that competitive). It was enough to tell me that the SF bay housing market was – well – insane.
I came back to good old Dunedin feeling OK about my offer. Sure I wouldn’t be making a heap of money (especially considering the price of rent in the bay area) but I felt good about the company and being closer to home.
But life is a bit funny in that I arrived back only to have an offer of a Post Doc here in Dunedin. Which paid nearly as much as the offer in CA (post docs in Australia & NZ are much more lucrative than post docs in the USA, as an FYI). But the cost of living here in Dunedin is much much much cheaper than the bay area.
And let’s not forget that D is still here in Dunedin finishing his PhD. A post doc would come with 4 weeks annual leave (standard, here in NZ). I wouldn’t have the cost (and lets not forget stress) of relocating. I could graduate whenever I want and not have to worry about the time and expense of flying back. I can go visit my sister in London (yes, we’re a bit of an international family at the moment) before she and her family move back to MN in June, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for 3 years now, especially as D is a history buff, particularly British history, and hasn’t done much traveling. So a nice solid London trip (reward for finishing up PhD’s, anyone?) could be on the cards for us if we stayed. Also, I could actually pay off quite a nice large chunk of my (*cough cough* large financially burdensome) student loans – freeing me up to possibly take a job in the future that maybe doesn’t pay as well, but is extremely interesting or would lead to something more interesting. Did I mention I haven’t yet completed all of New Zealand’s great walks? Or been to Stewart Island? Or that in general, I love my life here in Dunedin (I like what I do, I love my living situation – I have the best flatmates, I love my gym, I love walking to work, and I have a great friend group) and am slightly loathe to leave it, and that all my friends and family from MN should really just come here instead?
CA would have been a huge risk. A huge unknown. I don’t think it would have been bad, exactly, but I worry a little bit about how I would have made ends meet all on my own – I guess it is a choice between living to work and working to live. Plus, doing a post doc will mean I can pursue an academic career if that is what I think I want. Or, maybe in 18 mo – 2 years when the post doc is finished, I can still have a career in industry. Who knows?
I’ve spent days – weeks – agonizing over the decision and weighing up staying in NZ vs. going to back to the USA. Another 2 years away from my family and MN friends – after nearly 7 – seems like an eternity. I’ve been doing as much research as possible, drafting up mock budgets, doing online research about crime, quality of life, housing, cost of living… Actually, one of my favourite resources is a blog called Voyages in America – written by a kiwi currently living in the SF bay area. The post which I think has helped me a lot was this one comparing the cost of living in NZ vs. the USA. Funnily enough, there was an article in the local paper about this very topic just recently. When you go online and compare the cost of living between the USA and NZ – at least when I came over in 2007, the cost of living in NZ was considered to be significantly higher. And admittedly anyone coming to NZ from the USA will suffer sticker shock significantly. But now I begin to think that there are a lot of hidden costs to living in the USA.
And I now understand more fully the benefits of living in a relatively smaller city (although large by NZ standards). Cheap housing. Rent is essentially a fixed cost, but the rent in the SF bay area is prohibitively expensive. My budget was for $1300/month for a small studio – and to be honest I was worried about even being able to get an apartment considering how competitive the market is (as an FYI – being out of the country for so long and having closed all my US bank accounts, I am worried about my credit score – which I can’t even check because the website recognizes a NZ IP address and therefore doesn’t allow you to continue. I wanted to check it while I was in CA, but since you can only check it once for free and I didn’t have the ability to print the results, I didn’t want to risk not being able to check it again later). Rent is certainly cheaper in Dunedin, and therefore houses will be as well. Yes, there is a housing crunch in NZ, but Dunedin is one of the last big cities where the price of a house is still relatively within reach to first time buyers.
Yes, commodities certainly are more expensive here. Food, in particular, is more expensive – so we don’t really buy anything processed (pasta sauce is about as processed as we get, or the occasional spice packet). We buy almost exclusively what is on sale – but we eat well. Oh I’m sure as a flat we could reduce our grocery bill by reducing our consumption of dairy, meat and fresh veggies… (but why?!). However, the prices for food, petrol and commodities have increased hugely since I left the USA in 2007. In many ways, I think the high prices almost help cutting consumer behavior. When a mascara costs $25 (a MAC eyeshadow is $38) – you don’t just buy one on impulse. You think – “I can get by on what I have.” Or “I’ll wait until it breaks” or any number of reasons to put off buying nearly everything. And thanks to the internet, it’s easier to find cheap commodities (like electronics and clothes). Sure, a haircut costs $69 (with the student discount). But why do you think I’m growing my hair out again?
And I’m still at an age and in a social group where there isn’t much pressure to have a new car or a nice house filled with nice things. Living like a student pauper is still acceptable for at least a while longer.
But mostly, I’m better off because I’m not spending tens of thousands of dollars every year on rent or health insurance. Those tens of thousands of dollars that can instead go to my student loan, growing my savings account, or a trip to England for 3 weeks (though Mr. Moneymoustache would not approve of such a splurge).
My biggest worry at this point is that I’ve ruined any chances with the company I interviewed with by not accepting the position. But I really worry that I would have struggled financially if I had accepted the offer. Maybe it would have paid off in the long run with future returns? It’s impossible to know. I can only hope for the best now.
So that is the big reveal. Another (approximately) 2 years here in Dunedin. My post doc hasn’t officially started yet – hopefully sometime before Xmas. But I’m excited about the possibilities.