A day in the life of an unemployed neuroscientist

Jan 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I've heard on several occasions that when a person first learns they'll be losing their job, the number one stressful thought isn't "How will I provide for myself and my family?" but "What on earth am I supposed to do all day?" I can imagine--while the idea of long, drawn-out days with nowhere to go, nothing required of you may initially sound pretty OK, as they start to add up, a growing sense of  lack-of-purpose might start to nag. And then that nag might turn into something bigger--a slow, twisting pang of hopelessness that gets more pronounced with every turn of the calendar page.

Thankfully, I'm not there yet--not even close. Between the holidays, the first faculty interview (no. 2 very soon!), plus a little side project I've been working on, the days have been different and busy enough that I haven't yet lapsed into a daily routine of boredom-fueled binge eating and video games.

I made a couple of rules for myself, the first being that I have to leave the house every day. Even if it's just to walk to the store to buy cat food, I am under no circumstances allowed to spend the entire day indoors in my sweatpants. Second, I must exercise often. Exercise is good not only for getting rid of those nasty love handles that mysteriously popped up around the time I went to three holiday "cookie parties" in one weekend, but also for generally feeling good in my brain. I've decided that even if I end up with a little credit card debt, I'm keeping my gym membership; going to the gym gives me energy and makes me happy, and those are two things that an unemployed person needs, badly.

The money thing is a much bigger problem--as you might imagine, the NIH post-doctoral minimum salary doth not very far stretch here in the Big Apple, and my savings are, one could say, lilliputian. Now, I will be the first to admit that I haven't exactly lived an ascetic's lifestyle in the last five years, but that is currently neither here nor there. The reality is that J and I may have to move, probably to Queens, where rents are substantially cheaper than in Brooklyn. I went out there earlier this week to check out our options, and was greeted by a woman carrying a live parrot on her shoulder who showed me an apartment with blood on the bedroom floor. I wish I were kidding.

I also signed up to receive unemployment benefits, which is one of the most humbling things I've ever done. I felt bad, like I was taking it from someone who "really" needed it (and yes, I realize that the fact that I had that thought speaks loads of my privileged existence thus far). But I do need it, or I will not be able to pay my rent, even if it is in a blood-spattered apartment in Queens. This week, I have to go to a Career Assistance appointment at the NY State Department of Labor. I wonder if they have an in at  SUNY?

But life is not all sadness and dismay!  I cashed in some credit card miles, and in a couple of weeks I travel to a warm state to visit my sister, and will give two seminars while I'm down there. I went to the opthamologist and dentist, and received reports that my eyes haven't worsened and that I'm a good brusher. Without saying too much, things are...progressing...on the faculty front, and even possibly on the interim-job front. I am optimistic that life will not be horrible.

15 responses so far

  • Best of luck lady, enjoy your vacation. Just think of this as a brief respite before beginning your career as a badass name-taking asskicking superPI of the third fucking order.

  • leigh says:

    I felt bad, like I was taking it from someone who “really” needed it (and yes, I realize that the fact that I had that thought speaks loads of my privileged existence thus far).

    it is not solely those who have lived only privilege who have that concern. trust me. it is a sign that you are aware you still have plenty to be thankful for, and that is a good thing.

    keep on keepin' on, i'm rooting for ya.

  • I can sympathize as I was in exactly the same situation some moons ago when out of work for ~6 months and had the same strategy of getting out and making sure I exercised (or did something that didn't involve lying in bed watching tv). My savings eventually ran out and I had to go on unemployment benefits which was definitely the lowest point in my life.

    Hang in there 🙂

  • sciencegeeka says:

    When the apartment that I was living in was foreclosed on a couple of years ago, I had like 3 weeks to find a place to live. I looked at some places that were atrocious. One place was a 'mother in law' house that was in a courtyard of another house, the entry way was so small, I wouldn't have been able to move my coffee table in. I also looked at a place that I could feel the cold air and see the light coming through the floor. I ended up in a great house. You will see some horrible places, but you'll find somewhere great eventually.

  • Polly wants your blood? LOL, that must have been something.

    I am glad that you are keeping your positive outlook, because you should! You are wonderful, and you will totes have a job soon. Thinking of you this week. 🙂

  • Dr. Koshary says:

    I also support continued exercise: that was one of the tactics that helped pull me through my final, unfunded semester of grad school. I also recommend – although CPP may well disagree with me philosophically here – being very strict with yourself about when to have a drink in the course of the day. Unemployment self-pity can turn really self-destructive if you let it, especially for connoisseurs like us who enjoy the finer things in life. No matter what, don't take any alcoholic beverages until a regularly scheduled point in the evening. Gotta keep your mind sharp.

    I'm revealing my ignorance of the hard science disciplines, but is it possibly to prepare a publication of some kind during this time? If not a heavy-duty journal article, then perhaps a lighter, semi-pop-press or 'thoughts on the discipline' kind of thing? I tried to spend as much time possible during my period of unemployment writing, since the dissertation had become a matter of life and death. Writing can be, in many ways, a life raft for academics between gigs.

  • msphd says:

    You're very lucky that you qualified for unemployment. Most postdocs do not.

  • Micah says:

    I must recommend a book I think you'd enjoy NY Trilogy by Paul Auster. Its the perfect book to read when you are unemployed.

  • NatC says:

    Future options + side project+travel...doesn't sound like you have too much time on your hands!
    Stay positive and happy, and enjoy the break as much as you can. Can't wait to see what's next!

  • Dr. O says:

    Totally agree with getting out every day. That was my rule while on maternity leave, even if it meant a quick trip to the mail box. I can't imagine what state of mind I'd have ended up in otherwise.

    Glad to hear things are "progressing"...can't wait to find out what that means. 🙂

  • Grant says:

    Nice post: good to see that you’re thinking about what you need to do. I’d add that your general advice of getting out of the house and exercising is also relevant to self-employed workers, especially those that work from home, such as freelance workers.

  • chall says:

    Seconding the idea of regular exercise and getting out every day. Routine! I almost lost it when I was unemployed (slightly different maybe, since since I knew when I was starting my post doc but that didn't really make it easier since I still had to look for jobs and try for some money... for several months...)

    Hang in there and hope you can keep a sunny disposition. The trip sounds like a great idea too 🙂

  • brooksphd says:

    Urgh, been there done that. It sucks, but you have a great positive attitude on this. TBH, the apartment hunting is the worst bit ASFAIC. I'll be doing it soon and I'm just postponing the inevitable right now...

  • Dr Becca says:

    Thanks for all the encouragement and suggestions, guys!

    @Dr K, most review articles in the sciences have to be solicited, but I do have revisions on my last manuscript to work on. I'd like to write a review as well, so I may poke around and see if I can't swing an invitation somehow...

    @MsPhD, why wouldn't post-docs be eligible for unemployment?

    I had my appointment at the unemployment office today. There may be enough fodder for another post, we'll have to see...

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