Saturday, January 29, 2011

Funny U.S. vs. Canadian words

These are a collection I've found so far.  A good many of them are food-related, because I discovered them at the grocery store, where I almost died from the sticker shock of the prices as well.  First are the American words, followed by Canadian counterparts.

Bathroom/restroom = washroom.  I think I'm the only American who calls it a restroom anyway....

British spellings. The Canadians use the "ou" vs. "o," "re" vs. "er," and to pay someone, they write a cheque.  Examples: flavour, harbour, colour, neighbour, fibre, litre.

Coffee creamer = coffee whitener.  Huh.  Glad I wandered around and found it on my own instead of asking, b/c creamer is not a familiar term here!

Crunchier M&Ms = Smarties.  Gone are the chalky, fruity-tasting Smarties of America (sniff.... I liked those little guys), only to be replaced with flatter, crunchier M&Ms, as far as I can tell.

Electric (in an apartment) = hydro.  One of the most fantastically progressive things about Canada - use of hydroelectric power!

Kraft Mac'n'cheese (blue box) = Kraft Dinner.  So in the Barenaked Ladies' "If I had a million dollars, we wouldn't have to eat Kraft dinner... but we would!" they're talking about boxed mac'n'cheese.

True story.
Shopping cart = buggy.  You have to pay to get them out of their corral, too, so as to discourage theft.  Often it's either a quarter or a loonie, and you get it back after you're done using the cart.

Studio apartment = bachelor.  Because bachelors can only take care of an apartment if its confined to a single room?

Tim Horton's lingo.  There is code for ordering at a Timmy's.  2 creams/2 sugars is called a double-double, 3 is a triple-triple, and so forth.  But me, who just wants 1 cream/sugar?  This is not a single-single.  It is a regular.  And a frappuccino is called an ice cap (cute, eh?).

Zee = zed.  Still gets me every time because I expect "zed" to be with a British accent.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Being taken care of in Canada

First, a funny story.  When crossing the border, I submitted my paperwork to the clerk, who was surprised at the slowness of the computer system.  He disappeared into the back for about 20 minutes, then emerged and told me that the entire immigration system for all of Canada at every border crossing was down, and I could either wait or go on without a work permit.  The work permit being essential, I sat in my car and read a book until an hour later, when the system got back online.  I like to say that it was my work permit that crashed it, though I really am not quite sure of that.  However, I now have leave to work in Canada!

I may have.... underestimated my job here a slight bit.  I always knew that the University of Toronto was a good school, but I figured that since there were less universities in Canada, that wasn't such a big deal.  Based on everyone's reactions when they have asked me what I was doing here in Canada the past 2 days, though, I decided to go take another look at rankings....

What I was finally able to deduce was that the U of T is basically Canada's Harvard, given a run for its money only by McGill, which is pretty far away in Montreal... so essentially, I'm at the best school in Ontario, if not all of Canada.  This is quite an honor and very, very humbling.  My treatment so far has been nothing short of astounding.  The property managers for my building have bent over backwards to help me out, and I bet my degree and employment have had a good bit to do with that.  This place, while not a bad place at all, doesn't give me the impression of being highly inhabited by university-affiliated folk.  Everyone I talk to at all the stores and banks around here has been very welcoming and frankly a bit surprised that I am living where I am.  I like it because it is on the subway.  That's a great touch!

One LOVELY amenity that I had no idea about until I realized that there are no vents in the units is that the heat comes through the floors.  For someone sleeping on the floor in the midst of a Canadian winter, this is very, very welcome.  It's almost too warm for me since I've been living in the State College icebox apartment; I've had to open the windows and even the balcony door periodically!

Now for the obligatory pictures of the new place:

The bedroom with my tangle of blankets and pillows on the floor.

The living room, which now boasts 2 large bookcases.

The kitchen.  Cooked my first meal here last night!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why a Ph.D.? Why a postdoc?

I thought I would elaborate on some of my views regarding why I felt I had to do a Ph.D. and why I currently feel as if a postdoc is the best course of action for me right now.  The subjects of both Ph.D.s and postdocs are very polarizing, with people very firmly planted on both the pro/con sides.  However, necessity of both courses are firmly contingent upon the field.

Why did I do a Ph.D.?  

Well, I didn't do it to avoid getting a job, that's for sure.  This article would have you believe that getting a Ph.D. is a waste of time because the market is flooded with Ph.D.s.  This is at least true; the market is having trouble coping with the multitude of people obtaining doctorates.  This article would also have you believe that a Ph.D. is not worth obtaining, because the money does not scale with the education level.

My answer to that is if you went to get a Ph.D. for the money, you went for the wrong reasons, and this is one of many of the wrong reasons to get a Ph.D.  In my field of chemistry, Ph.D.s overtake M.S. candidates in terms of overall money earned only after a good number of years of work.  Also, academia is hardly the only route for hard science Ph.D.s; industry and government work make up a hearty part of the employment pool.  This isn't necessarily true for Ph.D.s in other areas, especially humanities.

No, I did a Ph.D. because I was proverbially dead in the water if I didn't.  A B.S. in chemistry can only get you so far, and it will get you a quality control job where you are possibly working night shifts and have a variable work schedule.  One example of a B.S.-level job is running HPLCs over and over again and not being able to change the conditions.  That would bore me to tears.  I did my Ph.D. for intellectual freedom.  This degree shows employers that I am able to think independently and plan experiments accordingly.

It should be noted that I also had a fantastic Ph.D. experience.  I was very proactive.  As soon as I got into schools, starting December 2004, I contacted potential advisors immediately and expressed interest.  I got into my top choice of school, and I got the PI I wanted.  Since then, I didn't look back.  I was extremely lucky to be on a project that worked and was basically set up to publish papers, but I wouldn't say it was all luck.  I capitalized on a good situation.  As such, unlike many Ph.D. students who are finished, I am not burnt out, nor am I tired of bench work or fed up with it all.  Actually, I would say that I thrive on it.

In short, my Ph.D. was not an option for what I want to do; nor is it an ending.  It's a beginning that gave me an extensive knowledge base that I plan to put towards my career.

Why am I doing a postdoc?

Because the market is flooded with Ph.D.s, there is essentially nothing to set me apart from all the other "kids."  I am still kicking around the idea of a tenure-track (TT) profession, for which a postdoc is essential, but I am not putting to rest the idea of an industrial position.  My Ph.D. advisor and another trusted professor urged me towards doing a postdoc to broaden my horizons, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this would be to my advantage.  I feel like even though I have a Ph.D., I have a lot more to learn, especially about being on the TT.  My postdoc is just familiar enough so that I can capitalize on my base knowledge, but different enough that I feel I can really break into a different part of the field.

I have heard that there are many researchers who have trouble getting postdocs.  Strangely, it was not hard for me to get a postdoc, nor was it hard for my labmates to get postdocs.  Everyone who has wanted one has gotten one, and many of them have been with very well-known researchers.  I looked around and went for two, one being a very prestigious program run through the National Research Council.  The other, of course, was at the University of Toronto.  My advisor assured me that I had a fantastic shot at both, and she was right, because I was offered both.  I chose the U of T because I felt that it offered more freedom, and though it was a huge pay cut, it costs much less to live in Toronto than in Washington, DC.  Also, like I have mentioned, it's not about money for me.  I felt it it was more in line with what I might want to do with my life.

I hardly blame the people who are disgruntled or unhappy with their postdocs, however.  A fantastic discourse on both sides of the fence can be found in the comments of this post by Dr. Becca.  Pro-postdoc arguments focus on it being a good experience if you are unfettered by financial woes, not tied down with a family, and want to check out/live in a new place.  That's a LOT of contingencies, but luckily, I fall in this camp.  However, I realize that the profession can also be fraught with frustrating advisors, nonideal fits, and low pay/interference from real life.  These are very real considerations; my Ph.D. advisor used to say that this is a hard time in anyone's life (referring to 20s/early-mid 30s) because this is when life starts happening.  I would say that women more than men are inclined to settle down and start a family, and it is very hard to juggle that and an academic profession.

Even if you do your homework beforehand (I am infamous for homework-doing), you are not guaranteed a good postdoc experience, and that's a bit nerve-wracking.  My reasoning in this leap of faith was that I can live on the salary and save some money because I am frugal, I have neither dependents nor a significant other right now, I am in good health, and this will further my career.  So I suppose the question is really, in my case, why NOT do a postdoc?  And why not do it in Canada?  I'll drink the Kool-Aid, but that's because I am in a unique situation where it's more of an energy drink than a poison.

When I post next, I'll be in my new home in Toronto.  Canada, I stand on guard for thee!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Now broadcasting from the floor.

The movers came yesterday and hauled out what was to my mind an appalling amount of stuff.  How did I amass 43 boxes' worth of stuff?!  To be fair, though, one lamp counted as one box, as did the coffee table, end table, futon frame, kitchen table top, kitchen table legs, papasan, couch, other lamp, 2x2 chairs, each of 2 desk chairs, the desk, the drafting table.... huh.  A good bit of what I have is furniture after all.   They sure were efficient, though; they packed a couple of things I didn't want them to while my back was turned, including my new shower curtain.  Guess I'll use the old one for a week.  At least I wrested my backpack with all of my immigration documents out of their hands.

So, what does it look like, now?  Well, it basically looks like an empty apartment:
The emptiest this place has been in almost 6 years.
Since the living room has no light, and I don't want to heat it, I've taken up residence in the bedroom with my soon-to-be-trashed mattress on the floor:
Home base alpha!
For someone hobbit-like like me, this is not a bad arrangement!  Note how I am living: bare essentials, clothes in suitcases.... and 2 nice computers.  Even my shoes are out in the frozen tundra of the car.

Everyone said moving in January was going to be uncomfortable, and I thought the same thing, except it was actually very pleasant.  As long as you're not battling snow or bad weather, the cold makes an ideal combatant to uncomfortable warmth brought on by physical labor.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Moving to Canada as an American postdoc (paperwork needed)

Here we go.  This post isn't about what goods you need in Canada (toque/hat, boots, coat, mittens, done), but rather the documentation that it takes to get across the Canada-US border.  I would have liked to have had my questions answered on the subject, but now that I'm (hopefully) golden, I'll share what I've learned.

What you need to live/work in Canada as a postdoc:

Surprisingly, not too much.  If you're in Canada less than three years, then you are a temporary resident.  If you are coming from the U.S., you don't even need a temporary resident visa (for info on what countries do/don't require visas, see here).  You also don't need to import your car, though you can obtain provincial plates.  I will probably change mine to Ontario.

The work permit:

Here's the biggie.  You need to apply for a Canadian work permit before you go to Canada.  You can apply from within the country, but you'll have to go to a border crossing to get your actual work permit.  Here's the kicker: you don't get the actual work permit until you cross the border.  You apply for it beforehand when you are still in the U.S., and then after your approval, they send you a letter to give to the officials at the port of entry, and they issue your permit.  The list of what you need to apply is a bit extensive, though, and includes:

-Your offer letter.  You are dead in the water without this.  Get it ASAP.  Be sure it says how much you will be making.  **IMPORTANT** Make sure it also states that your postdoctoral position does not require a code from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada stating that you will have a positive impact on Canada.  Postdocs are exempt from this.  A university letter should already have that in its template, because this happens a lot.

-A copy of your passport.  A passport has been required to enter Canada for a while now, so this shouldn't come as any surprise.

-Two photos of yourself, taken to Canadian specifications.  Don't forget to not smile!

-$150.  Processing fee.  Personal checks not accepted; get a money order.

-The form "Applying for a Work Permit Outside of Canada".  It will require things such as your passport number and expiration date, so keep the passport handy!

-A place to send everything.  A list of all available offices in the U.S. is available here.  I chose the Buffalo office, because I am close to it geographically, and I figured it handled a lot of these things.

-Proof of a Ph.D. This was a toughie for me because... I don't officially have one yet and won't until May!  Commonly, doctorate-granting universities will issue a letter stating you have fulfilled all requirements as approved by a Dean upon request; however, this can take a while to get, so hop on it quickly.  I did not have this letter, so I submitted both my CV and a letter from my advisor on official Penn State letterhead.  My advisor's letter stated a brief summary of my duties, said I was done with requirements, and gave my defense date/salary.  They accepted it.

You get all of this together, and mail it to your chosen office, and then.... you wait.  And you don't hear anything.  You cannot contact them unless you've waited an inordinate amount of time (i.e., 3 months).  You just sit back and hope.  I believe that if you are a Ph.D., they expedite the process.  I mailed my documents on December 10th or thereabouts, and my approval letter is dated January 12th.  Keep in mind that that span of time included Christmas Eve, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year's.  This will not get approved overnight.

The itemized list o' stuff:

When you cross the border into Canada, they will require you to bring with you an itemized list of what you are bringing in.  I have it on authority from 2 Canadian officials that they don't care if you itemize every single little thing, just a general list for a temporary resident.  Also, you need to estimate a monetary value in $ CDN of each item in the listing.  It's not too hard; I'm doing it as I'm packing, and the movers will itemize what is in my boxes, and I will estimate a monetary value of each box.

Surprising things you don't need to get into Canada: A birth certificate, social security card, or driver's license/gov't-issued ID.  If bringing in a car, though, be prepared to have the title/registration/proof of insurance.

I am sure I will have more to report once I cross the border, but for now, it's back to taking stuff down off the walls and packing!

The obligatory introductory post

Hi, I'm Kristin (a.k.a. Quis to college and grad school colleagues), an American postdoc living and working in Canada (well, not quite yet, but I'll explain below).  I am starting this blog to keep my American friends and family up to speed on my life in Canada for the two years I will be there, and also to share interesting thoughts and information along the way.

As mentioned, I am not in Canada yet, but I'm gearing up to go.  My movers come tomorrow, and then I will be cleaning and bare-bones living in my Pennsylvania apartment until Tuesday, at which point I will hop into my packed Toyota (affectionately known as Princess III) and head up to Toronto.  There is a lot to do between then and now, but luckily the legal paperwork has all been pushed through (that will be the topic of my next post).

So, sit back and enjoy this academic's ramblings.  And for those of my friends with whom I have shared that I own ridiculous maple leaf pajama pants, feast your eyes:

The infamous pants!