Archive for May, 2011

Liar, liar…

Posted: May 21, 2011 in Life in the UK

This is the warning on the tag of a pair of undergarments (or pants as the British call them) I recently purchased:

I’m not altogether sure what the Brits are doing on a regular enough basis to warrant such a warning…perhaps it’s to keep them honest…

Cheers!

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Life in the UK

I have to say, one of my absolute favorite bits of British English is the use of the word “Cheers!”. They say it kind of like you would just say “thanks”, like for holding the door for someone, or just doing something nice. It’s as if every little moment in life is an excuse to sit down and enjoy a pint at the pub. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that! I’m still working on when is the appropriate time to say it, but it has been slowly creeping into my vocabulary as I get the nuances of its use down.

This brings me to one of my other favorite aspects of life in the UK…the beer. The beer here is absolutely amazing. Before coming over here I had the misplaced notion that the US was catching up with UK in terms of beer, what with all the micro and medium size breweries. Hot damn, was I wrong. The US is still light years behind the fine ales that can be found at many a pub here. Not only that, at just about every supermarket and off-license (that’s a funny way of saying liquor store, still don’t quite get it) you can buy single pint-sized bottles of beer from all over the UK. Many times they have a nice variety (10-15 different ales to choose from) that change throughout the year. This is a country after my own beer loving heart!

So keep an eye out for a new addition to the blog I’m going to call “Frothy Fridays” (unless someone comes up with a better name…any suggestions?) that will feature some of the aromatic ales that grace this fine kingdom.

Cheers!

Given the recent world-wide financial crisis that has been taking place over the last several years, and the current fiscal troubles of both the state governments and the federal government in the US, the last words I thought I would ever hear from an employer were “defined-benefit pension plan”. Apparently, all one has to do is move to the UK (and presumably many other EU countries?).

Aside from trying to put myself in the position to obtain a tenure track position in several years, one of my other primary life concerns is figuring out how the hell I’m going to obtain the $1,000,000+ I need to fund a comfortable retirement in 35+ years (and that’s if I were to retire NOW, I don’t even want to think about how much I’ll need when I retire to have the same purchasing power as a cool million today). This is just an absolutely daunting number, particularly considering the paltry pay of graduate students and post-docs.  Nonetheless, I have been contributing what I can via Roth IRAs throughout grad school, knowing that the sooner I start saving the better (if you are reading this and saying “what the hell is a Roth IRA, FDX just gone flipped his lid” then you need to do some research on retirement saving, like yesterday).

Unfortunately, while living overseas and earning money in a foreign country, you cannot make contributions to an IRA unless you want to get taxed twice*. BUT, at least in the UK, you are given access to a University Superannuation Scheme (aka, a defined-benefit pension plan) no matter what University your work at. You put in 6.3% of your salary, your employer pops in 16%, and voila Bob’s your uncle, when I hit the ripe old age of 65, they start sending me checks based on my final salary and how long I made contributions. Easy as insulting a Brit with sarcasm. It’s a no brainer**.

Now, it is my understanding that in the US there is considerable variability concerning the offering of retirement benefits to postdocs. I did a little searching, and it looks like some universities may offer benefits (about 50% according to one National Postdoc Association estimate (this is a PDF)). This is absolutely ludicrous. At the very least, ALL universities should offer any full-time employee a match of up to 5% of their salary to contributions made to a 403(b) or 401(k) plan. Anything less is an absolute disgrace. University  administrators of these 50% of universities should be ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of thousands of bright young men and women just to pad their bottom line (what other reason is there to not meet the basic life requirements of an essential employee?). Saving for retirement is simply too important for administrators to ignore just because they can.

Now, if postdocs are offered a retirement plan and don’t take advantage of it, they need to get their head out of their ass and get with the program.

So, gentle reader, if you are a postdoc, are you offered retirement benefits? If so, what sort of match does the university offer you?

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*You can exclude up to about $95k of foreign income from paying US income taxes, but if you do this you forfeit the right to contribute to an IRA or Roth IRA.

**This, of course, assumes the pension plan remains solvent. I actually think defined pension plans are typically unsustainable and should be phased out over time. They are not risk-free investments, but should just be one part of a diversified portfolio.  Luckily, changes will soon be implemented to the University Superannuation Scheme here in the UK to help ensure its long-term solvency.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a certified financial adviser. In case you missed it on the way in, I’m just an “American life scientist keepin’ it real while living and working in the UK”. In no way should that be interpreted as meaning I have the appropriate certifications to provide financial advice. Actually, if you are looking for good financial advice, you probably shouldn’t be looking to someone that took the financially ruinous path of obtaining a PhD.