Monday, March 31, 2008

Dad's Job Situation

Things have turned out as well as they could have given that my dad's department no longer exists. My dad will be continuing to do essentially what he does now and remaining under his current boss; his workplace can't function without someone doing what my dad does, and right now he's the only one there with the necessary skill set.

His company handled the whole thing really poorly. The people making decisions displayed no understanding of what my dad actually does. My dad's boss's boss had to fight higher ups who didn't understand why they couldn't lay my engineer father off and just have machinists take over everything he does. They also laid off all of the machinists in the department, even though they knew they were going to keep at least two of them. Today they proceeded to call two of the machinists to offer them their jobs back, and they decided they needed them by the second shift tonight. The guys they decided to rehire were out job hunting and could not be reached.

There was one positive note for my dad. In the days following the announcement about his department, the leaders of two other departments stopped by to ask my dad to come work for them. He's happy to know he's valued, and even though he isn't planning to switch jobs anytime soon, having other options is nice.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Money Memories

English Major wrote an interesting post on her money memories. I'm a bit surprised that she doesn't remember much related to money from before her teens. My parents started paying an allowance when I was in preschool, and how I manage money as an adult reflects the lessons I learned throughout my youth.

The Camera
Throughout preschool and the first years of elementary school, my parents gave me $1 every Saturday. It was enough to get some bubble gum or some little trinket every week if I felt like it, but most of the things I really wanted required a few weeks of saving. At one point, I decided that I really wanted this camera that cost $11. I already had a few dollars saved, but it felt like it took a very long time. Every time I was at K-Mart, I'd go visit the cameras, and it was very exciting when I finally got to take one home with me. My mother bought me the first roll of film, and she always paid for developing the prints, but after that I often had to buy film using my own allowance.

For a first grader, photography was a rather expensive hobby. I didn't mind that since taking pictures was more fun that getting new toys. Looking back, I'm glad I had the self-discipline to save for a camera and film since those pictures provide a record, not just of my life at age six, but of who I was and what I found pretty or interesting. There are a lot of generic pictures of my family, the cat, the tree in our front yard, etc., but there are also a few that are fairly neat, like the pictures documenting every step of the process the night my dad decided to shave his beard, a momentous event since he'd had a beard longer than he'd known my mother.

The Bank

At first I kept all of my money in a wallet I bought a flea market. It was made of pale-green satiny fabric with a Japanese print that I thought was one of the prettiest things I'd ever seen. Eventually, by saving my allowance and money my aunt and grandmother sent for my birthday, I accumulated over $100 in that wallet, and my mother suggested I open a savings account.

For the next few years, I put every penny of birthday money and a lot of my allowance, which eventually rose to $2.50 and then $5 a week before my parents discontinued the allowance when I was in junior high, into that account. I only withdrew money to open a certificate of deposit. I have no idea how I learned about c.d.'s, but my brother and I both opened ours the same day so it may have been my mother's idea. The tellers at the bank were always so respectful when we came to the bank, and that made an impression on me. When we went to open our c.d.'s, there was a wait to see the person who handled those accounts. A teller offered us sodas, and I sat in the bank lobby, sipping Dr. Pepper from a cold glass bottle and feeling oh-so-grown-up.

I pored over my bank statement every month. Interest was fascinating; it was absolutely mind blowing that the bank would give me a few dollars every month in exchange for letting them lend my money to other people. I sent off to the Federal Reserve for a free comic book on how our country's banking system works. I was the sort of incipient pf geek who sympathized with the father from Mary Poppins and his desire to have his children put their tuppence in the bank and watch them multiply.

Why was I saving this money? For college, of course. Ultimately, that money didn't make much difference. I did well in school, studied for the SAT and ACT, and worked hard on writing good admissions and scholarship essays. My first choice, a top-notch liberal arts college with very strong science programs, accepted me and offered me $15,000 a year in scholarships, plus work study and unsubsidized Stafford loans.

It was my dream school. I'd researched it thoroughly, talked on the telephone with two of their biology professors about research opportunities, and chatted with some of their students online, and the college seemed like a perfect fit both academically and culturally. My parents hadn't been willing to make the trip to go visit in person until we determined whether attending that college would be feasible.

It wasn't. Other than what I had saved, my college fund consisted of just under $600 from the quarters my grandmother saved in a piggy bank and has us roll and take to the bank every December. My parents were prepared to help, but their expected contribution as calculated by the college was almost twice what they had calculated they could afford. I wasn't aware of the opportunities for private loans back then, but I doubt my parents would have been willing to cosign for that much money, and unemployed seventeen year olds really aren't in great positions to take out loans by themselves. I'd been raised to be aware that our family's resources were finite and that we often didn't get everything we desired, but I was still disappointed. The dream school just wasn't in reach no matter how badly I wanted it or how hard I'd worked to get in.

So I accepted the full-ride plus offered by the state university instead. It was the sensible decision. I've had the opportunity for a good education in my university's honors college at no cost, and that will make adult life easier and my parents' retirement planning less stressful. I've gotten to do neat research and work with some wonderful professors. The experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have absolutely no excuse to feel sorry for myself. Still, if I have children, I'd like for them to have choices that I did not. I plan to start setting aside savings for them now in the hope that I'll be prepared to help pay for their educations decades hence.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The downside of being a student

Posting is going to be light for the next two to two and a half weeks. I'll still be around, but not quite so much. I'd much rather do this than work on my thesis so I'd appreciate it if you yell at me or something if it looks like I'm spending too much time blogging. (Unless you want a bunch of blog posts on using lasers to study proteins.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I'm not in this for the money.

Obviously, people don't join Teach for America for the money. Becoming a public school teacher in a high poverty area isn't the most lucrative option most college graduates have available, even with the value of the snazzy Americorps education benefits factored in. I'm signing on for this out of a desire to help others, not get rich.

Still, it's good to know I'll have enough to live somewhat comfortably. The salary range for first year teachers in the Delta that TFA quotes is $27,000 to $35,000, but they also tout the opportunity to save money for the future as an advantage of teaching in their rural placement regions. Cheap housing makes a huge difference, and I expect that at the least I'll be able to budget for funding a Roth.

The difference between making $27,000 and $35,000 seems pretty significant. That might be related to differences in the cost of living in different communities, or it might just be differences in school funding. Since I'll get matched with a district rather than interviewing, I won't be able to take salary into consideration.

Honestly, I'm more worried about lifestyle inflation. Even though the pay won't be fabulous, it's still substantially more than the typical grad student stipend. I'm going to try to create a tight budget, sock away as much as possible, and develop spending habits that will be sustainable if/when I return to school.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why I'm not that worried about my FICO score

As any reader of personal finance blogs knows, the three major credit bureaus collect information on your payment history, utilization ration (credit used to credit available), types of credit in use, and length of credit history and use this information to assign a numerical score. These FICO scores are used by financial institutions to determine your creditworthiness, by insurers to help assess how likely you are file claims, and by some employers seeking to weed out chronically irresponsible applicants, among others. Although the exact formulas used to calculate these scores are proprietary, there is a lot of information available online on how to maximize your FICO scores. For some, it becomes almost a game.

I'm not playing. At this point in my life, I don't give a flying Wallenda what my credit score is. I'm not ready to buy a house, don't need to finance a car, and don't want another credit card. So why worry?

This doesn't mean that I'm planning to be stupid about credit. I'll still check my free credit reports to make sure there aren't any fraudulent accounts. I'll pay my bills on time because that's what responsible adults try to do. Running up huge debts isn't in my plans either; I'll continue to use a credit card as a convenience and pay the bill in full each month.

However, there plenty of other things that affect credit scores that just aren't worth devoting time and effort to now. My credit history is short because I got my one and only credit card less than two years ago, but that will rectify itself over time. I don't have a desirable mix of credit types since I don't have any student loans, a mortgage, a car loan, or other installment loans, but I'm certainly not going to rush out to take on debts to improve my perceived creditworthiness. My utilization ratio isn't as great as it has been because I used my card to pay for the very expensive Praxis tests, haven't paid that bill yet, and have a low credit limit. If I were trying to get a mortgage, I'd probably be paying off my card once a week instead of once a month to try to keep my utilization ratio as low as possible, but for someone in my shoes, a few points difference in my FICO score isn't likely to have much impact on my life.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Layoffs hit home

When my mother and I got home this evening, my dad was sitting in the recliner, holding a can of beer, not reading, watching television, or listening to the stereo. My mother immediately sensed something was up and asked him what was wrong.

After next Friday, his department won't exist. My dad has been assured that he will have a job after that, but they haven't yet told him anything about what that job will be. At least eight of the guys he works with are getting laid off. This isn't a good time to be in manufacturing, especially parts for the automotive industry. My dad isn't sure how much longer he'll have a job with his company if the economic downturn continues.

He's also not sure whether he'll want the new position his company will offer him. He'll take it regardless, but if he ends up working under a particular boss with whom he had major problems in the past, he's going to start applying elsewhere. My dad says that it is much easier to find a job when you are already employed, and he's going to update his resume and chat with contacts at other companies.

My parents are better prepared than most to handle the loss of their primary income, if that's what this comes down to. They have no debt whatsoever, own their house outright, and have savings. A significant period of unemployment would be a setback and mess up their plans for retirement savings, but it wouldn't be a catastrophe. My dad says if he has to work as a cart wrangler at Wal-Mart for a couple of years, he'll do it. I've suggested that if it's that hard to find another engineering position, he could instead apply to the alternative teaching licensure program since our area has a shortage of qualified math and physics teachers. It would be a lot more fun for him, and it would probably pay slightly better. We're all awaiting Monday when he should get more information at work.

Spring break

It's another exciting spring break. I've got a thesis to work on so I'm hanging around home and the university, not that I'd be doing anything much even if I didn't have to write this stupid thing. My sophomore year, I spent part of spring break at a conference that was hosted at my own university. The other years, I didn't go anywhere or do anything of note either. This has been my most expensive spring break ever, but that's thanks to Praxis tests and attending a wedding rather than leisure activities.

I'm not getting anywhere with writing my honors thesis. The very thought of it leaves me paralyzed with trepidation. My wonderful research advisor told me, "Summa is yours to lose." That was meant to be encouraging, but I absolutely hate that those around me would consider my graduating magna cum laude a mark of failure. Maybe I'll buy a bag of gummy worms and try offering myself one worm for every twenty minutes of diligence. I'm not above treating myself like a four year old and resorting to bribery to get this thing done.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stagflation here we come!

Oh, c'mon, another 3/4 percentage point rate cut on top of the Bear Stearns bailout? All of these efforts to forestall the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis seem to be delaying the inevitable and resulting in rising inflation to boot. Should we start panicking yet?

Well, I guess I shouldn't panic. Having a job lined up helps allay my recession fears somewhat, and taking what steps I can to keep my budget in order is a lot more productive than worrying. There isn't a whole lot I can do about rising food prices other than become even more vigilant about stocking up when there are good sales. I'm trying to cut back on driving, and my dad has started carpooling with a co-worker. I've been slipping up a bit on eating out and buying clothes (the dress for the wedding and $20 for three new shirts), but it's time to rein in spending again.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How do you pick a bank?

One of the minor hassles associated with moving will be changing banks. The local bank where I have my checking account has many branches in my part of the state, but there won't be any in the Delta. I hate to leave it behind since I've never had any problems, except the time they lost my $3,000 deposit, but that could happen anywhere and they handled it quickly, professionally, and courteously once I discovered their error.

My only non-negotiable criteria for a new bank are: low or no minimum balance to avoid fees, free transfers to and from online savings, good customer service, and being able to write paper checks. A somewhat convenient location would also be nice. I've withdrawn cash from an ATM around three times in the almost four years I've had my account so I don't think ATM locations will be tremendously important. I've never used bill pay or my current checking account's online banking so that isn't a big priority. Since I don't intend to park large sums of money in my checking account, earning interest doesn't matter all that much either.

Traveling and moving present fewer problems when there are branches and ATM's all over the place so the big national chains have some clear advantages. Unfortunately, the only national bank in my area is Bank of America, and I'd prefer to avoid them. They have a reputation for finding every possible opportunity to charge their customers fees.

Community banks and credit unions are an appealing option. Keeping money in the area would be nice, and I could pick a bank/credit union with locations near my home or school. However, I couldn't set up an account until I find out about my placement in July, and that wouldn't be convenient while in Houston or mid-move.

Setting up a checking account with USAA might be a good alternative. They've always offered stupendous service when I have questions or concerns about my credit card, and they are one of the most reputable companies out there. They offer an account with no minimum balance, no fees, free checks, and some small amount of interest. I'm not sure the option to deposit checks from home using a scanner and the refunds of ATM fees is quite enough to outweigh the complete lack of brick and mortar banks, but it would be convenient while my life is in transition.

Both a borrower and a lender

It's probably best to avoid borrowing money from or lending money to people you know. It can create some awkward situations, and even if the other person involved with the transaction is totally fine with it, you may still end up feeling weird. I'm currently both borrowing and owed money, and, although I have full confidence that nobody will be hurt by either of these actions, I'm still eager to get everything squared up and over with.

I owe my parents money. When I bought this new laptop, I didn't have $350 cash sitting around, and I wasn't sure whether my brother's friend would be eager to take a personal check from someone she'd never met. If I'd known in advance that I'd have the chance to buy it that night, I would have swung by the bank that afternoon, but I ended up borrowing some cash from my parents. They suggested I just skip repaying them and consider it a gift, but I'm adamantly opposed. If I thought I could pay them back by check, I would have done so that night, but the last time I borrowed from my mother, she tore up the check I wrote to repay her.

So the first order of business Monday morning is to get cash to clear my debt with my folks and to deposit my latest stipend check from the research grant and a couple of checks from Pinecone Research surveys. Then, I really ought to register for some April Praxis tests so I can file for reimbursement for those and the $195 I already spent on yesterday's exciting morning of standardized tests as soon as spring break is over.

I rather hope that my friends don't forget about paying me back for the supplies I bought for their wedding reception. They overestimated how many people would be there so we had far more cream, sugar, vanilla, and liquid nitrogen then we actually needed and I spent $68 on the food. (The department donated the nitrogen.) If they don't bring it up next week when they get back from their honeymoon, I guess I'll have to remind them.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Talking my way out of a free dinner

I had a physicsy evening last night with my dear friend S., the mildly creepy grad student from my lab, and the grad student who's been lending me the bad fantasy novels. The three of them decided on a dinner out after spending much of the weekend trapped at work in offices in the physics building, and S. suggested that they ask me along even though I wasn't there for the inception of the plan since I spend my time in a basement lab rather than upstairs having fun with them. Bad fantasy novel guy had offered to treat us girls, but S. and I resolved to pay our own way.

If we'd let him pay, then we'd have to reciprocate, and thus we'd be committed to more dinners. Plus, paying for someone of the opposite sex has overtones of dating, which this definitely wasn't since the guy from my lab is engaged (not that that keeps him from occasionally hitting on S.) and S. is seeing someone. I'd figured that we'd just casually ask for separate checks, but then bad fantasy novel guy suggested we go to the swanky Italian place downtown.

S. and I conferred briefly and agreed that that was somewhat beyond our broke college student, so I told him, "I don't think we can afford to eat there.

"But I can afford it," he replied

"But we can't.

"But I can."

This went on for quite a while before he gave up and settled on a much more reasonably priced Thai restaurant, where a good time was had by all, even your socially awkward correspondent. (For the record, I would have been less awkward if S. hadn't informed me that she wants to fix me up with bad fantasy novel guy. Not that it's the world's worst idea, but he doesn't seem interested.)

It was a bit like a good day at lunch in the junior high cafeteria. At the table nearest ours, a group of giggly sorority types drove us slightly crazy, but I'm sure they thought that we, with our talk of pirates vs. ninjas, discussion of whether it is possible to weaponize a plastic drinking straw, and Star Trek references were equally weird, if we entered their consciousness at all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What should I do with an extra $2,000?

I just got word from a fellowship program, and I'll be getting an extra infusion of cash this summer. I'd forgotten about the program entirely since I thought the possibility of receiving it was remote. Somehow, I always manage to look good on paper even though my accomplishments aren't particularly significant.

Based on my projections, I should be able to handle transitional expenses, fully fund a Roth for the first year immediately, keep a $10,000 liquid reserve, and still have grocery money until I get my first paycheck using only my current savings. I don't have any debt to put this toward paying off. (Yep, a full scholarship with stipend, generous parents, summer jobs, and frugal habits add up. I know I'm lucky and have had it very, very easy.) All the obvious bases are covered so this is genuinely extra money.

It's a nice problem to have, but I really don't know what I should do with this money. My first impulse is to give part of it to charity, but I don't think I'll donate with the entire sum. I could use it to increase my first year of contributions to a 403b, invest in index funds or ETF's in taxable account, put it in savings toward a down payment on a house, or buy a several year supply of really good dark chocolate. The most appealing option at the moment is to set up a 529 plan for future children or hypothetical nieces or nephews and pass this good fortune along to another generation, but I haven't thought eveything through yet and am open to any suggestions.

Monday, March 10, 2008

TFA Start-Up Costs (oof)

I've been trying to compile a list of the expenses I'll face to get started in teaching. It isn't going to be cheap, but Teach for America does offer grants and interest free loans to those who need the help. The costs I know about so far are:

Graduate tuition: $900 for the classes at the summer institute, where I'll teach summer school as well as learn about teaching.

Praxis tests: I hope $0. If get these all out of the way this semester, my scholarship will pay.

Travel to and from Houston for the summer institute and to the Delta: ? This pretty much depends on gas prices.

Housing and food while at the summer institute: Well, this should be $0 since a dorm room and a meal plan are provided, but I'd imagine eating out will be an important activity for getting to know everybody.

Apparel: While teaching summer school during the institute, there's a fairly strict dress code. Guys are expected to wear ties every day. I think I have enough clothing that should work, but I'll probably need a new pair of shoes, something dressy enough to wear with skirts, but comfortable enough for a job that involves standing and walking all day. Maybe $50 so I can prioritize quality over price?

Deposit and first month's rent: probably less than $500 total (?) since almost all corps member in the region have roommates, and housing prices are still quite reasonable in the Delta.

Graduate tuition for optional masters in education: possibly covered by an assistantship. I'll learn more about my options this summer.

Classroom materials: ? I have no idea what will be available or what I'll need.

Am I missing anything major?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I just spent upwards of forty dollars on towels.

They aren't even soft and fluffy! I'm not sure why you'd register for overpriced towels from Wal-Mart as a wedding gift, but I'm too apathetic to deviate from the list and find something unique and meaningful for my friends. Fortunately, my brother was there to talk me out of buying them the matching fuzzy toilet cover as well.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Getting in touch with my inner Mulder

This has been a week of doing just enough to keep up rather than diligently working ahead. After the frenetic pace of last week, including the weekend, I really needed what R&R time I could carve out of my schedule. I've lucked into a lot of cheap fun so I've been able to avoid dipping into my entertainment budget.

I gave my dad a four month subscription to Netflix for his birthday in January, and he's getting a lot of use out of it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the watching movies online thing may be done on multiple computers (up to four in a year, though not more than two at a time on the plan I gave him), and my brother and I have been making our way through the first season of Heroes together. It's a good show for sibling bonding time, and it's gotten us through the writers' strike.

As I was chatting with one of the grad students while we both procrastinated on Tuesday, he brought up a series of books he's hooked on. I was intrigued, and he offered to lend me the first one. I devoured it Wednesday, and I finished the second book this evening. They are absolute junk, all about vampires and werewolves and not exactly spectacularly written, but they are mildly addictive. I thought I got the whole bad fantasy thing out of my system years ago, but it seems not. If he'll keep lending them to me, I'll keep reading them. Everyone needs a little fluff once in a while, right?

This weekend I'll probably take advantage of one of the perks of being on a college campus: free tickets to student performances. They'll be doing Plan Nine from Outer Space: The Musical, which should round out a somewhat geeky week of entertainment perfectly. I haven't seen the movie, but my dad and I have started making Ed Wood a Halloween tradition so I'm eager to find out what I've been missing.

So, you are welcome to mock me mercilessly for my entertainment choices this week, but not for overspending.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I'm seriously considering undoing some good decisions.

My resolve to scrimp is weakening. I know what the right actions are, but like all fallible humans, I don't always want to take the them.

My attempt to save money by switching prescription medications isn't working out too well. The drug I switched to isn't working as I'd hoped, and I think I'm going to give up and go back to my old medication, even though it will cost substantially more since it isn't available in a generic. I'd had high hopes, but there just isn't much point to staying on an ineffective medicine that's causing unpleasant side effects as well. When I called the doctor's office last week to get some test results and discuss switching back to my old medication, they told me I'll have to come in for a consultation before they'll write the prescription, which irks me a bit. My doctor would have happily written the prescription to continue with what I'd been on for the past two years if I hadn't suggested the switch during my physical in January.

I am also very tempted to buy a new dress to wear to my friends' wedding on the fifteenth. My friend S. who was going to lend me a dress was invited as well, and I know she would like to wear that dress. There's certainly something in my closet that wouldn't be wholly inappropriate, but it would be nice to look half-way pretty for once and most of the dressy things I own are rather boring and matronly, many actually hand-me-downs from my mom. Then the lovely Ms. MiniDucky pointed me toward a stunning dress, and I really want to waste $40 on it. Sometimes being good is hard.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How do I politely decline the offer from my back-up?

Today's mail brought the acceptance letter from my university's masters program in teaching so I now have two perfectly good options for getting into teaching. I decided long ago that if I got into both, I'd opt for Teach for America. It's a better fit for many reasons. TFA offers the opportunity to dive in and begin trying to make real change right away. The support system for beginning teachers sounds great, and the program is designed to facilitate a smooth transition to graduate school if I eventually choose to get a Ph.D. in physics. That's important because, although I am certain any career path I might choose will involve some teaching, I'm not yet sure I want to teach secondary school forever. Part of my heart still belongs to research.

I'm not sure how to tell the director of the teaching program at my school that I won't be participating. Most of the students who apply are very certain that it is what they want to do if admitted, and there doesn't seem to be any protocol for accepting or declining the offer. The director seems to operate on the assumption that if you jump through all of the hoops and get in, you'll enroll. He has also said some fairly disparaging things about alternative licensure programs.

This requires tact. I'm very grateful for the offer, and if things had gone differently, I think I would have been very happy in the masters program. Clearly, I don't want to burn any bridges. Should I send the director a letter or email, telephone him, or should I stop by his office? At some point I have to go pick up my portfolio. Any thoughts on how to handle this from you more experienced folk?

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Official Word from Teach for America

"Congratulations! We are pleased to invite you to join the 2008 Teach For America corps and are excited to assign you to teach secondary physics (grades 6-12) in the Mississippi Delta."

There are a million things I could write about right now, about certification costs, teachers' salaries, career transitions, moving, life and finances in rural areas, issues of class and race. You'll be getting lots of those posts over the next few weeks and months, but tonight I'm just going to enjoy being excited and terrified.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


By this time tomorrow I should have my answer from Teach for America. For the past week or so, I've just wanted to get an answer, any answer, whatever they decide, and have either a really bad night or a really good night and then move on with planning for life after graduation. Now, I almost don't want to know.

I'm not sure which frightens me more, the possibility of rejection or of acceptance. I know that TFA is what I want to do, but I'm not so sure I'd be successful at fighting to end educational inequality. If I don't get in, then I have to hope that my back up plan was a good choice. In retrospect, I should have scheduled an earlier interview for the master's program so I could have an acceptance letter in hand before the TFA decision so I'd have the comfort of knowing that I was welcome somewhere. I don't think my university's program is likely to reject me, but I still have nagging irrational doubts.

My big goal for tomorrow is to get through the day without throwing up. Fortunately, I spent twelve hours in the lab yesterday so I should have plenty of mind-numbing data processing to keep me occupied.

On Purpose

My impending graduation and the process of interviewing with TFA and the master's program have forced me to reflect on what I'm doing with my life. I'd like to think I gave good answers to those sorts of questions in the interviews, but in reality I'm not so sure where I'm headed. I've found a few things I'm rather good at doing, at least a couple of which are of benefit to others and could ultimately lead to jobs that pay enough to survive, but right now my sense of purpose in life is waning.

There are some people who find careers that are absolutely perfect fits, whose purpose in life matches up extremely well with what others will pay them to do. A couple of weeks ago my dad asked me if I had ever met Dr. Suchandsuch who used to be on the physics faculty at my school. I expressed a bit of amusement at the idea that I could have somehow escaped meeting him; even though he retired in 1999, he still comes in to work five days a week so I see him in the hallways and at department events all the time. This guy enjoyed his job so much that his dream retirement consists of doing most of the same things he did while he was working for pay, minus some of the duller administrative aspects and department politics.

Many people find themselves in careers that they aren't so passionate about but still take some satisfaction in. I think my father falls into this category. He's a mechanical engineer and finds his job slightly boring. Engineering is still the best possible field for a car-obsessed math and science geek, and he's found a low-stress job he's good at that leaves him plenty of time to read and pursue other interests (mathematics, philosophy, and history, lately with a focus on Mediaeval Europe, in addition to all things automotive) during the hours he isn't at work.

Then there are those who are almost completely adrift, like my brother. He's a sophomore who hates college. He has no idea what he wants to do with his life, and after over a year and a half as an undeclared major who has been taking physics, programming, and math classes, the only thing he's sure of is that he doesn't want to do physics or programming and couldn't make a career of math. He is very bright, but is perpetually in danger of losing his scholarship because he doesn't keep up with the work and doesn't see the point of doing so if it isn't leading to anything anyway. My parents are encouraging him to defer his scholarship for a year, find some menial job, live at home and pay rent, and, they hope, discover some motivation to finish school, if only to escape the menial jobs.

I've watched people I care about hit that problem where they don't see where they could possibly be going in life, and I've experienced it myself. It's still a struggle to accept not having a long-term plan and press on anyway. I have to keep trying to find productive things to do in the meantime and hope that I'll eventually find a niche in the world.