Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Where are you and where are you going?
Posts: 77
Joined: Tue Dec 19, 2017 7:22 am

Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Sat Dec 23, 2017 5:10 am

After a while of lurking in the shadows, reading the ERE blog, forum journals and posts, I was impressed by what an exceptionally thoughtful and constructive little corner of the internet this is. I'm amazed by the candid and detailed stories here and hope I can find the courage to be just as open. So here's me taking the plunge with my own journal.

*Character Sheet*
Age: 25y
Gender: f
Myers–Briggs Type: INTP (-T) (not 100% sure because self-assessed)
Family status: no kids, no close family, living with long-term partner
Location: central Europe, possibly USA in future
Job: PhD student in Molecular Life Sciences (Biochemistry), side gig as a Tutor
Salary: 35k/year before tax (currently saving about 35% after tax for fun)
Debt: gone!
Net worth: ~35-40x with current expenses (over 140x if I stop working, move and enter "retired living mode")
Interests: Science, learning new skills and ideas, sustainable living, metal music, reading, motorcycles, budget travel

Childhood: I'm glad it's over. Had many different influences, but a few of them were good.
Last 5 years: got some Uni degrees while struggling hard financially, got into veganism, lost my immediate family, had 2 huge windfalls, battled with depression and major health problems/surgery, moved together with my partner, started science career.
Now: learning to invest wisely, trying to live more minimalist lifestyle, still working on my mental health.
Next 5 years: finish PhD, travel for a few months with partner, get a post-doc position abroad, grow/maintain net worth by smart investing, get partner on board with FI values, be a more balanced person. Figure out what to do with my life.

I'm very interested in the perspective ERE brings to a career in science/academia (or the other way around?). I have enjoyed the views relating to this expressed by Jacob on the ERE blog (key words: careerism, quitting after postdoc, handing over the torch in science) and the respective journals here on the Forums (specifically Frosti85 and black_son_of_gray come to mind).

This journal will be about sharing my story so far and posting updates on my current situation/ developments going forward. There might be occasional smitherings of random thoughts too. While I'm used to write clearly about science and ideas, everything personal/emotional still gives me a headache. So prepare yourselves for rambling trails of thought and weird structuring.


Ad astra per aspera
Per aspera ad astra is a latin phrase which can be roughly translated as “through hardship/suffering to the stars/to greatness”. It has been the motto of various organizations and governments, but originates from a play from Seneca (1st century AD). This motto resonates with me strongly, because honestly the first 20 years of my life were very much aspera, yet striving for the stars has always been one of my strongest motivations. At first, these were the literal stars, as I was interested in astrophysics, the big bang and possible habitable planets. Later my interest in astrobiology (the study of life in space, but more specifically how life could have originated in the habitats we find in space) leads me to biochemistry, so the stars have become more figurative, namely the ideals of science and the pursuit of knowledge. It can be inverted to ad astra per aspera, because Latin. I like this version better, because it puts the goal fist and the hardship behind you.

Posts: 35
Joined: Wed May 04, 2016 9:47 pm

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by P_K » Sat Dec 23, 2017 1:29 pm

Welcome, Astra! I like your choice of name; it is good to hear you’re moving away from the aspera phase of your life and onto some exciting things. Fascinating fields of study. I spent some time studying astrophysics at university, though not enough to make a career of it. The types of problems posed, and their implications – the very origins of the universe and all life! – made it one of the most interesting fields I’d ever studied; and, I’d imagine makes it a very rewarding profession.

It sounds like you’ve come to the right place. With your net worth, learning to invest wisely or (with >100x NW) at least how to not invest unwisely is a, well, wise choice. You’ll definitely learn a lot from the folks here, though a more formal set of readings might be warranted as well (see ... sting.html). Absent that, just doing lots and lots of reading on the subject of investing to learn about the pros and cons of what’s available as an investment in relation to your knowledge and risk tolerance as an investor will be important. Your current position as a PhD student has prepared you quite well for that task ;) haha.

Looking forward to following along in your journal.

Posts: 480
Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:09 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Fish » Sat Dec 23, 2017 1:45 pm

Nice start to your journal! Wow, you've been through a lot. I think you've managed well, and I'm even more amazed considering the circumstances. It will be very interesting to follow your story and see how you decide to live your life since you're already FI in your mid-twenties. But as jacob says, "FI only ever solved one problem: the need for an earned income." Everyone has their own struggles.

"Per aspera ad astra" is my favorite Latin phrase. I repeat it like a mantra when things get difficult. No guarantee of greatness, but it's the only way there.

Posts: 824
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2017 5:09 pm
Location: Germany

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by wolf » Sun Dec 24, 2017 12:39 am

Welcome Astra! That is quite an intro. I am also looking forward to read about your journy in your journal. (no pressure here to start one :-)
There is a good website from one member of the forum. It is about various portfolio asset allocations. They are visualized and explain a lot. @Typler9000: Thank you! You could start reading about investing there.

Posts: 890
Joined: Tue Aug 30, 2016 9:34 am
Location: Italy

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Seppia » Sun Dec 24, 2017 5:12 am

Great journal title, I wish I were so classy with my choice!
"Per aspera ad astra" is also my sister's motto
Best of luck with your journey

Posts: 57
Joined: Sat Nov 28, 2015 4:24 pm

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Dunkelheit » Mon Dec 25, 2017 3:23 pm

Hi and welcome, Astra! I'm very sorry that you went through many changes in the last 5 years (I can feel related about losing close relatives and depression). You seem one of those introverts who hides a deep rich inner life that sounds difficult to understand. I wish we can know you deeper in this journal ;)

About investing, indexing is a simple way to start, Besides with your NW, you don't need to worry too much about market fluctuations, and could use more time in your career and hobbies than worrying about markets. Authors like William Bernstein could be a good start. I always recommend his "The Four Pillars of Investing", or directly John Bogle's "The little book of Common Sense Investing". A large portfolio of index funds/ETFs together with a smaller portfolio of stocks (to satisfy our gambling instinct) could be a good option. Anyway, you don't need to have great returns once you have much more than what you NEED to live. Having +100x sounds like that.

Seneca is one of my masters but I'd never heard that latin phrase. Now it's one of my favourites together with Memento mori and Amor fati. Thanks!

Have a nice time here. I wish you all the best in your journey!

Dunkelheit, another metal-lover permaculturist-hippie INTP (-T)

Posts: 77
Joined: Tue Dec 19, 2017 7:22 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Fri Dec 29, 2017 11:03 am

Wow, thanks to everyone for the warm welcome and your interest.
I greatly enjoyed the “life story” aspects of other folk's journals here on the forum and on other blogs. I believe the path behind every one of us tells how we developed the present-day character, mindset and skills. Even though it is often the last thing one wants to hear when in a bad situation, it is frequently very character-building to experience hardship (at least in retrospect). I hope to develop this into a mindful sort of stoicism, where I can recognize the beneficial parts of it during the bad experience – but I'm still working on that ;) So here's my attempt at writing down my life's story so far!
*ALERT: embarassing introspection ahead* :D

Because my childhood was very dark and complicated, I will not discuss it in detail; because 1. I am still not able to talk about some of the things that happened and 2. it would make me easily identifiable. Speaking from experience, it is nothing people want to know about anyway, since whenever I am answer questions about my childhood, people literally recoil, squirm in unpleasantness and change the topic. It's not something people are taught how to handle, so they don't. To avoid all that unpleasantness, I'll skip right to my late teens: if my life were a stock, this would have been the ideal “buy window”, because it was a financial, emotional and personal low point for me.

My story part I: The darkest hour
For as long as I can remember, I was very attracted to logical thinking, later science, philosophy and how we can know thing about the world. Perhaps, this was a bit of escapism, trying to tune out my horrible childhood and youth, and strive to something better, purer, a more objective view of the world. In High School, I learned about molecular cell biology, the beginning of life and quantum physics, and was immediately hooked (these topics might not seem like they go together, but they do!). In 2010, I was super excited to go to Uni, and do nothing but think all day and have deep discussions with like-minded people with an equal thirst for knowledge. You can imagine my disillusionment when arriving there and discovering that the large majority was there to earn a degree and asking “will this be on the exam?”. I also had some financial struggles: despite a well-developed welfare state, I sort of fell through the cracks because of my unusual family situation. After some unfortunate foster care situations, the bureaucratic mill pushed my case around for years, while I was struggling to pay my bills and eat and study at the same time. I was on my own by 16, to pay bills, do household chores (I was in a shared flat at the time), go to High School and negotiate with the officials for my pension. High school and later my major was not one of those where you can easily fit a side job, and worked different jobs during breaks. Despite my big aversion of going into dept, I got a interest-free loan to tide me over. I finally got some help from the state via a generous monthly pension, things were ok for 2 years. However, there was a huge fuck-up by the bureau, they decided that I had no right to this pension after all and finally I was suddenly forced to repay the full amount I had received. I got a bill of 42k and got threatened with lawyers for my “fraud” (which was their fuck-up in allocating me the pension from a fund I apparently did not qualify for after all, I merely took it). The fund which I did qualify for was not accessible in retrospect (eg I had to apply new and could not get anything for the 2 years I was paid from the “wrong” pot). At the same time I struggled with the death of several close family members and an abusive boyfriend (now ex). This nearly broke me. Dealing with all this shit, my exam performance dropped and I came very close to dropping out of Uni. I had always done very well academically, seeing myself do so poorly in topics I loved dragged me down even further. I went from a good monthly pension to no money at all and huge dept in a matter of days. I could not pay my health insurance rates, and needed surgery at the same time, I was scared of getting slapped with the full hospital cost if I could not keep up the insurance payments. I missed courses and exams due to hospitalization, or wrote them drugged up and in pain, resulting in horrible grades. Money was a constant worry, I seriously considered doing escort work (you can get amazing rates as a non-foreign girl) or getting in with some shady “friends” on DMT synthesis. Both would have made decent cash and could have ruined my future career forever. This was the main reason I did not enter either of those “opportunities”: they would be a stain on me, possibly for life. Also, I don't know how I would have reacted to it, if I could have beard the additional emotional stress of prostitution/criminal activities. In retrospect, I'm of course glad that I did not risk it. So how did I survive? I got some well-paying gigs tutoring rich kids in science and math, pay went straight into my insurance payments and “debt”, moved to a tiny cockroach-infested studio in the “bad” part of town, walked everywhere and dumpster dived. Yes, that is eating the stuff other people throw away, which is actually better than it sounds (eg bread, fruit and veg that shops throw out almost daily). Sometimes you find clothes too, or household items. Lunch I brought from home or I looked for leftover plates at Uni cafeteria that people don't finish. Shampoo was left often at the Uni gym showers, with no-one coming back to claim it. Only thing I bought was oil, spices, lentils, beans, rice etc and tomato paste to go with my free veggies. Searching for good recipes online I discovered the vegan diet and got interested in the ideology behind it, but that's another story. Not having spare money for going out, I spent my time at home being a loner, prepping food, reading stuff online and tinkering on various free projects (remember this for later!). This, plus being sad over my situation and my family dying, led my then-boyfriend to proclaim that I was no fun at all, and leaving me. I also owed him some money, which was like a toxic shackle. I think he was also a bit pissed about my financial situation and me “not willing to do anything about it” eg escort work/livecam stuff. Then, this was just another blow, but looking back, WOW did he do me a big favor by dumping me! Some people are just such a drain on your system, but at the time I did not recognize that we were incompatible and he was actually really bad for me. Turns out I am not very good at picking men, so he was only the most recent guy in a long line of asshats. Lessons learned, hopefully.

My story part II: Turnaround
Next to frugal living and the end of this wreck of a relationship, one more thing contributed to my turnaround: I started seeing a psychiatrist. I was very skeptical at the beginning, but he has really helped me get some perspective, start dealing with the issues left from my childhood and the deaths of my family, untangling from my ex, accepting emotions. I was able to arrange a repayment plan for that debt, finished my degree and started making more money to sustain myself. I got into a new, better relationship. I said goodbye to trying for perfect exam scores and focused on more fulfilling side projects. Suddenly, money started coming in: after processing of the wills, legal stuff and house clearing, the family house was sold. On one hand, this broke my heart, selling the only place I would call home during my turbulent childhood, on the other hand, my share of the sale allowed me to pay down my debt in one payment! (Both my interest-free loan and the pension money I owed due to the mess-up). So I was finally free.
In 2013 and 2015, I was also able to sell two of my projects to companies. They were both ideas I had during my teens, developed for years on the side, and protected under provisional patent, which is fairly easy to get. I will not name specific details or numbers about the ideas themselves or the sale. One was a mechanical engineering problem in trains, which was mostly solved with an electronic switch, my solution was purely mechanical and both cheaper and more reliable under extreme weather conditions, and could be read out easily. I sold my design, prototypes, test data and the rights to my idea to a large railroad company, and it has probably saved them many times over what they payed me. My other idea I had later, and it is more a biochemistry/synthetic biology quirk I observed. Long time I had no idea what to do with it, and took it into various directions in thought experiments and computer simulations, and a few very basic “homestyle” experiments (kids, don't try this at home!). Finally I found an application while reading a recent medicinal chemistry publication and realizing my observation would make a perfect solution. I performed some rudimentary experiments and calculations and feasibility studies. I realized that I could not pursue this idea on my own and encouraged by my earlier sale to the railroad company, I decided to sell this to a pharma company. Being in my field of study, it was much closer to my heart, but drug development in Pharma is hugely expensive, risky and takes years – so it was the sensible thing to hand my idea baby over to the professionals. I assembled all my documentation, made a nice presentation and pitched to several large and medium companies. One made me an offer on the spot, which my lawyer/patent consultant said was fair for such an underdeveloped product (it wasn't even really a product at all). So I sold and resigned all my rights to my idea. They did offer me a job though, but I wanted to get a PhD first. Maybe I also had a fear of not measuring up to expectations in the company. Looking back, it was for the best: I was an idiot back then, very much blindly wandering between drug development and patent rights, having no clue what I was doing. I was insanely lucky to observe what I did and that the company gave me a fair deal. Even in the hands of the medical chemistry company, my idea did not make it to the trial phase yet. It has some pharmacological problems that mean it can either never become a efficacious medicine, or major advances in other fields are needed to continue developing it. The company seized research on this project for the time being, but still has the rights to pick it up in the future. Knowing more about the field now, I realize how lucky it was that I sold when I did. Back after the sale I worried about my idea making millions, and me selling out too early.
All these events resulted in me going from broke and in debt to high net-worth individual in a matter of 1,5 years. Plus I now had a regular salary from my Masters/PhD (which I had no problem getting, I am apparently very convincing in the lab), so suddenly I had more money than I could reasonably spend. Remember, I was still in a very “poor person” mindset, so I fluctuated between eating my regular lentils + veg out of broken tupperware and dropping a few hundred (or thousand) on some dumb purchase or traveling. The money from my sales was too overwhelming for me, so I parked it on a separate, managed bank account, swearing not to touch it until I had an investment plan. I oftentimes felt that I did not deserve this huge windfall and that this part of my wealth was somehow “not mine”. I often likened it to winning the lottery. Even if you factor in the work I did put into developing these ideas, and the sale, it does not add up to anything resembling “real work”. I did not know what to do with this money, and what it meant for my life. Also I had no idea that something like ER existed, I just took it as a given I would work until 65 like everyone else, no matter what. My other salary I would often save for a few months only to drop it on some dumb dumb splurge (file that under regrettable purchases). I thought I deserved a slice of the normal consumerist lifestyle, after my years of whiled dumpster salad, pressure-cooked beans and secondhand socks. For a while I demonstratively refused to have a budget. Since then I have mellowed out a little: staring to save part of my salary to feed my investment account (currently about 35% after tax, far from Extreme), and on the other hand getting more comfortable shuffling around previously unimaginable sums on my investment account. However, I'm happy to report my overall lifestyle did not inflate too drastically. Even the small middle-class amenities (eating out, having coffee in a cafe, buying a sweater in a department store, going to the sauna, an evening out with friends) were like luxury to me, only to be savored on special occasions. I am so grateful (in a non-spiritual way) for all the things and opportunities I have now. I hope I never get used to this, and always remember the hardship compared to what I have now.

It is still something of a mindsplit for me to deal with the numbers: in everyday life, I still count the cents on which rice pack will be the cheapest, or might deny myself coffee to save a few bucks, and get super excited when I get something I need half-off. Many of my friends think of me as a tightwad supreme. But in my online broker account, I can trade lots of zeroes and ones with a few mouseclicks and sometimes make or loose many times my monthly expenses in just a day. I have to deal with this in a very abstract way of thinking – otherwise I fear getting greedy or emotional. There are just so many orders of magnitude in thinking between my everyday money/salary and my private wealth/investment portfolio.
Is this split mind something every FI person deals with, or does it get easier over time?

Posts: 1206
Joined: Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:05 pm
Location: Gates of the Arctic

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by theanimal » Fri Dec 29, 2017 11:47 am

Wow!! What an amazing story. I am at a loss of words. Your turn around is beyond admirable. Thank you for sharing.

Posts: 997
Joined: Fri Jul 17, 2015 9:31 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by ThisDinosaur » Fri Dec 29, 2017 2:25 pm

Welcome aboard, Astra. Your list of interests is pretty close to mine, so I'm looking forward to more of your journal. Would you be willing to talk any more about your area of research? How are you investing currently? Have you talked FI with your SO?

Also, since you are into stoicism, I don't mind pointing out that your years of poverty have perfectly prepared you for ERE. Anyone else getting a major windfall at your age would probably spend it on stupid stuff. So, lucky you!
Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do

Family father
Posts: 101
Joined: Wed Nov 02, 2016 10:59 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Family father » Fri Dec 29, 2017 5:23 pm

Astra wrote:
Fri Dec 29, 2017 11:03 am
Even the small middle-class amenities (eating out, having coffee in a cafe, buying a sweater in a department store, going to the sauna, an evening out with friends) were like luxury to me, only to be savored on special occasions.
I think out loud (and try to convince myself ;)):

What makes special to eat out? the food? not having to do the dishes or cook? or the people you spend the time with?

And with the coffe at the cafe? is the fact that the coffe is so much good tan the one you make at home? (I can't help there: coffee is not my choice of caffeine 8-) ) or just to have a moment for yourself in the middle of the day?

I didn't understood the buying a sweater: I've done it so many times just because it was saturday, and I was at the mall, and it was a sale, and... I was in auto-mode!! I feel ashamed :oops: : it never gave me the happiness you could expect, it only leaves me with more clothes than I need (so this year's objectives is 0 € in clothing.. no matter what! :lol: )

I'll accept the sauna: it's an experience, so it's up to everyone to decide if it's worth the cost or not (it is one of the things I enjoy, but I can't even tell if it's worth for me.. I suppose it depends on the moment :) )

That's why we (surely I, maybe you or others too) are into ER and FI, so we can decide to have as much of those luxuries (spend time with friends, have time to ourselves... ) as we want!

And to be able to do that, we must dissect those experiences to identify if what makes them special is the same that makes them expensive!!

P.S: I absolutely agree with Seppia: now this is a CLASSY name for a journal!!

Posts: 858
Joined: Fri Aug 03, 2012 9:05 pm

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Kriegsspiel » Fri Dec 29, 2017 6:08 pm

Good stuff.

Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Jan 09, 2014 10:05 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by phil » Sat Dec 30, 2017 3:00 am

Fascinating story Astra.

Posts: 1000
Joined: Wed Dec 16, 2015 4:17 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by daylen » Sat Dec 30, 2017 5:31 am

Interesting stuff. Can relate. Break up a little more next time for us inattentive folks? :lol:

Posts: 77
Joined: Tue Dec 19, 2017 7:22 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Sat Dec 30, 2017 11:45 am

Thanks y'all for the kind feedback!

@Daylen: Sorry about the huge textdump, but I thought ending it without the turnaroud might have been a bit depressing :D

@Family father newbye: Certainly something I am trying to stay conscious about - is it not wonderful how many options and nice things we have to choose from? None of those should become part of everyday life, as they would loose their spice. I don't want to set myself up to "need" a daily dose of Mermaid-branded Coffee, a weekly spa treatment, my nails done, my meals cooked by a prefessional chef and a big-ass car. All these things are not required at all, and by becoming addicted to them we are only setting us up for more misery should we loose them. It is still nice to indulge occasionally: right now I'm enjoying a bounty of post-Christmas chocolates sales! However, appreciating all the stuff I have and not becoming complacent is a constant excersise for me - and occasionally I like a nice culling of my habits and posessions.

@ThisDinosaur: I will certainly write more about my opinions on science and also my investment activities soon. Also, I must admit I was not entirely above some regrettable spending when I got my payout (lots of books and some fancy gadgets), which a more frugal person would have avoided. There were some hickups in the transititon between not having any money to spend and learning how to spend money wisely - call it going from frugal out of necessity to frugal out of choice. While my SO and I regularly talk about financial issues and how to save more of our income/ reduce expenses, I'm not pressing the issue of ER. Mostly because I have not made up my mind yet if I actually want to retire (I currently enjoy my career, yet it's good to have FU money). Also, he is not really sold on the idea that one can reach FI with a regular salary and perhaps I'm not the right person to convince him. Right now I'm trying to live by example and hope it convinces him of the virtues of frugality.

@Dunkelheit: Always nice to meet a fellow Metalhead! I am aware most FI sites strongly push index investing and tell you how you can't beat the market. Perhaps my gambling instincts are too strong, but I'm heavy into stocks, since I can affort to take bigger risks right now. I actually enjoy/am quite sucessfull at stock picking and trading on a weekly basis, but that might be temporary. As my interests move on, or I begin to live off my investments, I might transition to a more hands-off style and revisit index funds.

@MDFIRE2024: Ha! I remembered that site from the heat maps showing the success of investment strategies over the years, but I could not recall the adress despite furious googling. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention!

@Fish: Thanks! I think I managed well too, but there were more than a few chances it could have gone the other way. Looking back, it's sometimes scary to think how close I came to total ruins.

@P_K: Jacob's "Investment crashcourse" reading list has been an inspiration to me, but I struggle to get these exact books where I live. Although being trained in logical thinking certainly helps, I feel there is as much of an art as a science to investing (and a dash of psychology?). There is no set of methods or a protocol everyone agrees is correct. Right now I'm trying to read online, fidget with data analysis and get some old-fashioned learning-by-doing-experience. And trying not to get greedy ;)

Posts: 77
Joined: Tue Dec 19, 2017 7:22 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Sun Jan 14, 2018 7:17 am

End of Year Update

Things have been a-changing these last few weeks. I broke them down into categories.

Personal career outlook

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I was doubting everything about my future life. This is much along the lines of what Jacob writes about careerism and the “hard work ethic”. Both my upbringing and by personal pride have left me with a natural understanding that I must give my best and have a successful career. Especially in the sciences, this view is very internalized: my Prof for example could not even imagine why someone would like to leave academia, much leave any job. Reading critique about this internalized world view made me realize how much I have bought into it my whole life. I strongly identify as what my job is, it is a very important part of who I am. But was I wrong to feel this way, was I manipulated into it by society? Perhaps I could be just as happy traveling the world in a van, or living off the land in homestead in the middle of nowhere? If I got enough distance from biochemisty, would I eventually not miss it anymore? There are 3 levels to this problem:
  • What I do really fun (most of the time). I get to think creatively, yet also work with my hands (as long as pipetting microliters of clear liquid around is considered handy work). I get to present my work at conferences and get praised. Could I get the same levels of satisfaction from any other work (like home projects, homesteading, small business)?
  • My country has already sunk a lot of money into me. Taxpayer money has payed for part of my studies, the University itself and all of my research (I have federal grants for both my salary now and my experiment costs). Don't I owe a debt to society to work at least a few years as a scientist. Imagine someone going to medical school on the government dime, then after graduation saying “K thanx bye” and never practicing medicine at all? While my studies were not quite as expensive as Med school, the same principle applies. Normally the State would get paid back both in services to the population (my findings) and taxes generated from my higher-than-average salary. If I retire right after earning a PhD, they get neither.
  • What the hell else to I do with my time? We only have a finite amount of time of existence. Me thinks we should try to lead a meaningful life. The problem is that one does not know in advance where the most meaning can be found. Perhaps I would be more helpful giving volunteer aid in poor countries? Or perhaps my primary goal should be minimizing my footprint on this planet? Or maybe I do have a shot of discovering something great if I stay on my current career path? Or perhaps by staying I just use up resources and money and space that could be used for a more talented scientist?
Is it sad saying my job gives meaning to my life? Maybe a little bit. But I've never really seen my job as a job, more as a life mission. (In German, the word for job is Beruf, which stems from Berufung, a calling. Similar thing in Latin with vocatio.)
These questions left me in low spirits at the beginning of the new year (despite publishing 2 papers right after new year, this is a pretty important deal in a scientist's career). I had just finised my big PhD project way ahead of schedule and was unsure what to do with my remaining time (and life). I went back to the lab on Jan 8 in a bit of a funk, to write my yearly report and push a few papers around. But the next days the fire was back: I came up with 3 new projects and spent the day prowling through research databases in a fascination-fueled frenzy. I was so focused on my research plans that I forgot to eat and whenever I had to go to the toilets, I rushed down the hallway eager to get back and try to solve the next piece of the puzzle. I also spend a few hours spit balling with my Prof, throwing ideas back and forth, wildly attacking each other's hypothesis and having a brief fight about magnesium concentrations. (Side note: I seriously love this guy. He gets infected with a “cool idea” virus just as much as I do, the kind of crazy notion that gets your eyes twinkly with all the possibilities and lets your imagination run wild. He's a strong proponent of “hypothesis-driven” research and lets me do what I want. He also sends me to all kinds of rad conferences to mingle with the other nerds, all expenses covered by the Uni. I also love the science community: all of us are just a tad crazy, but every now and then it earns a Nature paper or a Nobel.)

Long story short: I really love where I am right now. I am incredibly lucky to have people providing money and lab equipment so that I can test the crazy ideas that wake me up at 3 am. Whether I will truly find something that helps humanity I do not know, and whether I will make it in academia up the postdoc ladder to the professorship is also in the stars. But for now I'm willing to give it a shot. Not because I want to become a famous researcher, but because I know I will have a hella great time trying!*

Academic science has often been described as game of “up or out” moves. There are several points where you can either advance to the next level (PhD->Postdoc->Group leader -> Professor) or drop out. For example people are afraid of getting trapped on the Postdoc stage, not enough publications to advance to group leader and get grants, too academic to be accepted for an industry job, plus running out of the age window for Postdocs. This fear lets many talented researchers drop out early, e.g. look for industry positions right after their PhD (where their research field is often not valued and they have to retrain entirely). I have the advantage of technically being FI already; thus I can enter the game of shoots and ladders without fear of loosing my livelihood. I also do not have to tolerate oppressive bosses or projects I don't like, because I have the freedom to walk away. I feel this could make me a better, uncompromising scientist, since my livelihood is not directly tied to my research.


I have held my portfolio in the same Bank for years, ever since I got my payouts. At the time I assumed their fees were standard. I have done some research and noticed the fees are exorbitant! Especially the ones for trading stocks, which I've been doing more of this past year, and going forward. Example: buying any stock title cost me 90 Euro with my old bank (or a certain percentage, higher for the amount I usually trade). Compare this to online brokers like Interactive Brokers or DeGiro, where buying stocks will run you 2-8 Euros. Of course I'm aware that there are some legal differences between Banks and Online Brokers, nevertheless I decided to migrate everything in 2018. I do this by selling off my positions in the old bank, then transfering the money to the new account, where I buy the same positions again or something different (as part of my overall investment strategy). This is because money transfer is free, but title transfer would run me another 130 Euro a pop (120 from the old bank, 10 on the new broker). Nevertheless, I made some good progress this last year. Here's my stats for 2017:

Stock-Portfolio {63% of NW} Net-return 2017*: 22.1%
This is my stock portfolio I manage all on my own, using a value-investment method with medium-long holding times (6 months to 3 years). In the beginning, I had an advisory service from the bank, which would suggest stocks to me. This was useful while learning the ropes and developing my own strategy, I have since canceled it. 2017 was the year I started actively trading (buy/sell maybe once a month, regularly keep tabs on my stocks and watch-list) and it shows! Compare this to my previous returns: 2014 I had +14.6%, 2015 minus 2.6% (mostly due to falling Swiss Franc mid-Jauary, the following economic downturn in Europe due to Greece and Germany, and my portfolio being poorly made to cope with these events), 2016 only yielded +1.7%. Total net return since the beginning of Portfolio in late 2013 was 44.4%, with a volatility of 12.2%. While 2017 was also economically a strong year and I was definitely lucky, this is a sign that it was the right choice to take managing my stocks portfolio into my own hands. More on my strategy on a later post.
* This is the total yearly net return after fees

ETF-Bot {20% of NW} Net-return 2017: 7.5%
This is a finance vehicle offered by my bank I decided to try out for 1.5 years (sold everything Dec 2017). It is based on ETF (Index funds that can be traded themselves like stocks), which is buys/sells depending on an interesting algorithm (basically it just analyzes moving averages of different time windows; the crossovers indicate the ideal time to invest or pull out of one market (=trend signal). It then automatically goes all in or all out on one market via the corresponding index fund. All buy/sell fees are covered by the overhead fee for the bot, which is 0.8%). This is very similar to pure Index fund investing, but you are trying to sit out the market downturns. It was a fun experiment for me, but obviously it performed worse than my self-managed assets. Plus since I'm changing banks anyway, I pulled out and will allocate this money back to my self-managed assets.

Bonds {12% of NW} Net-return 2017: 3.1%
Bonds are booooring! I'm thinking of doing something else with this part (I'm selling them anyway because of the bank switch). I won't put everything in stocks (I already got enough adrenaline in my life), but maybe some very stable index funds or something real-estate-related.

Retirement account {4% of NW} Net-return 2017: 4.5%
My private IRA-like vehicle is invested in diversified ETFs again. Not much I can do here, although I guess 4.5% is decent. I can only dream about employer matching! xD

cash {1% of NW} Net-return 2017: 0.25%
I have a small emergency fund and a savings account for traveling and taxes. Pondering if I should dissolve this and put it into stocks. As it is it is not earning any returns, and I can sell stock anytime if I require money. On the other hand I frequently need to pay high bills for travel and medical costs, for which I later get reimbursed by my employer and my insurance respectively. So having that cushion is useful sometimes.

Note that all returns get fed right back into the investments, I am currently living well of my PhD salary. I also managed to save about 12000 Euro this year from the salary side, half goes into maxing out the retirement account (Tax-exemption, yay!) and half into by stock portfolio. May it yield great returns in the coming year!

Getting rid of stuff

My free time around the holidays was spend actively curating my stuff. I went through my basement and attic, the kitchen, my clothes, and finally my book case to curb as much as possible. Much stored away in boxes in attic and cellar were left from my family, I was unable to let go of their things during the initial grief. Now I that I have some distance and done some healing, I can realistically assess the worth and usefulness of these objects. Obviously I'm keeping some thing, like Fotos or a few special mementos or things I regularly use (like my grandmas trusty potato-masher).

I can't believe how much stuff I have managed to accumulate in my still young life. The thought of moving without culling my belongings first scares me. For everything that must go, I made some judgment whether is was worthwhile selling over the internet, otherwise they went to goodwill. Filled up a friends car with boxes to donate and I honestly don't even remember what was in there (eg I don't miss anything). Books was difficult at first: I have always taken pride in being a well-read person and of my full bookcase/ private library. It took some realizing that loving books is about reading them, not owning them. So now all my books are scanned and for sale online. Over the past weeks I have sold and mailed over 150 books (science textbooks, graphic novels and English lit are the most popular) and over 400 more are still waiting online for a new owner. This is excluding the hundreds I donated for being in bad condition, very old or not in demand enough. Some serious cash is flowing in, since I'm also selling some clothes and antiques and other knicknacks. The guy at the post office already rolls his eyes when I show up with my daily load (I'm keeping them in business all by myself ;) ). But I'm not doing this for the money, I'm doing it to downsize. It's good to know that another person will enjoy my book or shirt, and I in turn cherish my remaining things much more. The kitchen cupboards are less crowded with appliances and dishes I don't use, and it's a joy to find what I need quickly when cooking, and to put it back after washing without having to play tetris.

I haven't been to the book shop, and I've only bought one book online in the last 6 months (which would be the ERE book). Turns out I read more than ever: books lent through friends, from the library (which alas is not free, but cheaper than buying), and through a book exchange network – all of which give me a steady stream of novel letter-combinations to absorb.

Getting rid of stuff and downsizing is an ongoing process. Next up: shoes, tools, electronics, toiletries and CDs/tapes (yes I still have and use those *cries analogue tears*)

ERE book reading

In my welcome thread, I was firmly encouraged to read the ERE book. So after perusing the library registry (they did not have it and were not open to requests – buffoons!), I had the big rain forest river bring it to me. I'm currently starting chapter 2 (I'm trying to pace myself, lest I rush through the book too fast), but the envelope is already getting damaged by my backpack (American paperback books always have such flimsy envelopes! Arg). So I put a nice protective jacket on it like we had to back in school :) Might make it hardcover if I have the time. The nice LaTeX layout is giving me undergrad flashbacks (Introduction to quantum physics scripts anyone?). Shame not more publications use LaTeX for formatting.

Might post some thoughts and reactions to the content in a later post.

Posts: 632
Joined: Thu Jul 22, 2010 2:44 pm

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Chris » Sun Jan 14, 2018 3:26 pm

Astra wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 7:17 am
Of course I'm aware that there are some legal differences between Banks and Online Brokers, nevertheless I decided to migrate everything in 2018. I do this by selling off my positions in the old bank, then transfering the money to the new account, where I buy the same positions again or something different (as part of my overall investment strategy). This is because money transfer is free, but title transfer would run me another 130 Euro a pop (120 from the old bank, 10 on the new broker).
If you sell in one account and then buy it back in another account, aren't you unnecessarily subjecting yourself to capital gains tax? I know that would be the case in the US, but I'm not sure about your particular situation.

Posts: 205
Joined: Sat May 30, 2015 2:29 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Crazylemon » Mon Jan 15, 2018 3:01 am

On debt to society I would not fret about it. Your example of medical school, I know loads of people who do just that. Either find medicine is not for them or they move abroad for better terms and conditions. Society expects lots of things from everyone, doesn't mean they get it. If the government felt strongly enough about it they could always tie grants to working with them for X number of years. They don't, so clearly it isn't a major problem (they want to make Doctors do that here but that is bit too off topic for a journal...)

Having said that I think I would be having the same dilemma as you if I had the same financial firepower. I am not yet ready to give up my work. That isn't a problem if you actually enjoy it. I would probably try and negotiate better terms to avoid the drudgery bit because I can take it or leave it.

It isn't sad to say a job helps give meaning, if it is actually doing that rather than just 'don't know what else I could do'. I would recommend if you haven't reading 'Disciplined Minds'. See if it resonates with what you currently do. I have seen so many people for whom it explained why they are so dissatisfied. For now, it doesn't for me and probably (my guess) for you. 'Shop class as Soulcraft' does. But it will probably help with numbers 2 and 3 on your list.

Posts: 4745
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Mon Jan 15, 2018 4:46 am

Very interesting journal. So cool that you were able to sell your inventions. I hope I didn't offend in other thread with my reference to prostitution. I hadn't read your journal, so I did not know that you had a bad boyfriend who tried to pimp you out when you were young. I was an old babushka in her mid-40s with grown children when a young escort friend suggested that I could make money at her profession, so it's meant to be a humorous reference to my own simultaneously spreading and depreciating "asset" base whenever I make it. I don't know about your country, but less than 150 years ago in the United States, if you were a married woman your husband owned the rights to proceeds from your intellectual property. Like if you were a man you lived in a free market economy, but if you were a woman you were de facto subject to totalitarian communist rule. IMO, much worse than having to deal with wanna-be-pimp BFs.

Posts: 77
Joined: Tue Dec 19, 2017 7:22 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Fri Jan 19, 2018 7:46 am

@Chris: You are of course right about capital gains tax in the US. I am however transfering between two European banks and my current country of residence has a different tax system: interest and dividends are treated like income and subject to the same tax as a salary. Capital gains generated by value appreciation of a stock however are completely tax-free! Makes sense to me, after all the state doesn't give me a refund if I lose money speculating, right? This also eleminates the need for complicated wash rules etc. My investing strategy is also modeled after this, prefering "buy low sell high" and less focus on dividend income. btw my country also has a (low) tax on total capital; every December this causes people to give well-meaning advice to spend all your savings quickly, otherwise the tax will get it :roll: Talk about mixed-up priorities...

@Crazylemon: well i'm happy the Government doesn't enslave everyone into years of indentured servitude after their studies (at least not on paper). Ans hopefully that day will never come - perhaps the medical field especially needs to ask itself if it could acieve more by treating its professionals better, rather than chaining them in with contracts. No, I haven't read the Jeff Schmidt book, although it must be hella spicy if they fired him for "writing it on the University's time" :twisted: Added to my reading list!

@7Wannabe5: No worries, I'm not easily "triggered" ;) Actually I'm all for the free exchange of services among consenting adults - as long as all parties act under their free will. This however turns out to be a difficult line - how voulontary can one act when under financial pressure? Turns out even in Europe (where prostitution is legal, regulated and taxed) there are still many young immigrant women factually slaves due to debts to their pimps/smugglers and similar financial struggles. I was myself very much in a victim mindset, but I managed to free myself both financially and mentally. Anyway, no need to apologize.

Posts: 778
Joined: Sun Mar 20, 2016 6:05 am

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by classical_Liberal » Sun Jan 21, 2018 9:19 am

Solid journal! I look forward to more.

The minimizing process was initially stressful for me, emotional value or memories attached to stuff. Nowadays though, I get stressed as hell when I own something that isn't being used. I move so often, all I can think about is having to move that worthless POS again. I've found the facebook marketplace to be very efficient in decluttering. If I put something decent up for free, it's gone by the end of the day.

Post Reply