A day in the life of a PhD student

As this blog is focused around life as a PhD student – this week I thought I would run a ‘day in the life of me’

My PhD is in medical sciences and it is research based. I work with cell cultures so I can plan my work pretty well to fit in a 9-5 scenario (although I do end up working some weekends). As you may imagine no PhD is the same, even if they are within the same subject. Take my friend as an example – she works with live tissue (tissue that has been removed during surgery) so she needs to make frequent trips to the hospital for collection. As she is reliant on the tissue for her work, her hours can be very irregular and depend very much on when the tissue is available. If you are thinking about doing a PhD you need to be flexible about when you work and remember that things change over time – so you may spend 6 months working random hours but another 6 months working 9-5.

 A day in the life of me

I started at 8.30 am – I went into the lab and ran an experiment until 9.30

9.30-11.00 I worked as a ‘reader/scribe’ for an undergraduate student that was taking an exam

11.00-12 I analysed some results, updated my lab book and had a chat with another PhD student

12-1 Lunch time!

1-2 I went back into the lab to look after my cell cultures

2-4 I was trained on using a new microscope and used it to take some pictures of the cells in the experiment I ran this morning

4-5 I updated my lab book / checked my emails

5-6 I went back into the lab to set up for an experiment tomorrow

One thing I love about doing my PhD that I have the freedom to plan what I want to do and when I want to do it (most of the time). I never do the same thing one day to the next. I run different experiments and learn something new. Some days I will plan not to run an experiment but take some time to read the literature and go over past experiments –if I am running a lot of experiments I can lose track of what I have already done! I think it is important to plan time to reflect, think and plan what to do next. I also make sure I plan to do other things that are not necessarily related to my project – but are of benefit to me. For instance – working as a reader/scribe, demonstrating in undergraduate labs or attending scientific talks that may be taking place at the university.


About Heather Doran

I am a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen. My PhD is Molecular Biology and Pharmacology based. I studied Molecular Biology and Biochemistry with a year in Industry at Durham University. I then went on to work in research and development in the consumer goods industry for 12 months. I decided for my long term career and for my own personal interests I wanted to pursue a PhD – so I went for it and I am enjoying (nearly) every minute! I am really passionate about science communication and I get involved in lots of different activities that are available through the University and through being a PhD student. I hope my blog will be useful for people who are thinking of doing a PhD in any subject and also for those that are studying for their PhDs at the moment.

4 Responses to A day in the life of a PhD student

  1. Finally something fresh and new that make sense! I would like to see more about this and that is what I’m going to do.

  2. hxgr.com says:

    Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed and informative article. It has given me a lot of inspiration and I look forward to more like this in the future.

  3. badmash says:

    I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

  4. Fili says:

    That sounds like a generally healthy PhD schedule, seems like you’re coping well with having so much freedom. What I usually see with PhDs is a growing lack of control and a decreasing sense of balance between work/life.

    Keep it up 😛 😉

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