Snapshot Science

A day in the life of a PhD student, condensed into a few little snapshots. Enjoy!

Rebecca | An Anxious Scientist


Monday 25th September 2017

First day back in the lab

8:39 Back. I made it into uni before 9am today which was a good start. I feel super tired after travelling all weekend. The first thing I did was give my desk a complete tidy after it had been used as a bit of a hot desk for the past few months. My OCD can’t cope with mess at work!

9:54 Cleaning. My lab bench has also been used a lot whilst I had been away so I spent about an hour cleaning everything, throwing out old or unlabelled solutions and refilling pipette tip boxes ready for autoclaving. 

10:41 Tea. Our lab always take a tea break together at 10:30 every day. It’s a big lab group so it’s nice to catch up with everyone and there’s often cake which is definitely a bonus.

12:21 Media. I am making up fresh growth media for my bacterial cells. They’re a bit reluctant to grow in normal media so I use a special rich type called BHI to give them a a helping hand.

13:03 Seminar. York is great for hosting a large number of lunchtime seminars given by visiting speakers. They have at least four a week during term time and I try to go to as many as I can. Today’s is on the role that fat cells, called adipocytes, play in the skin.

14:36 Plates. I am now making a selection of agar plates, some containing BHI as before and some with an antibiotic called ampicillin. I have some ampicillin-resistant bacteria that I use to make my protein and growing them on plates containing the antibiotic prevents the growth of unwanted bacteria.

15:30 Cells. The bacteria that I work on, Sodalis, likes to grow in a reduced oxygen environment so I keep their plates in these little chambers. The blue packet on the inside creates the right atmosphere to keep the bugs happy.

18:28 Run. A chilly 6 mile pace run in the dark as an attempt to shift some of the jet lag and holiday calories! Jasper looks like he half fancied it but I left him at home in the end.

20:19 Blog. I’m catching up with the latest science news to keep my This month in science page up to date. I find it easier to do it little and often, and by listening to the Science podcast I can skim the articles more easily.

23:00 Bed. After a quick read of the news stories in New Scientist (I’m so behind after my time away from home), it’s finally time to sleep. Thank goodness. 


Thursday 7th September 2017

Microbiology Society Showcase 

6:25 Awake. Early start today to get the train across to London for the Microbiology Society Showcase and AGM. I’m competing in the Young Microbiologist of the Year final this afternoon, representing the Prokaryotic Division.

9:32 Arrival. An hour’s train journey to King’s Cross followed by a short walk to Microbiology Society HQ. I’m sporting one of the An Anxious Scientist STEM badges to help publicise the work that I’m doing.

10:33 Networking. The morning consists of ‘speed networking’ with people from a variety of fields including Scottish Water and the NHS. I was so excited to grill Jo Marchant on her tips for a career in science writing!

12:48 Lunch. The Society always put on a good spread and my two guests for the YMOY final were pretty happy to be included in the lunch invite too! It is a good chance to have a look at the prize winning posters and chat with the people behind them.

13:34 Dorothy. Society President Neil Gow opens the YMOY competition and I’m more than a little bit nervous! I’ve got my Dorothy shoes on though which definitely makes me feel better.

14:10 Talk. Once I get up there and start speaking, I really love presenting to an audience. I pitched the tsetse microbiome and the importance of studying neglected tropical diseases. The other talks are all excellent but my favourite is one on C. dif infection in Northern Ireland.

16:11 AGM. We had a nice round up of 2016 in which the Annual Conference in Liverpool had (at that point) a record number of delegates and the ECM Forum got a shout out for putting across the views of early career researchers strongly to all of the committees.

16:48 Brexit. I admit to being apprehensive about a Brexit discussion with a room full of scientists as I presumed that it would be very one-sided. As it turned out, they had two great invited panellists who gave out lots of information that I had been unaware of previously.

19:21 Prizes. I won third prize! I was so surprised and delighted, I had spent a lot of time working on my talk and practising it to Jasper (our dog, who normally drops off halfway though). There was a tasty hot buffet and drinks reception at the Royal College of General Practitioners to celebrate.

23:10 Bed. Sprinting between Euston and King’s Cross in my Dorothy heels to catch our train nearly finished me off! Today has been exhausting but absolutely fantastic, I even actively enjoyed the networking rather than painfully tolerating it. Result!


Friday 1st September 2017

Last Day on Placement

9:25 Sad. On my last walk to the Museum, at least the sun is shining! I’ve made some pals on my daily stroll in, there’s a man with a gorgeous old Golden Retriever who always says good morning to me now. I’m listening to the latest episode of the BBC Inside Science podcast; this week they’re discussing that strange haze that appeared over the East Sussex coast and they introduced the Big Wasp Survey.

11:40 Cake. We had a tea and cake break in the curatorial office, a lemon drizzle from Burr just around the corner. I definitely feel a lot healthier for not having cake every day like we tend to do in the lab but today is an exception!

12:09 Data. I have collected together a whole host of different fossils to take with us to the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and I am now collating some information about each of the specimens. It makes it so much more interesting for the visitors if you can tell them where the fossils were collected or what geological period they come from. 

12:52 Lunch. I couldn’t quite get myself organised this morning so at lunch time I headed off to Cafe No.8 at the York Art Gallery. It’s really reasonably priced but often super busy, although they do have tables outside if the weather is nice. I’m aware that a scone isn’t a proper lunch but, you know, last day and all that. 

13:52 Packing. Each of the 105 fossils heading out of the Museum needs to be packed tightly in this thick foam, so this afternoon I’m back down in the stores cutting it all to shape. It’s actually a very satisfying job, although the little pieces that comes off get absolutely everywhere and I keep finding specks in my hair!

14:36 Romans. I was interested in this Roman key that one of the archaeologists was putting away in the storeroom and then she kindly gave me a tour of some of her favourite Roman items in the collection. There’s lots of pretty Roman rings, hairpins and pots, and even a broken parasol.

16:02 Leaving. For fire safety reasons we have to clock in and out whenever we go between the offices and the main Museum building. I decided to be only a little over dramatic when I left for the last time. 

17:08 Pub. We headed off to the Eagle & Child for my leaving drinks which was really nice. I filled them in on my Microbiology competition next week and they offered to submits some votes via Twitter if I needed. 

19:35 Train. I like working on train journeys, even on a Friday night (the Northern conductor told me work is banned on this time of an evening). I used the time to write up a draft of my most recent blog post; a summary of my placement. 

22:29 Book. After lots of screen time for the past two hours I decided to read a chapter before I went to sleep. The blue light from screens affects the chemicals in your brain that normally enable you to get to sleep within about 10 minutes so apparently you’re meant to switch off a couple of hours before bed. I didn’t…so this is the next best thing. 


Monday 21st August 2017

A Day at the Museum

8:07 Breakfast. I always make my own homemade granola, it tastes so much better than the shop bought ones! You can also add whatever nuts, seeds and dried fruit that you like and you know exactly what has gone into it (no surprise sugar!). Cup of green tea because I try to avoid caffeine wherever possible.

9:18 Commute. It takes me around 40 minutes to walk to the Yorkshire Museum which is a lovely way to start the day. Most of the time anyway, it can be pretty unpleasant in the rain. I have found so many cool podcasts to keep me company! Right now I’m listening to episode 3 (Geology) of Superwomen in Science.

10:23 Fossils. I have been doing lots of work preparing for the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and at the moment I am labelling and photographing the specimens that I have chosen to take with us. 

13:01 Lunch. Working in the middle of York means it is so tempting to have a browse of the shops every lunch break! So to avoid temptation I normally head to the library and have a read. Fossils is the first Short Introduction I have tried and so far it’s really good. 

14:01 Disney. Back to the stores to continue with the Fossil Festival work but this time accompanied by an awesome Disney playlist on YouTube. Channeling my inner Moana. 

15:50 Recording. Quick pop back to my desk to make a note of where I’ve got to. We’re taking over 100 fossils to the Festival so it’s really important to keep track of everything.

17:27 Run. Took Jasper (our adorable Labrador) out to a nearby field and we did some interval training. He loved it but was exhausted afterwards! I’m training for another marathon at the moment and so try to squeeze in a run whenever I can.

18:52 Panic. The realisation that I need to organise a TAP (thesis advisory panel) meeting for October which, when you take out annual leave, actually isn’t that long away. I did feel a bit better once I started drafting out the 1000 word report that I need to produce for it. 

20:26 Tea. My brain has officially given up for the night so I had a totally acceptable tea of cheese on toast. I get so lazy with cooking when it’s just me and often lose track of time when I’m working into the evening. 

22:05 Bed. I am definitely an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ person. I like to flick through New Scientist before I go to sleep to keep up to date with what’s going on in the wider science world. Sometimes this is the only time I get in a day to do so!