A Day in the Life of a PhD Student: Part 1

We all have our routines, and how your day looks often depends on the stage you’re in and type of work that needs to be done. This two-part series by Sophie Shorland will explore four accounts from four students at different stages, with different paths to the PhD…

Thankfully, there’s no one way to complete a PhD. Sometimes the challenges are intangible, like overcoming depression, or finding the right space to work. Sometimes they’re more self-evident, like balancing childcare commitments with work. In celebration of our different journeys, this series peeks into the lives of four very different PhD students.

Suzy, English Literature, 3rd Year, King’s College London. Part Time.

“I live in Hertfordshire and have two young children aged 5 and 2. I balance looking after them with working on my PhD part-time. Every day of the week has a different balance of work and childcare but this is what a typical day of work might look like.”

6.30am – Get up, try to get sorted and dressed before the children wake up, then get them both up, dressed and everyone fed. Wave my other half off to work then brush the childrens’ teeth, put on their obligatory suntan lotion and check that everyone has everything they need in all their different bags for the day ahead.

8.30am – Head out on the school run, dropping the big one at school before taking the little one to the childminder.

9.15-10am – Drive to the station and head on the train into London. If I’m lucky and get a seat I’ll do some work, otherwise I’ll try and listen to a vaguely relevant podcast.

10am – 1pm – Work in the British Library.

1pm -2pm – Lunch with fellow PhD people, and a chance for some adult conversation – hoorah.

2pm – 3.15pm – Work

3.15pm – 4pm – Journey back home again.  I’m more likely to get a seat at this point although I try to give myself something straightforward to read on the way home.

4.15pm – Collect the little one from the childminder and then the big one from his after-school club.

4.30pm – 6pm – Cook the kids’ dinner and then have some precious/exhausting playtime with them.

6pm – 7.30pm – The kids’ bedtime, involving bath-time battles and wrestling them into bed. Bedtime stories for both of them, a truly lovely thing and a reminder of why this juggling act is all worth it.

7.30pm-8.30pm – Sort out all the mess the kids have created, pack their bags and do packed lunches for the next day before checking the trains to see if my husband will be making it home anytime soon and cooking dinner.

8.30pm – Collapse on to the sofa and watch something mindless for a while.

10.30pm – Bedtime! Cross fingers neither child will wake us up in the night, read for a little bit and fall asleep.


Uther, Physics, 3rd Year, University College London. Full Time.

Uther’s is perhaps the most ‘standard’ PhD journey of our four students, at least within the conventional narrative of what being a student is: no dependants, and no pressing commitments on top of the work of being a student. Just getting straight to the PhD every day.

8:00am – Wake up. Work in bed for an hour. This is the best time for powering through some mathematical work.

9:00am – Hop on the bus to my shared office in central London. Work there until about 12.

12pm-12:30pm – Lunch.

12:30pm-2pm – Work for another hour and a half on PhD-related things. I often move to a coffeeshop for this, as while I love the shared office space, I get easily distracted by chat. Contact collaborators on the paper we’re working on to check they’re happy with the second round of revisions.

2pm – Go and do life admin and buy things I need that are totally unrelated to the PhD.

3:30pm-4pm – On the bus to get home. Unwind on the bus, usually my best thinking time.

4pm-6pm – At home, lie down and think about broader things outside of PhD but to do with Physics. Evening is free time. On this particular day I had dinner with my partner and then read some Kant (a history of philosophy is my side-project).

For any readers wondering whether Uther’s 5-and-a-half-hour work day can actually get your PhD finished, he graduated in three years with corrections that took him one day, and published three papers in that time. Hopefully this is reassuring news in a culture of overwork rather than stress-inducing!


What does your day look like? Are there any particular challenges you face in your daily routine, or anything you think you’ve got sorted? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.


Sophie is a PhD candidate working on Early Modern Literature at the University of Warwick. She’s interested in Shakespeare, celebrity culture and early modern women’s writing. You can find her on twitter @sophie_shorland.


Image by Sean Thoman on Unsplash

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