A Day in the Life of a PhD Student: Part 2

Wherever your PhD takes you, the destination will inevitably be unique: original contribution to knowledge is, after all, what we’re all searching for. In Part 2 of this two-part series, Sophie Shorland explores a day in the life of two PhD students on different journeys…

As stated in Part 1 of this series, thankfully there’s no one way to complete a PhD. However, by covering four different perspectives on day-to-day life, hopefully there are elements everyone undertaking this sometimes arduous, sometimes enthralling, journey can relate to. Both Lauren and I work alongside the PhD, but as you can see, that’s where the similarities in our days end!

Lauren, Neuroscience, 3rd Year, University College London. Part Time.

Lauren’s PhD life is somewhat unorthodox in that she is working on her thesis part-time whilst working full-time as a research assistant coordinating a research study with Huntington’s disease patients at UCL.

7:00am – Wake up. Try not to keep hitting snooze until 7.45….

8:15am – Catch the bus to the office in central London. Takes about 45 mins so I like to use this time to read a book, do Duolingo or check Twitter for interesting stories – generally stuff I don’t always get time to do at other times of the day.

9:00am – Head to Waitrose for the much-needed free coffee!

9:30-11:00am – If I don’t have a patient visit for the study I coordinate, I would ease into the day by checking my emails and finding/reading new papers related to my project.

11:00-11:30am – I might have a meeting with my supervisor. If he’s not travelling we usually meet once a week but he generally has an open door policy. We catch up on how the study is going and many ongoing projects/collaborations. If I am going through a stressed patch in my PhD this has been a good place to freak out/cry/bring up my concerns as he is very quick to settle them and get me back on track.

11:30am-1:00pm – Most days I will have some study admin to do for my job including booking in patients, uploading data and managing samples.

1:00-1:30pm – Lunch. If I’m busy this may be at my desk, but I try most days to get out and sit in the park. I might take this opportunity to call my mum or sister to check in.

1:30 onwards – Home time depends day-to-day, week-to-week. I will work on any deadlines I have or any analysis/writing I need to do for my PhD. This week I’ve been particularly busy as we had a paper back from review and I had to get the responses back to the reviewer with a fast turnaround. I didn’t leave the office until 8.45pm. On average, I stay in until 6.30. Fridays, the wind-down starts at 4.30pm and I do not stay later than 5.30pm unless there is alcohol involved.

I try and run or cycle home a few times a week so I can be super-efficient and combine commute and exercise times!

Evenings – Usually spent at home switching off or meeting friends for diner. I recently enforced a disabling of my work email notifications on my mobile to help me completely switch off from work when I leave the office. It’s really helped me avoid burn out or getting stressed out with heavy work load.

Sophie, English Literature, 2nd Year, University of Warwick. Full Time.

“Because I commute from London to Warwick for my PhD and teach undergraduates at Warwick too, the days when I commute and teach versus the days when I just research look very different. In the name of variation, here is a typical commuting and teaching day in term time.”

6:30am – Wake up. Bag is packed, lunch is made, so all I need to do is make a flask of coffee and run out of the house.

7:00-7:30am – Walk to Euston. Some of the best thinking time of the day (this may or may not be about knotty PhD problems).

7:49-10:30am – Train from London to Warwick. Because this is the most concentrated work time of the day, I try to get as much writing done as possible on morning train rides.

10:30-11:00am – Walk between the station and the University. I love this natural break built into work time. It’s also a great time to think.

11:00am-12:00pm – Prep for afternoon seminars (I have already done the reading and some planning earlier in the week).

12:00-1:00pm – Listen to the undergraduate lecture for the course I teach. Note down any questions I intend to ask students as a follow-up, or any points of contention that would lead to good seminar discussion.

1:00-1:45pm – Lunch with colleagues.

1:45-3:00pm – More seminar prep, including printing teaching materials. Because I find it very difficult to concentrate on one task in this block of time, I also answer emails and deal with any admin that’s built up over the last few days.

3:00-5:00pm – Teach two undergraduate seminars. Feel hugely energised and amazed by how different they are, despite my plan being broadly the same. One student gives an amazing presentation on Elizabeth I and Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

5:00-6:00pm – Office hour. Only two students today, but I have to spend some time decompressing because one of them was very upset about personal problems, and it’s frustrating as a teacher because there’s very little I can do.

6:00-7:00pm – More admin; filling out online registers, chasing absent students, etc.

7:00-8:45pm – PhD pub quiz! Our team always loses but it’s a lot of fun. I always have to leave before the end or I wouldn’t be able to get a train home. I love where I live and am very happy with the commute, but I do feel a little sad missing out on events like this.

9:17-10:41pm – Train home. Usually I try to do something non-PhD related, like listen to a book or write fiction. But today I’m feeling really motivated and have brought Chris Rojek’s Celebrity with me to make notes on for about the third time.

10:41-11:10pm – Walk home, then crawl into bed feeling grumpy about how long my day has been, even though it’s completely voluntary and I wouldn’t change it if I could!

Do you combine work with a PhD? How do you manage to balance different commitments while staying focused on the PhD, or does life sometimes disrupt that focus? Let me know in the comments below!


This is part two of a two part series by Sophie Shorland. Read part one here.


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.

You can find Lauren on twitter @LaurenByrne7337


Image by Valentin Antonucci on Pexels.com

One thought on “A Day in the Life of a PhD Student: Part 2

  1. Time is a coin we do not have a second chance to get in our life

    I do not knwo why but that thought came to my mind while reading this article

    Be well

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