#shadowascientist – A day in the life of an unconventional PhD student

The other day I came across an article published by Christine Liu about impostor syndrome and the fact that many grad students are so intimidated by academia that they spend a good part of their time thinking they don’t belong to the system. I have been through my PhD experience feeling like this every single day because I don’t fit the picture of a “traditional” scientist. And this has really little to do with the fact that I am a woman in STEM. I question every day how people see me from the outside. Is it the science communication and my voice on social media too much? Will this affect my future job applications? Do I come across as an assertive and strong person or people think of me as an aggressive beast? And I don’t want to even start to talk about how my femininity comes across!

Truth is that I don’t have any special superpower, I am very much like everyone else. But differently, from many students, I rejected the idea of success in academia and just defined my own criteria of success. Firstly, I am a pretty organised person. Generally, I wake up very early in the morning, around 6 am, I go to bed early, I try to eat healthily, exercise and it’s been more than I year since I ditched alcohol completely. I don’t drink much coffee anymore as it made me too anxious and I get my caffeine kick by drinking tea. So, I wake up around 6 am, I make my tea, prepare breakfast and watch BBC news every morning, even on weekends. I then have my morning routine, I choose which outfit to wear depending on my mood, I do my hair and makeup in an attempt to look presentable. To know more about the specific products I use, check here.

I have a morning routine and try to look presentable every day!

I live a mile away from uni and I usually walk back and forth to get there. This means that I get, at least, a full hour of cardio exercise every day. I listen to podcast or audiobooks on my way to work and this is how I get to “read” at least a book every month. I usually leave the house around 8.30 and I get to work around 9 am.

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view of my way to work

At work, I am super efficient. As I am getting towards the last few months of my PhD and I have to juggle between writing and finishing up stuff in the lab, I got into the habit of writing down all the things I need to get done in one day. Cleaning, analysing spectra or setting up new reactions are always in my to-do-list. I also talk to people, sometimes too much, answer emails, and other stuff. I am very focused and try to make the most of my time at work. When I don’t have stuff to do in the lab, I read papers of news about science. I usually eat lunch at my desk and this is the time when I create content for my social media platforms. I try to get new ideas about the next post/blog article I have to write up. I take pictures and when I feel like I want to do it, I record a few videos. I also use my tea breaks to do it. This is why I burn out so often, I never really stop working during the day.

I am a very organised person, I write down all the things I need to get done in one day and makes plan every day!

In terms of organisation, I am a morning person as you might have understood, so I try to get 70% of the stuff I need to get done in a day during the

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morning. Then I usually slow down in the afternoon. The last part of my day at work, is a sort of gratitude letter time where I write done all the accomplishments of the day and make plans for the day after. I found this to be so useful for me. I spent the first half of my PhD thinking that my research was rubbish because I didn’t get positive results on a daily basis. Plus, a single mistake in the lab would blind hours or even days of hard work. I do the gratitude letter at the end of every day and every week to remind myself that I do work hard. Although my work isn’t 100% dedicated to my research, this doesn’t make me less of a scientist or an achiever of those who spends 83702 a week thinking of their PhD.

I leave work no later than 6 pm. Some days, I go straight to the gym, other days, I go back home and I die on my sofa reading books, watching movies, meditating, listening to relaxing music. I make dinner and I usually go to bed at 10 pm. Although I bring my own lunch, I don’t cook every night. I batch cook on Sunday night and I basically eat the same food every day. A bit boring but really very efficient!