8 Things You’ll Know if You’re a PhD Researcher

Published by Emma - Clinical Pharmacology PhD May 25, 2016 12:17 pm

People sometimes find it difficult to understand how different a researcher’s life is from the general population. They stare when I talk about how much my life has changed since I started my PhD. The confusion gets even worse when I mention my field of research – Clinical Pharmacology. Were you ever curious to explore the weird, secret world of research? If yes, you are on the right place.

1. Home address: Lab

It is amazing how much time I spend in the lab every day, either to perform or to plan experiments. Do you find yourself unable to count this time in hours (but rather in days)? Do you get texts from your worried mum (cause she knows you won’t pick up the phone while wearing gloves)? Has your lunch become dinner and your office replaced your kitchen? Welcome to the club!

Emma's laboratory work at a laboratory bench

My laboratory bench while preparing for my experiments. On the far end of my bench, my pipettes (volumetric laboratory tools) have just been cleaned. Work is about to start.

2. Weekends vs free time

As deadlines come closer and closer, experiments just don’t seem to cooperate. The uncountable hours of work within the week are not enough. So, I have no other option but to come back to the lab on a Saturday and/or Sunday. It costs a lot; be that a walk in the park, a coffee with friends, or an unfinished book. But when you publish, no one remembers those missed days and nights.

Emma's lab when it's empty

Part of my empty lab on a Saturday morning. My lab coat is there waiting.

3. Your best friend is your worst enemy

I’ve never felt alone during my PhD. There is always this one person behind every plan and idea, offering experience and support while reminding of time limits that add to the already heavy workload. You both love and hate this person, simply because (s)he is called “Supervisor”.

A comic strip of a supervisor and PhD student, with the supervisor saying 'Do more, now'

Supervisors can never get enough of corrections.


4. Conferences are the best idea for a holiday

And the day comes when the Supervisor recommends an interesting conference to present your work at. The first time you feel a bit lost. Soon, it’s fun! Slides ready, poster printed, tickets booked and off we go. From making new friends and connecting with other researchers, to getting tired talking about new ideas. Feels like a holiday, doesn’t it?

A presentation at the pharmaceutical conference Emma attended

My recent attendance to a pharmaceutical conference in Poland. The title itself is descriptive; “Be in Progress”.

5. Development, development, development!

Training never ends and I know that very well. I don’t want it to end anyway! I can’t help grabbing any chance for inspiration. Experienced, successful researchers talk about the beauty of understanding nature. Guess where; at the University.

What is more, the development programme of each Faculty offers plenty of seminars which develop new skills and tips for success. Just to mention one example, recently I attended a seminar about scientific writing and publication which was scheduled right before I start writing a manuscript for publication. You will always find useful lectures in this programme.

The Faculty of Medical Sciences workshops website

A screen grab from the Faculty of Medical Sciences website, showing the next seminars as part of the Faculty’s Development programme.

6. Reports never end

When I say never, it’s for real. It will either be the annual progress report or any other necessary report, all with deadlines. The benefit is that in the end you are absolutely sure you’ve made a change in the world.

Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer saying 'I jus... God, I need help.'

Panic before the deadline, but we all end up coping with it.

7. Solutions out of a good nap

Sometimes, you get stuck. And I mean really stuck. Thankfully, my mum always said ‘When you sleep less, you think less clearly’. This is her most well proven theory, as after a long day and a proper dinner, you wake up with the solution! Running to the lab, you put it in practice as soon as possible.


Don’t ever forget that you are a human being, you have needs and fulfilling them will make you more productive.

8. Experimental happiness

Another week of work, things are stable, still no results. But after my solution (following plenty of sleep) within two weeks I have more data than ever. That is happiness my friends. You find yourself laughing and screaming!

A small animated minion dancing

The feeling that you could fly when things are finally going well.


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