Hi, my name is Monica and I am a third year PhD student in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. My research focus is molecular neuroscience and in particular my lab studies the RNA binding proteins involved in Fragile X Syndrome, the leading cause of inherited cognitive impairment.
As a graduate student doing research in a laboratory, most days there is an ebb and flow that is primarily dictated by the experiments that are taking place. The stereotype of a scientist hunched over test tubes 24 hours a day does not represent the many ways that science actually unfolds. One of the most valuable things that I have learned thus far in my graduate career is that the time I spend thinking about science is nearly as critical as how much time I am putting in at the bench. It is also very important to cultivate habits that contribute to overall wellbeing outside of the lab.
This is my first semester without taking any classes, which has freed up more time to focus on my research. Here is what a recent Monday looked like.
7:15 - 8:30 a.m.: Wake up and immediately start cuddling my dogs, Harbaugh and Wolfie. These tiny furballs are like my children, so they naturally receive a lot of my attention when I am at home. I get up, and get dressed and take the dogs for a walk. Once I am back inside the house I make my first (of many cups) of coffee that day, which I really do take the time to savor. If my husband has to get up early that day (he works full-time and is studying political science at Parkland) he joins me and we chat while we have breakfast together. I finish getting ready and pour myself another cup of coffee before heading out the door.
8:30 - 9:30 a.m.: Commute to the university. This is when I start formulating my action plan for experiments for the day, and think about my projects and the long-term direction of my research. I read snippets of research articles or scroll through headlines while on the bus on my way to lab.
9:30 a.m. - noon: Work. I am typically running various experiments so I am at my bench, or in our tissue culture room, as well as analyzing data on the computer. This is actually one of the more enjoyable parts of the day, as I really love doing molecular biology research (if you have ever squealed for joy when the right size band showed up on your gel, you know what I am talking about), especially when experiments are working!
Noon - 1 p.m.: Attend seminar. My department has student and guest speaker seminars twice a week. It is a nice way to get to know the broader field of science, and sometimes I get really good ideas for experiments from listening to the speaker. As a bonus I also get to catch up with other students in my department, which is quite nice.
1 - 2 p.m.: Eat lunch, write up any results from my experiments, answer emails, and make any revisions to my action plan for the rest of the day, drink more coffee if feeling a bit sluggish.
2 - 5 p.m.: Microscope. I spend a lot of time taking images of cells. A lot. It is worth it though, as it is definitely true that a picture is worth a thousand words.
5 - 5:30 p.m.: Finish any experiments, write up results, and think through what the goal will be for the following days’ work.
5:30 - 6:30 p.m.: Exercise at ARC. I try to do this at least three times a week. I love the group fitness classes. Feeling like you’re in a nightclub, learning fun choreography makes it much easier to stick around and workout instead of going straight home.
6:30 - 7:30 p.m.: I have a fairly lengthy commute for a university student since I live outside of CU. I wait for the bus to take me near the basketball stadium where I park, and then it is another 25-30 minute drive home.
7:30 - 7:45 p.m.: Hear dogs barking from inside my house as I pull into the garage. No matter how exhausted I am from the day, I love how happy they always are to see me. I take them for a walk around the neighborhood and then come inside to start making dinner.
7:45 - 11 p.m.: I make dinner while taking care of light chores around the house, all the while playing with the dogs. My husband usually does homework or reads for class during this time when it’s not his night to make dinner. We have dinner, and then watch a show together. We recently got Netflix and have really been enjoying binge watching Daredevil and Jessica Jones. We usually then head to our basement and chat or play ping pong or pool before we take our dogs out again and get ready for bed. I usually read for a while before falling asleep, sometimes magazines, currently I’m reading Now: The Physics of Time by Richard Muller.
My life is pretty full, and there are definitely days when the balance tips more towards work, but one thing that helps me is to remember that trying to fit everything into a 24 hour day is not always feasible. If you think in terms of the 168 hours in a week instead, it leaves ample room to live a meaningful life, even as a graduate student.
Photos courtesy of Monica Chinea Dilliz.
Monica Chinea Diliz is a third year PhD student in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology studying molecular neuroscience. Her professional goals are to become a principal investigator in the field of molecular biology, and start a mentoring/outreach program for minority students interested in pursuing graduate education in STEM. Monica enjoys reading and writing about productivity and time management, taking road trips, and spending time with her three rescue dogs. She is a member of the 2016-2017 SAGE board.