A day in the life of a PhD student: Chapter 6.

Being a PhD student working in a lab environment, no two days are the same! Of course, there are always some techniques and tasks that you need to do a few days or even weeks running – that is the nature of research – but you are always moving forward or changing direction with what results you get! This diversity in my days is one thing I love about Grad school and one thing I did not realise would be a thing while studying for my PhD. So, I hope anyone that is interested or anyone that is thinking about starting a PhD can read my ‘day in the life of a PhD student’ blog feature and see that I am not doing the same thing everyday.

So, let’s take a look at another typical day for me in the lab.



7.30am – Okay, so this bit is usually the same each day! I have to force myself to get out of that warm and cosy bed and head to the lab to do some science!



9:44am – Been at work for a little while now and start of the day reminding myself of what is on my ‘to do’ list, checking any emails I have and then getting ready for my day of experiments.



10:02am – I am currently starting a new technique for me called chromatin immunoprecipitation, or ChIP for short. But what does that mean? Well, we all know that every cell in our body contains DNA, but that DNA is about 2 metres long, so how on earth do we fit that into the tiny tiny nucleus in each of our cells? Basically, we fold it! The DNA is folded and coiled thousands of times until it is a tiny compact mass! But there are certain proteins that help this DNA coiling called histones. There is a term we use for DNA when it is combined with histones and that is chromatin! And it is that that we are interested in using this technique! But first in order to analyse the chromatin in my cells, I need to get it out of my stem cells which is what I am doing here by using a scientific pestle and mortar and grinding them basically. Very low tech!



10:15am – While I am starting to get my stem cell chromatin sheared, I also have a Western blot to finish. I do spend a lot of my time in lab doing different western blots and I have shown you both the first day of the protocol in Chapter 1 and the second day in Chapter 4 of this series so I won’t bore you too much by going over it again – but if you want to know more go and check those out!



10:50am – As I’m progressing further and further through my PhD, I have slowly become more and more senior in terms of PhD students in the lab. And with that comes more responsibilities, such as teaching – which I’ve discovered over the past year or so that I love doing! I love seeing how other peoples minds work and how other people interpret results and provide new hypotheses. It also really tests my own knowledge because I would never have dreamt of asking some of the questions these guys I teach do, and it has made me realise that I need to do a lot more reading and googling πŸ˜› But anyway, today I’m helping one of our new Masters students get Western blotting.



11:50am – Welcome to my second home! The dark room! With so many Western blots to develop in the old school Hollywod glamour way, I am often found in this room, which at this time of year is basically a sweat box as it’s so darn hot in there! Again, check out Chapter 4 to see more details of what I get up to here and how I develop my blots!



12:31pm – Back to teaching! So my students gel has run and now it’s time to teach them all the tips and tricks I’ve learnt for a successful transfer!



1:16pm – Doing your lab chores is an essential part of being a good labmate in my opinion. Much like your house chores, it is something that everyone hates doing but it is something that must be done! Lots of the reagents we use are communal so I think it’s even more important to replace them if you finished the last bit – because it is SO annoying when you go to start your next experiment and you can’t because someone used the last of your important enzyme for example. The same goes with buffers! Some of the hundreds of clear liquids I use to mix with other clear liquids – the joys of being a molecular biologist πŸ˜› ! So, I’m currently making some up fresh and checking they are the right pH, or the right acidity, to use!



2:21pm – Amongst finishing my Western and helping the student start one up, it is time to start cleaning up my chromatin samples. So, when I was grinding up my cells earlier, it did release my chromatin but also the rest of the cells contents. So now I have to follow several steps to make sure that my sample only contains chromatin before sonicating the chromatin to break it up into smaller chunks!



3:39pm – Time for some quality time with my cells! My ChIP experiment will need to be repeated a few times to see if any effects I find are ‘real’ or not! So, I am now collecting new samples from my cells! To make sure all the proteins and histones remain stuck to my DNA I need to fix my cells and we do that using formaldehyde! Most people think of a cell as a static thing, but there is SO much going on inside that – proteins are being made, DNA is being folded and unfolded, proteins are being shuttled around so it’s a busy environment! Fixing the cells basically makes everything freeze in their position. Think of it as the entire contents of the cell playing a game of musical statues and me adding the formaldehyde is me stopping the music! Everything is stuck in its place which will allow me to see what proteins are bound to the DNA.



3:45pm – I might be collecting samples from some cells, but I also need to keep some stem cells growing and happy to use in other experiments, so it’s feeding time for my cells now!



4:05pm – Remember those new chromatin samples I was collecting? Well, I need to store them at -80 degrees in the form of a pellet. So, I started with a liquid that contained all my cells. I put that in this machine called a centrifuge which will spin them at 1500 times a minute. This forces all the cells to the bottom of the tube and forms a pellet! Better get this into the freezer quickly!



5:19pm – Lab work is done for the day! Being in grad school it is really important to have a good work life balance – something I am really awful at doing if I’m honest! But today I’m trying to be better! Off to the gym now to try and blow off some grad school stress!



7.16pm – Time for a lab social! We don’t head out together as often as we should but we have a few things to celebrate as a lab so we have exactly successfully organised a social for once! A bite to eat at what I hear is the best burger place in Southampton!



8:10pm – One thing we forgot to factor in when booking this meal was that Southampton were playing in the Premier League that night and traffic was a nightmare so we ordered much later than planned and cut the social short because of the lack of parking around, but it is always good to get out of the lab and chat about anything but work with your lab mates! Plus if it involves food that’s always a bonus! Especially if it’s a towering tall burger like this!


That’s a wrap! Another snippet at a typical day in my science life! I hope to be able to share something a bit different with you soon πŸ™‚ But for now go check out the other chapters to get more of a feel and please ask me any questions! I’m happy to answer them and you will learn something too πŸ™‚

Science love.


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