Tag Archives: A day in the life

A day in the life of a postgraduate student

MSc Politics of Population, Migration and Ecology student, Sorrel Knott, shares a day-in-the life account of her experience as a full-time postgraduate student at Birkbeck.  

You might be wondering what a day in the life of a postgraduate student looks like. To tell you the truth, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to that question. Birkbeck has an incredibly diverse student body, bringing together people from a variety of professional backgrounds with varying daily responsibilities. Alongside my studies, I work as a part-time marketing assistant and researcher, as well being a student ambassador for Birkbeck. My part-time professional role is completely remote; as a result, I have been able to cultivate a flexible routine, and evening study at Birkbeck has enabled this. So, here is a day in my life as a full-time postgraduate student. 

8am: *Insert irritating iPhone alarm sound effect* 

Typically, I wake up at 8am. I’ll stretch, make my bed, and get ready, before attempting my daily Wordle with breakfast. As my job is remote, I don’t commute to work unless I am working as a student ambassador at an event for Birkbeck. Therefore, I’m lucky that I can have a laid-back start to the day.

8.30am: let’s work 

I try to get started quickly. I try to get started early, helped along by the to-list that I make every Sunday, that sets out all my tasks for the week. My work includes posting on social media, academic research, compiling bibliographies and writing reports in order to build my company’s platform 

12pm: student commute 

At 12pm, I’ll have another coffee before packing my bag for university, being sure to include my laptop, chargers, headphones, notepad, pen, water bottle, reusable Tupperware and cutlery, mask, hand sanitiser and a trusty lip balm. I usually catch the bus to Euston Station and walk eight minutes past Gordon Square to reach Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus. If the weather permits, I ride my bike, as there are plenty of bike racks on campus. I tend to avoid the tube to save money, though there are convenient tube stations located at Russell Square and Goodge Street. 

1.30pm: arrive in time for some free food on campus 

If you arrive before 3pm, you can normally catch the Hare Krishna group handing out cooked food, bread, fruit and, if you are lucky, home-made cake! I will normally pick up lunch from them in my reusable Tupperware before heading to Russell Square or the green space on Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus. There are also other squares to choose from – sometimes I sit in Gordon Square by Birkbeck’s Arts building. I enjoy visiting Birkbeck’s surrounding squares as I think it’s important to visit green space when working on a laptop all day. Plus, I might get lucky and see a cute dog (or six)! 

2pm: become a bookworm in Birkbeck’s library 

After lunch, I head to the library located in Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus. Usually, I sit down in the group study area, but there are silent study areas too. I watch pre-recorded lectures, complete my pre-reading for my seminar and make notes. I’ll ensure that I understand the topic of the seminar, which might involve watching documentary clips, keeping up with the news and emailing professors with any questions. If I have an assignment, I’ll work on that after my seminar preparation, including my dissertation research. If a friend is on campus, we’ll go for a coffee at Terrace 5 on the fifth floor of Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus. Sometimes, you can get a discounted hot drink through the Twelve app! 

6pm: it’s seminar time (normally) 

On the evenings where I don’t have a seminar, such as the summer term when postgraduates only work on their dissertations, there might be a Birkbeck event, which I can work at as a student ambassador. During term time, my seminars start at 6pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and last for around an hour and a half. 

In the Department of Politics seminars are very collaborative, involving group discussions surrounding the pre-seminar readings and materials. My intellectual progression has been enriched by the diversity present in the seminar groups, and I have enjoyed having my viewpoints constructively challenged by others. The seminar is also an opportunity to ask your professor to clarify the pre-seminar lecture or readings, as well as an opportunity to discuss a particular topic with a Birkbeck academic. 

7.30 – 9pm: let’s go home 

If it’s a Tuesday or Wednesday, I finish at 7.30pm. If it’s a Thursday, I finish at 9pm because I have two seminars back-to-back. When you choose your modules in the Politics department, you’ll be able to see the days of the week when a module is taught, as well as having the option to choose between a 6pm or 7.30pm start time for your seminar. This has given me the flexibility to avoid clashes between two modules that are provided on the same day. 

Regardless of time, I’ll either catch a bus or cycle home. Sometimes, other members of the class will head to a pub or bar for a post-seminar drink. I don’t drink alcohol, but it’s enjoyable to attend these casual post-seminar events in order to socialise. 

The rest of the evening: time to relax 

When I arrive home, I’ll make dinner with my partner, take a shower and relax. I think it’s important to dedicate time towards your family, friends and loved ones, as well as taking time to reflect after your day. My partner and I talk about our day, watch a TV series or play video games. I’ll also complete any daily chores, like the washing up.  

 This is the time to rest and recuperate before another day, as well as checking in with yourself to see if your body is bringing anything to your attention, both physically and mentally. Sometimes, I realise that my body needs more sleep, so I allow myself an extra hour of sleep. Sometimes, I realise that my body needs some alone time, so I might read a book for an hour. I’m lucky that the combined flexibility of my professional role and evening study at Birkbeck enables me to pay attention to my own needs. 

So, there you have it! 

This is what a typical day in my life looks like; it may not be representative of every student’s time at Birkbeck, but it really works for me. It’s a stable routine that enables me to balance my professional and academic work. Other student’s days might include attending a university-related event, such as a cinema showing in Birkbeck’s Arts building or a guest lecture. Those after even more of a social student life can join a society and attend their meetings and events outside of seminars and work hours. Some students might even visit one of the galleries, museums and exhibits which the Bloomsbury area is famous for. It’s the additional experiences that are available at the university and in the surrounding area that bring a little extra joy to your life! 

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A day in the life of… Dr James Hammond

As part of Science Week 2017, Dr James Hammond from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Birkbeck gives an insight into a day in the life of a scientist.

I get up, usually rudely woken by my little boy and battle the northern line to Birkbeck. When I am in the field I get up early, normally just before sunrise so we can be on the road as soon as it is light. There is always a lot of ground to cover, so maximising daylight hours is key.

My research…focuses on using energy released by earthquakes as a probe to image inside the Earth. Much like a doctor uses x-ray energy to image inside your body, we can do a similar thing using sound waves that are released by earthquakes to understand what the Earth is made of.  I do this on a large scale, trying to image depths of hundreds of kilometres and understand what drives plate tectonics. I am particularly interested in volcanoes and how magma is generated, stored and transported before an eruption. Obviously volcanoes are not a big concern in the UK, so my research involves collaborating with people all over the world to understand what makes volcanoes work.

I teach… geophysics and scientific computing to geology and planetary science students in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

My typical day… involves heading in to work and a mixture of research, processing seismic data from beneath some of the areas I am working on (Ethiopia, Eritrea, North Korea, China, Chile), meeting with PhD students to discuss their research or with colleagues to discuss new proposals. If I am teaching I will spend time preparing for that. In the field, there is no such thing as a typical day. In Chile, we were accommodated by a cowboy in the mountains (including dinner at his house, with his horse joining us at the table), off-road driving for eight hours to deploy a station near an active volcano or white-water rafting to access a site for a seismometer deployment.

I became a scientist… mainly due to some inspirational teachers. At school my geography teacher, Ashley Hale instilled a fascination with the physical world. He was also an explorer, heading off to climb mountains in Africa, South America and Asia and updating us as he went. Some of that clearly rubbed off and I have been lucky enough to have a job where I can combine exploration of the world with an exploration of how it works. However, I have to admit that my PhD involved spending six weeks in the Seychelles. A life in science seemed a good idea after that.

My greatest professional achievement to date… has to be leading one of the first ever collaborations between the West and North Korea. This collaboration is focussed on a large volcano (Mt. Paektu) on the border of China and North Korea. We recently published papers showing the first images of the Earth beneath the Korean side of the volcano and also estimated the amount of gases that may have been released (a lot) when it erupted in 946AD.  The work is ongoing despite all the recent political tension and shows that science has the ability to build collaborations during even the most strident political tensions.

My favourite part of the job… is the travel. As well as the Seychelles I have spent time in Mexico, Canada, Montserrat (a small island close to Antigua in the Caribbean), Japan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, North Korea and most recently Chile. The best bit is the chance to work with scientists from all these countries, learning about geology all over the world and learning their culture too. Also, volcanoes are in some of the most interesting and hard to get to parts of the world, so I get to satisfy the explorer part of me too.

After work… it is normally back to my family and a glass of wine or beer to relax.

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A day in the life of…Dr Emma Meaburn

As part of Science Week 2017, Dr Emma Meaburn from the Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck gives an insight into a day in the life of a scientist. 

I get up at …  6am (or 6.30 am, if I am lucky), when I am woken by my children. The next two hours are a whirl of breakfast, loudness, finding lost shoes, cajoling, cuddles and probably some light bribery before I leave the house at 8.15am. I drop the youngest child off at nursery on my way to the train station, and typically arrive at Birkbeck by about 9.30am.

My research … looks at the genetic contributions to individual differences in psychological traits and disorders. We all differ, and I am interested in how these differences are influenced by differences in our DNA and how the information stored in our DNA is used.

I teach on … the BSc Psychology degree program, where I co-convene and co-teach a large first year ‘Research Methods’ module that provides psychology students with a basic grounding in the principles of experimental design and statistics. Undergraduate students can sometimes be surprised that research methods form a core element of the program, and we work hard to make it accessible and relevant to the students’ current knowledge and career aspirations. I also teach on the final year “Genetics and Psychology” optional module. This is always enjoyable as I get to talk about my own research findings and that of my colleagues, and expose the students to the newest methods and insights from the field of behavior genetics.

I am also responsible for … quite a few things!  Broadly, my job falls into three categories; research, teaching and service.  As part of my research activities I am responsible for running a lab and the admin that comes with it; writing ethics applications; PhD student supervision, training and mentorship; securing funding (writing and revising grant applications); dissemination of my research via conference attendance, giving invited talks, publishing my work in peer reviewed articles and public engagement activities. Behavior genetics is a fast-paced field, and I stay informed about new developments and methods as best I can by reading the literature, speaking to colleagues and collaborators, organizing and attending conferences and (occasionally) training workshops.

When I’m teaching, I will be lecturing (typically on two evenings per week); developing or updating content for modules (slides, worksheets and notes); marking assessed work; writing exam papers; writing model answers; supervising teaching assistants; answering student emails; writing letters of recommendation; designing lab experiments; acting as a personal tutor for undergraduates (roughly 10-15 students); attending exam board and module convener meetings; and being assessed on my teaching.

I also peer review grants and manuscripts; supervise undergraduate (about four per year) and graduate student research projects (about two per year); sit on the academic advisory board and postgraduate research committee, and I am a member of the management committee of the University of London Centre for Educational Neuroscience, which provides a unified research environment for translational neuroscience.

…or I do none of the above because nursery have called and my child has a temperature, and I have to go and collect him (three out of five days last week!)

My typical day … doesn’t really exist! One of the best aspects of academic life is that each day is different.

If I am teaching in the evening, typically I will meet with my PhD students (or project students) in the morning where we discuss the past week’s progress, go over new results and edits of conference abstracts and manuscript drafts. Then there is at least an hour of email and admin tasks such as paying invoices, tracking lost lab orders, or hurriedly writing a PhD application, before heading to the gym for an hour of ‘me’ time. I’ll then undo all my hard work by grabbing a hearty lunch from one of the many fantastic food places around Birkbeck, before attending a departmental seminar or journal club. That leaves me with a couple more hours to squeeze in research and research admin before preparing for the evening’s class. Once the class is over (at about 8.30pm), I head back to my office for 30 minutes of emails before catching the tube home. All being well, I’ll get home around 9.30/10pm, check on my (mostly) sleeping family, and do 30 minutes of life chores before collapsing into bed.

I became a scientist… because I had always loved science and by my late teens I had developed a keen interest in what was then known as the “Nature Versus Nurture’ debate. I think this interest was sparked by my own experiences and reflections as a fostered child (I was separated from my biological parents at six months of age), and when I finally studied genetics as an undergraduate student in human biology at King’s College London, my mind was made up – I was going to be a geneticist!

My greatest professional achievement… has been establishing myself as a research active academic and developing my own research program, in a field where academic positions at renowned institutions like Birkbeck are few and far between and competition is fierce. I get to work in a research field that is dynamic, challenging and interesting, and in a supportive, autonomous and friendly environment.

 

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A day in the life of…. Dr Anthony Roberts

As part of Science Week 2017, Dr Anthony Roberts from the Department of Biological Sciences at Birkbeck gives an insight into a day in the life of a scientist. 

I get up… bright and early with our son. He’s two, and has yet to learn the art of the lie in. Depending on whether I am doing the nursery drop-off, and on the temperament of the Victoria Line, I usually arrive at Birkbeck between 8.00 and 9.00am. The first thing I do is switch on the lights in the laboratory, and think about what experiments the day will hold.

My research investigates… walking proteins. These molecules have legs one hundred million time smaller than ours, and walk along filaments inside the individual cells that make up our body. It has emerged that they are important for human health: their dysfunction is associated with a number of currently untreatable diseases, such as neurodegeneration. The ability of these proteins to walk correctly is vital, because they transport key materials in the cell to the right place at the right time. We want to know how this works at the molecular level.

I teach… mainly to students doing research projects in the laboratory. This is exciting, because it is teaching while attempting to discover something new at the same time. I also lecture to MRes and PhD students on the main techniques we use in our research, particularly microscopes that enable one to view individual molecules.

My typical day… has no predictable pattern, and this variety is one of my favourite parts of my job. Some days will be spent mostly in the laboratory, for example purifying the proteins that we study. This work has a pace not dissimilar to cooking, with multiple stages and incubations – although alas less delicious smells! Others will be on the microscopes, or analysing data. As the lab grows, I spend less time doing experiments myself, and more time talking to others about their data, and preparing grants, research papers, and seminars. The data we obtain from our research is very visual: thinking about ways to extract and present the important insights is a nice balance to these literary tasks.

I became a scientist… in a somewhat roundabout way. As a child, I wanted to be an artist. This interest in the visual remains a strong part of who I am. Later, I became curious about biology, and enjoyed the hard answers that maths and chemistry could provide. I did an undergraduate course in Biochemistry, really engaging with it as it transitioned from memorising facts to solving problems. In hindsight, it makes sense that I gravitated to what I work on now, as it combines all of these elements, but a number of fortuitous events made it happen. Chief among them were training with terrific mentors during my PhD and postdoctoral studies: Stan Burgess, Peter Knight and Samara Reck-Peterson.

My greatest professional achievement to date has been… obtaining the Sir Henry Dale Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society, which enabled me to start the laboratory at Birkbeck. The scale and flexibility of its support are a great help towards realising research ideas.

After work… it is nice to do something completely different. We like finding new places to eat and drink around where we live in east London, cooking, music, art and design, and relaxing.

My favourite part of my job is… the first glimpse of a new discovery, to be shared with lab members, students, and other scientists.

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