Featured ‘Day in the life of’: Emily, a PhD student studying epigenetic regulation in plants, and a disability in science advocate, and blogger.

Day in the life of Emily (PhD student & Blogger):

I’m Emily May Armstrong, a 2nd year PhD Student at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. I’m studying epigenetic regulation of transcriptional networks in plants and how this impacts root system architecture in response to salt stress. I’m a disability in science advocate, and can be found blogging about my disabled life, science news, ethics, and politics at www.emilymayarmstrong.com. You can also find me tweeting @emilyXarmstrong and insta-ing my every day lab-life @theRadicalBotanical.

Here’s a run-down of a not-so-average day in my lab and research life.


08:14am: Up, dressed, and ready for breakfast. It’d be impossible to be a plant scientist and not own at least 30 plants…


08:34am: Enjoying the autumnal walk to work. I’m really lucky and only live 15 minutes from my lab, but because of my hip dislocation injury it takes me twice as long to get anywhere at the moment. I have a genetic disease which destabilises all my collagen, meaning I have frequent fatigue, pain, and dislocations.


08:49am: Arriving at my workplace. It burnt down in 2001, but luckily the façade survived.  I get to work straight away as I’m on a tight schedule to achieve everything I need to.


09:51am: I’m ‘fixing’ some plant roots under a vacuum desiccator in formaldehyde, phosphate buffered saline and some detergent. I left this running for an hour to make sure my DNA replication assay will work as efficiently as possible.


10.02am: running slightly late (as always), and I make it to my CAPS appointment. I see a mental health advisor once week (and have been for a year) to equip me with the toolbox I need to succeed in my PhD with multiple long-standing mental health conditions. It’s not a fun hour, but I definitely wouldn’t be still pursuing a post-grad career without it.


12:17pm: Whilst my roots for my DNA replication assay are incubating with the reaction cocktail, I salt-treat some other 4 day old plants. I’m trying to observed salt-induced upregulation of salt-responsive genes with a transient stress. Once this is optimised, I’ll do a large-scale experiment for RNA –sequencing in collaboration with the University of Warwick.


1:07pm: An early lunch (I usually eat at 2pm) as I need to eat around my incubation and wash steps for my experiment. To manage my limited energy supplies, I bulk-prep my meals on Sundays and eat the same thing for the whole week. This week, I’ve got vegan spicy Quorn  & loads of veggies.


1.44pm: I’ve prepped my incubating roots from earlier and am setting up the confocal microscope (my favourite piece of equipment). The room must be kept in total darkness to make sure the laser fluorescence isn’t altered.


3:35pm: I’ve merged my two fluorescent channels from the confocal microscope (the green and red) for this image of a root tip. The red stain shows the outline of each individual root cell, and the green is DNA that has actively replicated in a 20-minute period. I’m unhappy with the quality of the red stain so I’m repeating everything again tomorrow. Eventually, I’ll use this method to quantify DNA-replicative capacity between different gene knock-out types of plant.


4.05pm: I’m trying to get my head around comparing whole-genome RNA sequencing data with whole-genome chromatin immunoprecipitation data (ChIP is a really important epigenetic research method). Staring at spreadsheets makes me anxious so I only tend to do this close to the end of the day.


5:45pm: I left the lab two hours earlier than usual at 5pm, to join a march in support of Catalonian Independence from Spain. I join three good friends (and a dog) and walk through Glasgow city centre before heading to my favourite vegan pub for a drink.


11:00pm: After the demo, I head to my friends for dinner and a film. I’m finally back in bed at 23:00, with my favourite photograph from the inside of the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria on my screen. I put on an old X-Files episode and set an alarm for 8am, as I’m teaching a class of 62(!) undergraduates tomorrow.


I hope you all enjoyed an insight into Emily’s day! Don’t forget to check out her blog & social medias.

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