Featured ‘Day in the life of’: Emily, PhD student investigating lung cancer.

Hello everyone! My name is Emily Richardson (click here for Instagram) and I am a PhD student at the University of Leicester, UK. My work centres around a specific type of lung cancer – Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer – caused by an EML4-ALK fusion protein. I’m looking at the mechanisms which cause its increased migration and invasion, which leads to the increased metastatic tumours seen in patients. As I am in the early stages of my PhD, my work life is generally based in the lab. Come and find out what I’m up to…



6.32: I usually wake up around 6.30, but when I go to the gym (2/3 days a week (if I’m motivated!)) I will try to get up at 6am. As far as my morning routine goes, I get up, shower, get dressed and head out the door ASAP. I take breakfast with me to have when I get to work. Half the time I get the bus, which takes about an hour (half an hour bus, half an hour walk). When I want to go to the gym or want to get in earlier I drive but have to leave as early as possible to get a parking space! Today, I’m driving in.


8.20am: Nightmare! Traffic and a blockage on my normal route in, so I arrive later than I wanted and stressed!


8.53: I get straight into the lab and start making gels for Western blots I need to run during the day. It’s quite a nice way to start the day and has become a bit of a routine.


9.44: Having put the gels in to set and checked my cells in cell culture, I sit down at my desk with a cup of tea and a smoothie. I use this time to plan out exactly what I’m doing for the day, type up some experiments and catch up on the lab gossip!

9.47: Time to use those gels I made earlier. Here I’m pipetting cell lysates (squashed up cells) into the gel wells. This is run on a current which separates out the proteins in the cells. You can look for the protein you’re interested in by using specific antibodies to detect them. This is called a Western Blot.


10.09: While the gel is running, I jump into cell culture. Today I am setting up some RNA interference (RNAi) experiments, which involves using specific oligonucleotides to attach to your proteins RNA. This stops the protein being expressed, so when you add these oligonucleotides to your cells you can see how your cell behaves without that protein. This can tell us a lot about the normal function of a protein. Preparing for this involves a lot of pipetting and extreme care – we have lots of enzymes on our skin and in our environment which would destroy oligonucleotides if they could.


11.00: The gel has finished running, so I transfer it from this tank to a blotting machine. The blotting machine transfers the proteins from the gel to a piece of special paper, which is then used for the antibody probing process.


11.12: I finally get to finish my smoothie!! Sometimes I have days like this where I have super busy mornings. However it can be important to have these crazy mornings in order to set up for the rest of the day, or even the week. So it’s ok now and then!


11.40: The previous day I had set up an overnight live microscope experiment, so I go to make sure it is still running. All looking A OK. Phew. I leave it to carry on running for the rest of the day.


12.49: I go outside to have lunch. The weather in UK has been glorious, so I try and make time to have a proper lunch break and go outside. Usually I have salad for lunch because I find anything else tends sends me straight to sleep for the afternoon. Today I also brave some crisps!!



14.57: Back in the lab, I “fix” some cells that I’ve been experimenting on and want to use for immunofluorescence microscopy at a later date. “Fixing” means you freeze cells in the position that they are in and they won’t decay. I can leave fixed cells in the fridge and then go back to them when I have a free day to stain them with fluorescent antibodies. The antibodies will visualise the proteins I am interested in. I can then use a fluorescent microscope to take some pictures of these cells.


16.04: Back in cell culture, I have to put some more media on the cells I treated with RNAi oligos earlier. Night night cells, see ya later!


16.18: The live microscope (and my cells!) have survived 24hr!! I take off the plate of cells, turn off the microscope and get back to the desk to type up any left-over details and answer emails. I check my diary for the next day, switch off my computer and head home.


18.17: Had to grab some shopping on the way home. But now I’m back with a cup of tea and Netflix. I’m definitely ready for a relaxing evening.

Thank you for joining me on my day, hope you enjoyed the day-in-the-life-of-Emily!

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