Featured Day in the Life of; Freija, PhD Candidate in Geoscience & Ecotoxicology

Hi everyone! My name is Freija Mendrik and I’m a second year PhD Candidate in Geoscience and Ecotoxicology at the Energy and Environment Institute, University of Hull, UK. My research is all about microplastic pollution, mainly what factors effect vertical stratification and transport and how biology plays a role in this in major rivers and out to sea. I’m very lucky as I get to do a field work in Cambodia and Vietnam in the Mekong River! I also hope to understand the hotspots of ecological risk from microplastics along the river and how nearby coral reefs are effected by the discharge from the Mekong and may act as a sink for microplastic pollution. I have a marine biology background, which is why I’m very interested in how biology plays a role in the fate of microplastics.

I am also part of the National Geographic River of Plastic project which aims to understand microplastic transport in the Mekong but also engage with local communities to understand public perspective of plastic pollution. It’s a really exciting project to be a part of!

All things ocean has always been my passion. I’m now sharing my tips on how to reduce plastic and waste as well as my PhD journey and SciComm on Instagram as @fray_marine. Here’s a random Tuesday.



07:16 My alarm goes off at 7am normally: it always takes me a little bit to get out of bed, especially in the winter! Bed is so cosy and it’s too dark outside!


07:30 TEA: an essential in my life. I’m using loose tea and a strainer as tea bags actually have microplastic in them and I don’t want to be ingesting them/releasing them to the environment with all the tea I drink!


07:38 make lunch: I’m doing Veganuary this year and really enjoying it but sometimes it’s not always easy finding stuff to eat when you’re out. It’s just easier to make lunch and I like doing it. Pitta with hummus, vegan cheese and salad, yum!


08:20 leave home: I live close enough to Uni that I can walk which is great.


08:25 if I’m lucky, this guy is there to say hello!


08:52 get to the lab: I’m currently running some trials to find the best way to process my samples. I had a busy day ahead so needed to get some trials on their way. It’s important to try and keep the area as clean as possible and wear cotton as lots of microplastics come from synthetic clothing and can contaminate our work.



09:15 setting up the next trials.


09:19 in the oven they go! The last trials didn’t work as well as I hope so these ones went in for a longer time than before to see if that makes a difference.


09:49 off to my office: after sorting some more things in the lab I walked over to my office in another building, the Energy and Environment Institute. We’ve only moved recently into this new space and it’s lovely!


10:09 finally had breakfast and prepared for meetings: I’m doing intermittent fasting which is why I have a late breakfast! I’m not doing it to lose weight but for the many health benefits it is supposed to bring such as better digestion. Today is unusual as we are planning our next field trip for the River of Plastic project so I will be in meetings all day.


10:28 I brought some of my samples: we have a visiting colleague and I thought it would be good to show her some of my samples – you can see some microplastics! These are water samples from the Mekong and the problem I’m having is that they are full of organic material and some have a lot of sediment. When I filter them they clog the filter paper. So I am having to figure out the best way to dissolve the organic material without destroying the microplastics! There’s a lot of debate as to which is the best way which is why I am running my own trials.


11:03 TEA: essential before the meeting starts!


11:23 updates from everyone: there was 7 of us in the room, but a lot more involved in the project. This was the update from Dr. Viv Cumming who is a scientist/story teller and the film maker for the project. In November she ran a couple of workshops with local students in Cambodia and Vietnam teaching them how to make their own films to raise awareness of plastic pollution! They spend 3 hours filming and made their own films in the same day. She showed us some examples and they were brilliant!


11:50 I gave my update: This was my poster from a recent conference (AGU) so I explained how it went and the issues I’m having with my samples.


12:28 finding dates for the next trip: this always takes longer than you think!


13:25 back to the lab: quickly ran over to take my trials out of the oven.


13:27 quick inspection: this is looking more promising yay!



13:47 quick lunch!


13:57 back to the drawing board: finding dates and choosing locations. The River of Plastic project aims to sample from Laos all the way down to Vietnam through Cambodia and the coast. We decided the best way to do it was to have 2 teams otherwise it would be a very long trip.


15:41 The meeting continued as we were still deciding where best to sample and do the community outreach.


16:40 meeting over and I’m back in the lab! We managed to get some dates set for the end of March and a plan in placn! I went back to the lab to look at my trials properly and sort out my other samples that I took to show at the meeting.Picture22

16:52 one of my samples cracked! I’m not sure how this happened by luckily I found it before too much leaked out but when I went to open it transfer the contents the entire bottom started falling out! I managed to quickly capture all of it but really not good L I checked all my other samples for cracks and they were fine.


17:07 back to the Energy and Environment Institute. After saving my sample I headed back to my office to do some admin.


18:51 dinner. As we had a visiting college I took them out for dinner! We would have probably gone to the pub but she had to wake up at 5am to get to Hull so was shattered! It was great to catch up though.


19:04 walked back home.


20:01 relax. Did I mention I like tea? This day wasn’t a normal day for me as usually I would fit in some sort of exercise (gym/running/climbing) and work a bit in the evening but it was really exciting to start planning the next trip! I was pretty tired so decided to relax instead of work. I’m also learning Swedish so I do a bit of practise in the evening.


21:51 bed. I try to get into bed at a decent time, I like my 8+hours sleeps! I do some mediation with the app Headspace and then some reading. Headspace is amazing and I would definitely recommend. I’m really trying to practise more self-awareness to help with stress and anxiety and have definitely seen a difference through mediation. I usually have lights out around 23:00.


So that was a not so typical day, but every day is different for me! If you’re interested to hear more about my work and the River of Plastic project or want some tips on how to reduce your plastic waste, please head over to my Instagram @fray_marine. I also have a blog The Sea and Me!

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