Featured ‘Day in the life of’: Taylor PhD student in chemical immunology.

My name is Taylor and I’m in the final year of my PhD at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand. I work in the chemical immunology team at the Ferrier Research Institute and my PhD involves designing and synthesising therapeutic cancer vaccines. The work I’ve undertaken  My day’s are pretty similar and involve a lot of in and out of the lab between my computer and the lab bench. Occasionally I’ll have meetings or guest lectures to attend at the main university campus in town so I will travel in to those – on those days I often start a little earlier and finish a little later to make up for the time I’ve missed out on in the lab. I share snippets of PhD life on Instagram over @thepinkcoatdr and eventually (when I finish fussing over details) I intend to share more about my journey at thepinkcoatdr.com.


6:50am – Time to wake up. It’s rainy so I lay in bed for an extra 10 mins and watched the storm outside. My weekday morning routine is very brief – I get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, wash my face, make a coffee and jump in the car. All done in 15 minutes max.


7:31am– Arrived at the lab. It’s a short drive so usually I can avoid any traffic. I head to my desk, set up my laptop and start tackling urgent admin tasks. I prefer to do admin after I’ve set up work in the lab, but this morning I need to dry a few compounds before I run NMRs to analyse them, so I put them under vacuum and hit the books.


8:16am- I spent last week at the University of Auckland working in a different lab and have a report to write. I add some final details to my report to give to my supervisor in a meeting later. I finish up and update my to-do list. I did a lot of hands on lab work yesterday, so it’s left me with samples to concentrate and analyse. While that’s underway I start reading a large total synthesis paper to dig out some reaction conditions I want to use in a later experiment.


9:17am- I make up the NMR samples and the rain has stopped so I walk over to the NMR suite and do some other errands along the way. The campus is quite large, so the walk takes a couple of minutes. Although it’s a bit annoying having the NMR so far away I like the fresh air and often run into a friendly face to say hello on my trips.


9:32am- I head back from the NMR suite with some different compounds to concentrate after acquiring data last night. Almost time for morning tea! We head over to the on-site cafeteria for a tea break at 10am. It’s a great chance to catch up with friends as we are in multiple different buildings around the campus currently.


 11:06am- Finally have time to process my NMRs. I need to confirm my compound is structurally correct before I use it in the next reaction – failing to do this can cause huge complications down the line. I carefully integrate the signals and assign them. It’s relatively straight forward as these compounds are small. Sometimes I have 150+ proton signals in one compound so those are a lot harder to work with! I put my material for reactions to set up later today under hi-vac in the lab to ensure they are nice and dry.

712:39pm- I check my material before taking a lunch break and it’s looking good, I’ll weigh the samples again after lunch. I head over to the cafeteria. The first two years of my PhD I never took a lunch break and would just eat at my desk. Now I try to most days because it’s nice to talk with friends & I find It boosts my mood. I usually spend ~30-45 minutes at lunch, although some days I must resort to eating at my desk because it’s too busy!

1:51pm- After lunch it’s time to weigh out compounds an figure out yields. I use the calibrated balance in our lab to get an accurate weight. Once I’ve weighed the materials, I update my lab book and do some calculations for a stability assay that I’m going to begin in the next couple of days.

93:06pm- I’ve written up the experiments to go overnight. When trying to find a starting material I’ve previously synthesised I realise I no longer have it – our lab burnt down before Christmas last year and some of my compounds were destroyed, it turns out this was one of them. I update my notes to reflect this and put the reaction on to make the compound I need. I’ll have to do the other reaction I planned for this afternoon tomorrow instead. I put on the reaction I can do, and weigh out some compounds I need for the stability assay.


4:00pm- I check the reaction I had to quickly put on, by TLC. It’s completed, so I work it up and put the material on the freezedryer overnight. I leave my other slower reaction stirring overnight so it’ll be finished in the morning when I come in. I take some time to add notes to my experimental chapter of my thesis between bits of lab work.


6.38pm- I finish up in the lab and everything’s turned off, secure and shut down for the night. Time to head home! I leave well after rush hour, so there’s typically no traffic. I’m home in about 6 minutes. So handy!


7:13pm- There’s a break in the weather this evening so I head out for a short 30 min run. I’ve been trying to make the most of the last few days of daylight savings because soon it will start getting dark by 5 pm. I often listen to podcasts when I’m running, or if I’m not in the mood for words then I substitute some drum and bass.


7:31pm-  Robby and I to make dinner together. The next few weeks we have a subscription meal plan service which sends pre-organised meal packs and recipe cards for us to prepare and cook. I find cooking therapeutic & relaxing, however next week we’re moving into a new house we’ve just bought, so we decided to minimise any stresses we can. While cooking we catch each other up on our days, then eat & watch an episode of our fave show.

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9:07pm- I spend a few hours this evening working in my office at home. Tonight, I’m writing up notes from some papers I read last week to fill in gaps in my introduction. I’m hoping to send this chapter off for editing in the next few weeks even though my thesis won’t be fully drafted for a few months yet! I’m lucky to have a big home office with extra screens and a big desk to make working at home particularly inviting. Robby works next to me on his thesis too, so occasionally we chat. He usually volunteers to make me a cup of tea as well – bonus! I try and do something productive in the evenings whether that’s reading papers, writing, editing, planning or studying things I haven’t revised in a while.


11:30pm- All showered and ready for bed. I get my clothes and bag organised for tomorrow morning, then I spend a few minutes writing my to do list for tomorrow – by doing a brain dump before I got to sleep I find I’m less stressed and overwhelmed the next morning. I finish a few last-minute life admin tasks and head off to sleep about 11:30 – ready to begin all over again tomorrow!

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