A day in the life of 27 and a PhD

Feb 10 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Now that I am a staff member, sometimes, I get asked the question of how does a typical day at work looks like.

When I was in grad school I'd get to the lab around 10am, collect or process data, depending on the project I was working, and leave any time after 6pm. During my first year I got in earlier, mostly because I was taking courses and wanted to go home early. Then during the postdoc I'd get in between 9:30-10am, work, and head home between 5 and 6pm. I didn't stay in the lab too long, partly because I wasn't doing much (yes, my postdoc was stellar... not), and Fridays were usually my busiest. I remember heading home around 6 or 7pm for a month or two straight. Since my lab was full of people (15 at one time), it was easier to get things accomplished when everyone was heading home.

Now as a staff scientist my work flow is definitely different and I get to do different things almost everyday. I'm almost always busy, that never changes. On a typical day I get in between 9:30-10am. If I've left equipment running overnight I make sure that whatever I was running worked, make sure the instruments are good, and if things are done I take out the samples. I also do most of the ordering and purchasing in the lab, and I have to keep records of things I've ordered, things that have arrived and call vendors if things are not in and the lab is in a crunch.

My lab went through some changes after I joined, and since we're sort of a core, a lot of users depend on the limited staff we have now. Since we have a couple of instruments, and varying degrees of user-independence/confidence, sometimes I'll assist someone for only a few minutes, other times I'll be there the whole day. Since we have many users coming by everyday, I'm usually trying to help more than one person. This has caused some friction, because some people need to have someone holding their hand, even though they've known the place and instrumentation since before I even graduated from the PhD. I've been trying to push for some of those users to become independent. Moderate success has been achieved. Other users are a bit more adventurous, but that doesn't necessarily translate into all of them knowing what they're doing. On rare occasions I've had to give warnings about risky behaviour, and I've had to remind a user or two (or three) that more than one person depends on having the equipment in top shape, and if it isn't then I don't have any trouble putting them on the banned list.

On days when I'm not setting instrumentation up for use, I'll be doing other things, like inventories of lab supplies and chemicals, calling vendors about equipment we need to buy or fix, taking care of booking instruments, returning emails and doing other admin duties. Most of these tasks are new to me, I don't think I (ever) purchased something directly, or talked to a vendor (except to get them out of the lab when they dropped by uninvited). Oddly enough I like doing it.

Each lab member knows how to use certain types of equipment, so occasionally users will contact the appointed person (expert) and see if they have some time to work on said instrument with them. Unless the user is new, pretty much everyone that comes in (ranging from grad students, to techs, to postdocs) only needs to have the equipment checked and they can work on their own.

Other days you'll find me reading spec sheets, transferring gas cylinders across the lab, fixing or testing equipment, and doing any number of tasks my PI sends my way just 'cause (you know, because sometimes I *just* have a bunch of free time to do little things while a PI is looking above my shoulder).

By 5 or 6pm we're usually winding down, though occasionally we have users that show up at the last minute. Everyone that wants to work late/after hours, has to have a certification to do so, something we try to enforce. That's also the cue for equipment to break down or users to have any sort of last minute trouble ... which means we leave an hour (or two, or hey, how about 3!) later than projected.

Most days I'm out the door by 7pm, though on particularly hectic times I've left the lab after 8 (not pretty). The commute is >30mins, so imagine how tired I feel by the end of the day.

It is almost never boring. And there are always problems/challenges to solve. The good thing is that I like my job and I think I do it decently well. I know that people depend on me and my ability to help them do the job just right. At times it hasn't been like that and most people understand. Most. I try my hardest, I really do.

3 responses so far