Starting the day

08.00 – My alarm rings. Right in the middle of my Nobel prize acceptance speech. I hit snooze, and carry on explaining the groundbreaking work I did, clarifying the processes of multi-sensory integration during navigation of drosophila larva, and how the information flow in biological networks is constrained by memory and learning before decision making, essentially forming the universal principles that guide neural dynamics.

08.30 – Second attempt to wake up. This rarely happens, of course. I usually get up the first time my alarm rings and have little to no resistance getting out of bed and straight to work. Before I let the sunlight flood my room, I check the code that I ran overnight. As expected, it ran perfectly without error. Now I’ve got all the data I need to finalize my third Nature publication of this year.

09.00 – I start my day with a balanced breakfast: tea or coffee. This is because caffeine cuts my appetite so I don’t have to worry about food and can just focus on the one thing that truly keeps me alive: science. Ready to be a productivity queen.

This is my desk. It does actually look like this the majority of the time 
Why? Because I don’t use it. I opt to do my morning work in a location more conducive to my genius

Lab time

09.30 – I arrive at the lab, and all the other PhD students are already there, on time, working away on their well-planned projects. So motivating. So inspiring.

I proceed to do some wet-lab work, where I easily enter a state of flow, because all of the reagents I need are perfectly organised and available. Since I’ve consumed a reasonable amount of caffeine, my hands are steady and I experience no jitters while performing the meticulous work required, such as dissection of fly brains or immunostaining. It’s like neurosurgery, but on dead flies.

11.00 – With the experiment set up, I waste no time and get straight to reading some papers. My PI typically suggests 10 new papers per meeting and I always make a point to read them promptly, back to back. It’s so easy to maintain my laser focus, and I realise shortly that whoever diagnosed me with ADHD must’ve been wrong.

11.30 – Unfortunately the experiment I set up this morning absolutely failed, but that’s ok, there’s always another £1000 in the budget to repurchase antibodies. Plus, I have all the time in the world to perform these experiments; I’m not anxious about finishing or having no results.

12.00 – Time for lunch with the lab! Now since I am gluten free, lactose intolerant and vegan, I’m confident I could find a nutritionally satisfying meal in the cafeteria. Yet, on a whim, I decide to go for a little known delicacy instead: Huel. I must reassure you dear reader, I definitely didn’t choose this because of the budget constraints caused by PhD stipends unadjusted for inflation. No, I just really love liquid food.

13.00 – Because I have the strong cognitive abilities you’d expect a PhD student to have, I typically spend an hour a day learning something new. In this case, I dig into a Machine Learning Specialisation course (led by Andrew Ng), which I have been very consistent about, and definitely used the paid version on Coursera (don’t use YouTube for this guys – it’s illegal).

15.00 – At this time once a week I do accountability with my inspiring part-time PhD student part-time rower (he’s such an inspiration) Scott. We essentially set our goals for the week together and then hold each other accountable for the things we didn’t finish. Since these failures rarely happen, we’ve come to use accountability meetings mainly as an ego boost.

Scott presenting his results


15.30 – As my energy ever so slightly wanes by the afternoon, I take a break and proceed from exclusive PhD work to exploring interests that aren’t directly related to my doctorate. Since there’s no other career path as obviously great as the one in academia, I like to unwind by networking in entrepreneurship events, either led by Cambridge Gravity (for which I’m also an committee member) or various events in collaboration with Entrepreneur First, organised by Pranay, my good friend and fellow PhD student at LMB.

A Cambridge Gravity event

These events are really just for entertainment. A chance to unwind, and be reminded that there’s just no better position to hold than being a PI in this day and age.

Pranay on Parker's Piece

16.30 – Time to get back to work and book some travelling for the weekend. Now I know what you may think: “How does such a busy productive PhD student have time to travel? And how am I able to afford that?” It’s easy. I don’t. Either of those things.

The PhD life hack is the conference – you take a vacation but not a real enough vacation to make you feel guilty about not working, but just real enough to make you feel like you are still traveling and exploring the world in your 20s (while sleeping on stranger’s couches). It’s basically the same experience as solo-travelling just with the added benefit that you don’t actually relax at any point whatsoever.

Leisure Time

18.00 – Work time is finally over (not that I don’t love working with flies all day long 24/7)

18.30 – Just kidding, now that I’ve finished cleaning the lab, work time is actually over. And I normally relax with one of few options:

Cambridge Union Debate: If I’m in the mood for some sincere, respectful political discussions (with no hidden agendas), I go to a Cambridge union debate. They never disappoint, and each time I’m impressed by the quality of productive conversations.

Formal dinner: “Overdress & overpay” are the two words that come to mind – admittedly an unnecessary necessary Cambridge thing that allows us to create yet another ranking within colleges.

Having Jack’s gelato and breaking into colleges – need I say more?

21.00 – As the sun sets over the college chapels, I cycle back home safely, with my bike lights attached and helmet on, totally not on the phone with my best friend. A best friend is a bit like a guardian angel (in training), and mine is Tanya. I unload the dramas of my day, feeling emotionally safe and supported, as I steer my bike through busy traffic.

Tanya my guardian angel

21.30 – I arrive home, and I’m still on the phone with my friend. At which point I realise this call may last for a couple more hours. Although we make the Cambridge dream look effortless, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

Unlike me, my friend is constantly questioning the role she wants to play in society and the ethical duties that modern professionals should have. Medical student by day, she conforms to the practical standards of being a “good doctor”, but at night our spirits soar as our conversation spans the range of the most current TV dramas, celebrity gossip and latest fashion trends. I gently remind her that the best remedy for existential dread is a good meme.


Mountain View

Fact free speech is Cambridge’s real problem

In contrast to her student struggles, I have learnt to effortlessly handle all my PhD responsibilities. However, I know some people, not me, struggle with the following:

  • Time management when there’s no deadlines
  • Dealing with the pressure of personal responsibility over your own productivity and ideas
  • Constant doubt and fear about the one decisional day (viva) on whether you lost the past four years of your life

For the PhD students that struggle, I recommend seeking out and reaching out for help. But that’s not me, I’m doing perfectly fine.

23.00 – Although I’ve already reached enlightenment, I like to top myself up with an extra 10 minutes of daily meditation at the end of my day. I either tap into my creative spirit and spontaneously embody the Buddha, or, I rely on Sam Harris’s “Waking Up” app. I’m sure that if I had any anxieties or difficulties this app would be of great help.

23.30 – I start dozing off to sleep. My unconscious mind begins processing the contents of my Nobel prize speech, a vibrant neural network unfolding in my dreams. Any day now. Mendeleev made it look so easy. Maybe I’m not getting enough sleep?