Posted in English, Ph. D. series

Piled higher and Deeper…an average day of a Ph.D student in lab…

The chirping of the birds was gradually replacing the silence of the night. I had been fast asleep in my one bedroom apartment when I suddenly woke up with a start; “Oh God, I think I forgot to add Enzyme to my reaction mixture last night !!!!” (Mind you, it has taken me 2 long weeks of extensive planning and reading and hard work to get to the the last step of my reaction….which I now believe I have ruined). I look at the clock, it is 5.30 am. My bed looks like a scientific battle ground with research papers, text books and notes strewn about while the laptop is still switched on. It appears I have long replaced pillows and soft toys with thick fat books which I now hug while I am sleeping. As a Ph. D student I obviously cannot afford an AC, so I open the windows to allow nature to take care of my palpitation and profuse sweating. Gradually, as I begin to recover from my near heart attack, I feel, maybe I did add all the reagents as per protocol !


“Wait a second, Did I ?”….”Noooo I didn’t”…..”I should have written it all down”….”On second thoughts I am convinced I did everything properly”…..” Hold on! I don’t even remember taking that reagent out of  the lab refrigerator…shit, I think I just ruined it”….”Oh God, I am getting a headache” 


And hence begins my day…. like every other day !!!


When you wake up with a sour mood and a terrible headache, and you are living miles away from you parents, breakfast and exercise always take a backseat. I groggily make myself a cup of tea, rummage through my fridge for anything edible only to realize I haven’t had time to go grocery shopping for two weeks, and finally decide to eat a few biscuits and head off to lab. In spite of waking up at 5.30 am, I still manage to get late for lab, so I decide to sneak up the back stairs to avoid my mentor. But as fate would have it, he had decided to take a stroll down the dingy backstairs today of all days and my headache increased at par with the crescendo of his voice when we met in the dark alleys !!! So after a good 10 mins lecture on punctuality, I reach my lab and get to work, only to realize that the PCR machine that I had booked, is already in use. As I am gearing up for a showdown with my annoying lab mate, my boss calls me to his chamber to give me an amazing news : my paper has again been rejected by what seems like the hundredth journal !!! 


So I already have a ruined experiment (which will now take several weeks to repeat, and even longer to explain to my boss), two rounds of condescending lectures, a showdown with a lab mate and a rejected paper in hand….and its just 10.00 am ! But the good thing about working in labs is having seniors who have somehow survived through it all. So after a good motivational speech from a senior and a cup of strong coffee, I decide to face the struggles of life, come what may !!!

I manage to find another PCR machine in a neighboring lab and decide to continue with my ruined experiment rather than giving up. I do not know how long I had been working but a very hungry and angry stomach lets me know that it has had it all !!! I coax my growling stomach not to revolt for another half an hour so that I have just enough time to finish off the work at hand. When an elated me finally reaches the canteen after half an hour, I realize I am well past lunch time and the canteen is nearly empty. So I head out of my Institution in search of some street food and I return back to my lab with a severe acidity which has now replaced the headache !!! 

A pleasant surprise however greets me in lab. One of our seniors who had been persuing post-doctoral research abroad has come to visit us after nearly 4 years. We gather around her to hear her experience as we devour the Swiss chocolates she has got for us. While the first few years abroad had been fun, she has now completed her work there with a handful of publications but still has no job or work at hand. I soon realized the conversation along with the idea of a bleak future was inviting back my headache and the chocolates weren’t helping my digestive system either. I needed a distraction ! 


I texted my best friend, who of course works at the IT sector, to plan out a meeting post work, sometime around 6 pm. A “girlie” get together is just what I need to lift up my spirits. Life suddenly found a purpose as I felt I had something to look forward to and pull me through the rest of the day! It was only around 5.30 pm that I found out  through our network of secret spies that my boss was planning to stay back in lab till 8 pm. Devastated, I called up my bestie to inform her that I couldn’t meet her, which of course ended up in me being face to face with the telephonic wrath of the girl whom I have stood up for the seventh time in  the past one month, thanks to my “research”. I myself  judge her for still thinking of me as her friend ! But then social life is, of course, a luxury for a Ph. D. student.


My ruined experiment in the meantime yielded a result which I couldn’t really decipher. It was neither what it should have been had it worked or had it failed and appeared to be somewhere in the middle. It was 6 pm and by that time I had reached a point where I had become stoic. Nothing really mattered to me… nothing really bothered me ! I realized I had to cook up some explanation before my boss asked me about the experiment or about what to do about my paper, but I really didn’t have the energy to think anymore. After another round of tea, I sat down at the computer in search of the only joy in a research student’s life….Conferences !!!!



After waiting for eternity trying to appear to be working while I waited for my boss to leave, I finally manage to get out of lab around 8.45 pm. I buy a family packet of chocolate, gorge on some fast food to satiate the ever hungry stomach, pop-up an antacid and head home. I look at the giggling young girls on the metro, all dolled up laughing or joking with boyfriends or a group of friends and felt jealousy swell up inside me. I reach home to the empty flat, gorge on the entire bar of chocolate and collapse on couch nauseated and tired.  


After managing to put together something for dinner, my first proper meal of the day, I finally go to bed. Tonight I can sleep well. My experiment has already been ruined, my paper has been rejected and my future is bleak….so overall, nothing worse can happen ! I can sleep tonight without the fear of waking up in the wee of the morning, all sweaty and petrified. I  fall asleep while watching my daily dose of “F.R.I.E.N.D.S”, a sitcom I owe my sanity to…………….ZZZzzzzzzzzz !!!

It’s 5.30 am. I am dreaming that I forgot to switch off the heater in our lab and our entire lab is on fire !!! My notes and results have all turned into ash and I am being literally kicked out of my institution for ruining everything. I wake up with a start again, all sweaty with a searing headache !!!

Ahhh !!! Hence starts another brand new day !!!



4 thoughts on “Piled higher and Deeper…an average day of a Ph.D student in lab…

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