Arts vs Science: A Day in the Life of Two PhD Students |

Arts vs Science: A Day in the Life of Two PhD Students

Have you ever wondered how daily life differs between PhD students in the Arts and those in Science? If so, you’re in the right place! This blog will be looking at the average schedule of two students to see if their experiences are as different as their research areas.

Jennifer is a first-year Biology student researching the role of extracellular vesicles in cell communication within the brain. She’s either in the lab puzzling over weird results, reading or writing.

Whereas Hannah is a second-year History student. Researching and analysing the diaries of seafarers in the Elizabethan period, she spends most of her time reading and writing.

7:30 am

Jennifer: I get up. Well, I try to! When working from home it tends to be closer to 8 am by the time I’m actually out of my cosy bed and dressed in something other than pyjamas. But when it’s a lab day (which would be every day, thanks COVID) I do actually get up at 7:30 am to get ready and have some breakfast before catching the train. It’s either a 30-minute commute to the lab or a 30-second commute to my desk at home.

Hannah: I try to get out of bed before 7am because there is nothing better to me than a long morning. I’m someone who is prone to stressing out and so savouring a cup tea in my dressing gown is the best way to relax my mind and get ready for the day. As I no longer have an office to go to, 8am has become my writing time. And yes, I am usually still in my dressing gown taking advantage of that work-from-home life.

9 am

Jennifer: If I’m lucky enough for it to be a lab day I start by tending my cells – I know this sounds weird to non-biologists, but I can’t do any lab work if my cells aren’t happy and don’t grow! Then I dive straight into my experiment or get on with setting one up for later in the week that needs a 24 or 48-hour incubation.

When I’m working from home, I start my day like everyone else: by reading my emails. My supervisor has been known to send me blank emails with attached papers in the middle of the night (do these people even sleep?!), so I never know what I’m going to have in my inbox. I spend the rest of the morning analysing some data from the mountain I have to get through or writing up the methods and results of recent experiments.

Hannah: As I am currently trying to produce a chapter draft, I will still be writing by 9am and won’t finish for at least another hour or two. However, I will take a short break to actually get dressed. I will also take this time to put together an abstract or conference paper if an event is coming up.

My writing routine is highly optimised at this point. It involves a lot of back spacing, staring at terribly worded sentences and angrily searching through notes for a quote.


Jennifer: Meeting time. I don’t have a meeting at this time every day, but generally once a week I have a (virtual) meeting with my supervisor to have a chat about my lab work for the past week. I also have to attend lab meetings every other week, where we take it in turns to present an update on our research – safe to say I do a lot of presenting (ugh!).

Hannah: Late morning is when I put my work down and catch up on some of the menial tasks like emails and updating my reading list – with a fresh cup of tea. Once a month I will meet my supervisor to check in. We’ll discuss my current plans, ideas and any issues I might be having.

If I’m not meeting my supervisor then I can often be found scrolling through Twitter. For those who don’t know, historians love Twitter and so it can be a great place to learn about new research or upcoming events.


Jennifer: Lunch time! I generally have between 30 and 45 minutes when I’m at home as sitting down all morning makes my legs go to sleep, so sometimes I have a little walk. When I’m in the lab doing a long experiment, who knows when I’ll get a break? I tend to sneak away during incubation periods, which can be at any time!

Hannah: Lunch time for me too. I like to take an hour (and sometimes longer). Having recently discovered Four in a Bed, it’s the perfect twenty-minute show to watch during lunch before heading out for a walk.

1:30 pm

Jennifer: Back to work. If I’m doing a long experiment, I’ll be back in the lab but most of the time I’m finished with my lab work for the day, so I spend the afternoon reading papers, writing and possibly preparing for an upcoming presentation.

Hannah: I tend to slump in the afternoon. That means it is time to lounge on a comfy chair and get my reading done. This can be articles, books or going over my primary sources again (you can never read them too many times). Although it technically takes more time, I like to hand write my notes because I’m more likely to remember them that way. I’ll then later type up the important stuff onto my laptop.


Jennifer: Okay, sometimes I do go home earlier on those days when my brain has just had enough. On the other hand, if I’m doing a particularly long experiment, I’ll be there until later, not too late though – I always aim to be home in time for dinner! On days when I work from home, to unwind I walk my dog, Luna.

Hannah: Having started at 8am, I usually finish work between 4-4:30pm (depending on how long my walk was). Unfortunately, I don’t have a dog to take out, but I do have a tortoise who likes to sit on my hand and stare at me.

On a Friday, PhD students in our department like a meet (virtually) for a post-work drink. This is a great time to catch up with each other and actually talk to people outside of your household.

It seems like the main different between the daily life of Arts and Science students is that Science tends to be more cooperative. Though that’s not to say there aren’t more cooperative Art degrees out there. But I think we can say with confidence that no matter what subject you’re studying, you’ll be working hard each day to earn that PhD!

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Last Updated: 02 June 2021