A Week in the Life

The other day, I tweeted the following –

Tweet copy

Yep, couldn’t have been more glamorous if I’d been wearing sunglasses at night. People have all sorts of ways of getting on with PhDs. I regularly see hints dropped online that someone is working on their PhD at 4 in the morning before getting on with the rest of their day.  I’m entirely a night owl, so I’d rather approach 4 a.m. from the following direction.

Anyway, to provide a reflection on just one journey through the PhD nightscape, here is a week in the life of this PhD student.


Monday is a day at the hospital. This particular Monday I’m anaesthetising for a general surgery list. It is, in fact, my favourite day anaesthetising of the month, mostly because there’s usually at least one particularly challenging case for the day. Definitely true today as the surgeon warned me last week about it. This might to be because he wanted to give me a chance to plan. It may also be because he wanted my weekend to be ruined by obsessing about it like his was.

The operation is in a baby, actually represents 3 operations in one to remove a benign tumour and the child is more than a bit unwell. Coupled with the comment from the surgeon that he thinks the child will bleed continuously and severely throughout, I am both pleased and mildly apprehensive to be involved. I am also humbled. Whenever the parents hand their children over to us, I am struck by their bravery in letting us be part of this story, even where it seems there is little choice.

Happily the case goes well. At about 7 hours, it’s quicker than I’d expected. The surgeons are also pleasantly surprised. On the anaesthetics side, the 3 of us have placed cannulas into small vessels, managed a whole lot of challenges with the breathing (mostly inflicted by the surgeons), and kept up with the bleeding. We  do however use the adult equivalent of 4 L of concentrated red blood cells to do this. Dropping the patient off at 6:30 in the evening means I’m getting away much earlier than expected.

Once at home and full of dinner I get to sit down in front of TV. I end up watching Q and A. I have no idea why I do this to myself most weeks. Maybe there’s something about watching a bunch of politicians and pundits espouse the sort of lazy theories they’ve constructed by selectively looking at scraps of information that support their established world view, or mindlessly regurgitating some minder’s spin to stay “on message” that reinvigorates an interest in actual evidence for stuff in the world.

I’m actually a little weary after the day, so I shortchange the PhD a bit and just do a bit of reading for the lit review. Chalk 1 hour up of PhD work.


Today is a relative cruise at the hospital. Don’t mind that as the hospital schedule means I’m up pretty early. A morning of low key anaesthesia for testing and an afternoon getting kids to sleep for scans. I actually get away at a much more reasonable time, which means I get to hang out with the kids in the lead up to bed.

The kids are excellent but show no talent for somnolence. It takes them a while to get there so around 9 p.m. it’s back to the PhD. There’s a grant due this week, so that will be today’s work. I don’t know what it’s like for others, but these small grants are enticing but the preparation is not so exciting. Beyond the mundane contact info stuff and a bit of cut and paste from the trial protocol, this particular grant has a bunch of sections where the whole project has to be summarised in a page or less and written entirely for the digestion of the layperson. While I don’t mind all the involved de-jargon editing, I can’t help but feel I’m providing copy for the organisation’s website. 3 hours in, and my jargon filter is clogged enough to be spilling brain jelly over the edges.


Wednesday is daunting. Today I have the job for which I feel less trained. The one of which I’m more scared. I’m looking after the kids. The oldest is getting dropped to school by his much more qualified Mum on her way to work. This leaves me with the 18 month old and 4 year old. It is also swimming day. The logistics of this usually break me just a little, although today the youngster has reacted to a bite on his cheek and his right eye is pretty much closed  shut. So just the one kid to get ready for swimming and another kid to follow around as he trots near bodies of water. I have the slightly nervous feeling that people are constantly judging my efforts at parenting and secretly wondering what’s going on with the puffy-faced kid. This is parenting in public for me – a constant state of anxiety caused by the external threats to my inquisitive kids and the internal Judge Judy monologue questioning my choices.

Success though. Out the door, off to grab the eldest from school, back home, 5 minutes to make coffee, let the rabbit out in the knowledge he can fend for himself in the backyard until I remember he’s roaming free at midnight. When my wife arrives after dinner, I am quite pleased.

I don’t like getting into the PhD until everyone else is into bed, so it’s back to the grant after about 10 p.m. I make coffee. I make coffee at 10 p.m. just because I really like coffee. I particularly like my machine and my naked coffee filter. Mmmm … naked coffee filter (look, that’s not as weird as it sounds, see (at 0:54)). Anyway, there’s work to do.

This grant application also needs a 1000 word essay. I prepared for this homework by helping the 6 year old earlier though so I’m hot to trot. 2 hours down tonight.


Thursday. Another day looking after the boys so a bit like groundhog day, although it’s sport day instead of the pool and the father-in-law drops by in the evening for dinner.

I also have a moment of annoying realisation today. The grant is not due until next week. Idiot.

Slightly relieved idiot.

This means that I can do something more enjoyable for the work tonight. It’s to the blog and a rant brought on by the mumbo jumbo masquerading as science and flat out science denialism that seems to be stenching up my nostrils this week. I consider learning how to do the blog and practising writing a part of the stuff I’m learning for the PhD so it all counts. Just after I’m done, the 4 year old wakes up and demands my presence, and in particular that I lie down to help him get back to sleep. This is not all bad, as I don’t have time for yoga and folding myself into a pretzel to squeeze into his bed might just do the trick.


Phew! Safely navigated my parenting duties at home because Friday’s a hospital day. Except my wife’s helping run a day long conference. So it’s me and the guys, but I have something even more effective than coffee to assist my performance – grandparents. The additional benefit is that I can put my own father onto various DIY projects around the house. This suits both of us as he doesn’t mind and I love my family too much to expose them to the  risk of my handiwork.

A cruisy day and then manage to work on stuff for the oversight committee for the research in the evening. Again get some late sleepytime yoga in.

The juxtaposition of a profession in anaesthesia and kids who can’t get the sleep thing together is very apparent.


Finally the weekend, and another bout of swimming. The afternoon is all work around the house then a run for the first time in a couple of weeks. This hurts both at the time and later. Sleep time yoga will not help. Into the PhD stuff late at night as the sleep yoga is a little earlier than usual and I fall asleep for a bit. When I wake at 11 p.m. it’s apparent I’ll be up for a bit because I am way too awake. I want the grant stuff finished before the day on the helicopter though so this is when I stay up finishing it off.


This Sunday is a helicopter day. This is excellent, except for the fact that somebody is emptying large jugs of iced water somewhere in the upper atmosphere. I like the helicopter work for all sorts of reasons. Today we manage to squeeze training flights for the Aircrewman in so there’s a bunch of practice landings. We actually get tasked towards the end of the training to drop by the Olympic Aquatic Centre.

Highlight of the job is the complete disinterest from the folks at the front desk who initially seem a little put out we don’t have our money ready to get in. The kid turns out to be fine and we’re not needed, so naturally we vogue next to our landing spot. The computers at CareFlight are full of photos of landing sites the pilots particularly like. Whole different kind of nerdery.


The rest of the shift is taken up with waiting for calamity to befall someone so we might get a call. I get to fill in the time working with a very clever research nurse on our database for the trial. By the time I’ve spent 5 hours at this, I will have been reminded the extent of the data we are collecting.

At midnight this will elicit a bit of a panic, as I become entirely convinced I have absolutely no hope of pulling this off. This is cured by looking at Mr 4’s latest photography collection. It consists mainly of fuzzy pictures of random bits of things and people’s legs. It is quite delightful.

So there’s a week of part-time research at the moment. I think there’s a common misconception that research happens only in universities, and with many white coats and test tubes. I get the distinct feeling that research/science/exploration takes place in all sorts of places, having regularly seen online comments from researchers contemplating returning to the lab after dinner.

I squeeze in a little bit of work on the lit review, but it’s off to bed early. The surgeon called, he has this big case in a small kid who is quite sick for the morning …


3 thoughts on “A Week in the Life

  1. Pingback: A Week in Research Life | The Flying PhD

  2. Pingback: The Number | The Flying PhD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s