Category Archives: A Day in the Life of a Grad Student

A Wednesday in January

Long agoI said I would start chronicling what a day in the life of a grad student looks like.  Here’s the first!  I’m thinking of doing this approximately monthly.

My alarm went off at 8, and I hit the snooze button until 9.  I ate breakfast, then settled down to some work in pajamas: editing an essay for my side business, answering emails from the undergrads I mentor, and preparing a presentation for my advisor.

I finally got dressed, then procrastinated by checking my email one more time.  It turns out that the book I contributed to over a year ago is finally published!  That helps with the motivation.

I headed up to work and settled down to some data entry.  It’s easy on the brain and requires little motivation since I can stay at my desk.  I listened to RadioLab while working.  I tried to puzzle out patterns in my data by making and re-making graphs.

My friend and I went out to the patio to eat our packed lunches.  In January.  It’s wonderful.

I went into the lab and discovered that my reference instrument wasn’t working.  It turned out that the AA batteries hadn’t been replaced in ages, and they had leaked into the device.  I did internet research on my phone (clearly, walking back to the office to use the computer is too much work) and learned that vinegar is a good solution (hah!  get it?).  I hunted and found that we didn’t have “real” vinegar, but we had concentrated acetic acid – the stuff that lives in the acids cabinet and has warnings all over it.  More internet research to figure out how to dilute it to make vinegar without coming to harm.

Success!  I made vinegar (no accidents), cleaned up the battery mess, and was rewarded with a functioning device.  This result was great since I needed to take this hard-to-obtain instrument overseas in… 5 days.  Oi.

I started performing final tests on the device that I built to be tested on this trip.  I got caught up talking to an undergrad working in the lab about grad school and research.  I finished up my experiments by walking back and forth, taking samples to the spectrometer to get something to compare my results to.

I returned to the office for more data entry.  I finished up my presentation, adding the new data, and sent it to my advisor.

I went to the lab to prepare some supplies for my trip.  One of my reagents needs to warm up to become liquid again (it gels at “lab temperature,” which is usually less than room temperature).  I usually leave it in the warm water bath for 15 minutes or so.  This time, the water bath had been drained, its contents strewn across the bench, and the power left on.  While this could mean that someone started cleaning it and forgot to finish, you can never really be sure what was going on, and I hated to refill it unbidden.  (A few days later I gave up trying to figure out who did this and why and refilled it myself.  No casualties.)

Instead, I went to the soldering room to prepare more supplies for my trip.  Briefly forgetting the awesomeness that is the inside of a ThorLabs box, I opened my new box of parts to dig out photodiodes and also discovered a LabSnacks box.  LabSnacks are bribes sent by ThorLabs to keep graduate students loyal to them – every part, no matter how small, gets shipped with a box of snacks.  Excellent.

I wrapped up my soldering by 6:30 or so and headed home for dinner, hanging out with Greg, and packing.

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