July 11, 2017, by Andrew

A day in the life of a postgraduate research student.

Now then, I’ve chatted before about improving time efficiency, waking up earlier, considerations when choosing a post-grad degree, and things to do in Nottingham, so I figure it’s about time I provide a little insight for those of you who might be considering post-grad research (MRes/MPhil/PhD, etc) to take a glimpse into my day-to-day.

Of course, my days vary tremendously, and will be vastly different to those of someone studying in a different field, and I’m a real creature of habit, but it might give you an idea of the kind of lifestyle that you may well lead if you choose to undertake a research degree. I am studying for an MRes (that’s a 12 month, solely research based project, somewhat equivocal to the first or second year of a 3- or 4-year PhD, respectively) in Physiology (specifically: chronic metabolic adaptations to high intensity interval training). So without further ado, here’s a typical play-by-play:

06:00 – 06:45: Wake up, eat breakfast, pack my bag.

06:45 – 08:45: Head to the gym (DRSV) or go for a run, shower, change, and cycle to Uni (QMC).

08:45 – 09:15: Arrive at Uni, check/respond to emails, read the news, write a plan for the day.

09:15 – 13:00: Run study visits/ experiments in the lab.

13:00 – 14:00: Lunch, check emails/messages, maybe go for a short walk, or sit in the sunshine and read.

14:00-16:45: Varies a lot, maybe run study visits/ experiments, or analyse data/populate spreadsheets/ run stats/ write a section of my thesis.

16:45 – 17:00: At the end of the day I always check my emails again, update my calendar and make notes of anything I must do tomorrow, before usually cycling home around 5pm. Sometimes, if progress has been great, I’ll leave an hour early, some days I might still be necking coffees at my desk for another couple of hours.

17:00 – 19:00: Food and lounge. Once home, I completely switch off for a couple of hours, relax, throw shade in the group chat, and cook my dinner (I always make enough for tomorrow’s lunch). Alternatively, if it’s a warm, light evening, I might go for a walk to a park to read/listen to music, or get a quick few kilometers in on my bike.

19:00 – 22:00: Social stuff, whether it’s watching tv with a housemate, grabbing a pint, or skyping more distant friends, I use the end of my day to have a laugh and usually whinge about some new austerity measures or terrible movies that have been released.

22:00 – 22:30: Reading in bed. I get to sleep much easier when I read beforehand, so grabbing my bed-side paperback is a must.


Everyone works in different ways and on different schedules, I’ve known research post-grads that sleep in all morning and then work til late at night, others that only come in for laboratory work and do everything else from home, and some that practically never leave uni. For me, I simply treat it like a ‘typical’ job. I find it keeps me accountable to myself and improves productivity – plus means I rarely have to do any work on evenings or weekends! As a post-grad research student, a lot of your workload is going to be self-structured, self-regulated and self-paced. If that level of independence sounds great and you’re self-motivated, you might find it a more beneficial experience than an MSc. If you prefer following instructions, working to a set plan and need those deadlines to motivate you, then you might better enjoy/get more out of a taught programme.

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