This is A Day in the Life of … a PhD student
On Thursday, we spent the day with Verónica Corrales, a Colombian PhD student from the Behavior and Metabolism Laboratory, at the Champalimaud Research (CR). We photographed her daily routine, picked our favourites, and asked her to talk us through them.
This is A Day in the Life of … a PhD student
I chose this image because I really enjoy the beautiful landscape along the riverside during my ride to the CCU [Champalimaud Centre of the Unknown]. Even if it’s raining, I enjoy cycling – it’s important for me to do some activity or to enjoy a beautiful view before starting the working day. And when I arrive and see this amazing building – it cheers me up in the morning! Also, at the end of the day, it’s kind of my “meditation” moment; when I think about all of the things that happened during the day, and especially if I’m worried about something, it’s really settling just to look at the river.
At the moment I’m not doing experiments because I’m at the final stage of my PhD, trying to make sense of all the data collected and writing a research article. So, that’s what this picture represents. All the moments that I spend thinking about the experimental results and trying to build a “story” out of them, that is both appealing and informative, passing the knowledge we have been working on to the community. So, this is a very important part of my day, to work towards building up something that I can show to the world. That’s one of the main goals of the whole PhD – putting out knowledge that we worked on over the years.
We don’t arrange to have lunch together; it just happens that most of us have lunch at 12pm. It’s the time of the day when we don’t talk about work, we just talk about random stuff and we all laugh – it’s an amazing team to work with and to be with. Normally, this table gets completely full when all of the “fly” people [colleagues from the different Fly Laboratories] come together. You definitely feel that you’re part of something. They are all great people and I really enjoy interacting with them. So, this is another cheery part of the day. As you can tell, in general terms, I am really happy working here!
What you’re seeing in this picture is the trajectory of a fly walking in the middle of several “food spots”. My project is about figuring out the different behavioural strategies that flies follow to compensate for lack of specific nutrients. We put flies, that have been deprived of certain nutrients, into an arena with different types of foods, and then we quantify how they choose these different foods. Then I look at, for example, if they are focusing their exploration in a very small area or if they are exploring the whole arena; or how they are transitioning from one food patch to the other. That’s what the research article is going to be about: exploration and exploitation, and how these two behaviours are modified by different internal states – by that I mean different types of nutrient deprivation, and if the flies are mated or virgin. In this image, the trajectory is colour-coded by the different types of behaviour. This is a particularly good example because you can see that the [amino-acid deprived] fly takes a shorter route through some spots and then at the end focuses on the yeast spot, which is rich in proteins, where she stays for longer before moving on to the next spot. This piece of trajectory depicts many of the things I’m analysing.
On Thursday evenings, after work, we meet in the gym. Antonia, also a PhD student here at CR, is giving us free dance classes. She teaches us different choreographies every month and we do our best to follow the new movements she brings up to every class. It’s really another kind of mental activity. You feel that you have to put in so much effort to coordinate your muscles! This mental effort is in a different dimension to the one we make when we analyse data or plan experiments – you’re also pushing your brain to work, but in a very fun and different way. And the nicest part, for me, is that in the beginning you don’t really know how to coordinate everything, but you do it again and again, multiple times, and in the end, suddenly, your body works and you start being able to follow the movements. It’s an awesome feeling! It’s also a time of interaction with people from different labs, different platforms and even family members of the CRers, so it’s really nice.
I think that for the type of science we do, I mean innovative science, that requires coming up with new ideas all the time, thinking on new approaches, it’s really important to have an open and a happy mind, to be surrounded by a pleasant environment and stimulating conversations. Many of my ideas came up from unexpected conversations and interactions with colleagues. That’s why I consider so valuable being surrounded by awesome people, doing different activities and feeling proud of my working place… it’s inspiring in all possible kind of ways.