This is A Day in the Life of … a PhD student
On Thursday, we spent the day with Verónica Corrales, a Colombian PhD student in Champalimaud Research. We photographed her daily routine and asked her to talk us through the pictures.
I chose this image because I really like to see all of the beautiful landscape during my ride to the CCU [Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown] and the moment when I arrive and I see this amazing building - it cheers you up in the morning. Even if it’s raining I enjoy riding my bike because I think it’s important to do even just a little activity before you start your day and enjoy a beautiful view before you start working. Also, at the end of the day, it’s kind of my “meditation” moment; when I think about all of the things I did during the day, and especially if I’m worried about something, I just look at the river and it’s really settling.
At the moment I’m not doing experiments because I’m at the final stage of my PhD where I am trying to make sense of all of the data I’ve collected and I’m writing my paper. So, that's what this picture represents. I’m thinking about the results I’ve got and trying to build a “story” out of them, and writing something that is both appealing and also passing the knowledge I have been working on to the community. So, that’s the most important part of my day, to work towards building up something that I can show to the world and publish, finally – that’s the goal of the whole PhD; putting out knowledge that you worked on over the years.
We don’t arrange to have lunch together, but it just happens that most of us have lunch at 12. It’s really nice because it’s a time when we don’t talk about work, we just talk about random stuff and we all laugh - it’s really an amazing team to work with and to be with. I really enjoy having lunch with them. Normally that table gets completely full when all of the “fly” people [colleagues from the different Fly Laboratories] come together, so you feel that you’re really part of something. I really enjoy interacting with them; they really are all great people and that’s 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 strategies that flies follow to compensate for lack of specific nutrients. So 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 paper is going to be about. It’s about exploration and exploitation, and how those two behaviours are modified by different internal states – by that I mean different types of nutrient deprivation, if they are mated or virgin. So that’s what you’re seeing: a trajectory that is colour-coded by the different types of behaviour. This is a particularly good picture because you can see that the [amino-acid deprived] fly takes a shorter route through some spots and then at the end she focuses on the yeast spot, which is rich in proteins, where she stays for longer before moving on to the next spot. That piece of trajectory kind of grasps many of the things I am analysing.
On Thursday evenings, after work, we meet in the gym. One PhD studentfrom Germany, is giving us free dance classes. So we just go there and have fun dancing! She teaches us some choreography that she constructs herself and we follow her. It’s really another kind of brain activity. You really feel that you have to put in so much effort to coordinate your muscles and when she does it, it looks so easy and simple, but then... you try to follow her and you’re doing it completely differently! This mental effort that is in a different dimension to the way we work during the rest of the day, so you’re pushing your brain to work, but in a very fun way and in a very different way. And then the nicest part, I think, 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 following the movements and everything starts working and then it’s an awesome feeling! It’s also a time of interaction with different people because it’s not just the “fly” people, who you interact with during the day, but its people from different labs, or different platforms, so it’s really nice.
I think that the type of science we do, I mean innovative science, requires coming up with new ideas all the time, thinking of new approaches. It's really important to have an open and 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 it so valuable to be surrounded by awesome people, doing different activities and feeling proud of my work-place... it's inspiring in so many ways.