Ken Luzynski, first year Ph.D student
An alarm on my cell phone wakes me up at 5:15 a.m. I use my phone because I'm less likely to give it the abuse that an alarm clock might experience.
I then put on the clothes I laid out the night before and grab the lunch I made during the previous dinner before heading out to shovel the snow and fill the bird feeder. Now I'm on my bike, avoiding the black ice and "Walks of Shame" on my five-minute ride to the Natural History Museum. I've realized commuting at 5:40 a.m. is the safest time to careen the slippery roads on a bike with no brakes.
After a brief visit to my desk/pantry/lockerroom in my lab, I hit the gym for 1.5 hours, see to a shower, then back in lab for oatmeal and reading/studying until 9 a.m. Classes typically fill my morning, then back to the lab for a brief lunch. The afternoon combines: 1) teaching as a GSI, 2) holding office hours, and 3) doing molecular work in the lab. I get home around 6 p.m. to prepare dinner and lunch and hang out with my septuagenarian roommate. I'm involved with a program known as Senior Homeshare, in which I live in the home of a senior citizen and perform small chores that can be quite taxing on the elderly (i.e. shoveling snow, birdfeeding, opening jars). In return, I have an extremely low rent payment and an extremely grateful roommate. From 7 to 11 p.m., I'm in my room studying, reading, or grading, occasionally being summoned downstairs to replace a light bulb. I then lay out some clothes before going to bed and repeat the process the next day.
Jingchun Li, first year Ph.D.
Snow is falling all around, falling everywhere. People already start to gather around at the bus stop right in front of our apartment, some well prepared in their down coat, others shivering. Originally from Beijing, I've never expected such scenes in early November.
"When is the next bus?" my roomie asks.
"Seven past eight."
"What time is it now?"
"Eight oh five."
"Emm…. still got time."
Yeah, two minutes. Still have time to enjoy the last bite of donut and grab my lunch box in the fridge. (Don't forget it again! Otherwise you'll have to donate money to those evil vending machines!) Hurry up, 30 seconds left, run! It actually takes more than 30 seconds to reach the bus stop, but the bus is a little bit late as usual.
So we end up shivering with others in the cold winter morning. I always forget to wear warmer clothes since the heating system in my apartment works so well. It is even warmer on the bus, as well as in many university buildings. Anyway, we are more than happy to see the bus come and pull off the road. The friendly bus driver greets everyone and the bus heads to the next stop.
It takes about 10 minutes to arrive at the Exhibit Museum of Natural History, where my office is. I tell myself every day that I will spend some time upstairs and have a good look at the dinosaurs. Sadly, I never do. I only go upstairs for departmental lunch seminars.
"Wow, you are like… in the movie!" My friends are always excited about where I work. "Night at the Museum? No."
Actually, as a first year Ph.D., I do not spend a lot of time in the office. Today I have one class starting at half past eight (well, eight forty in Michigan time). After an hour and a half of equations and linear algebra (it is an ecology course…), I rush to a different building to audit another course. Then it's about noon.
It is always nice to talk to office mates over lunch but I only have one hour today-- must go and hold my office hour now. My undergrads are going to have a quiz this week, so I bet they are all waiting outside the lab and eager for some explanations. Well, the good thing about being a graduate student instructor is that it always reminds you that you DO know something about your major.
The lab starts right after my office hour. It is an intro level lab so it does not take a long time to prepare, although I sometimes need to rehearsal a little bit since English is not my first language. After spending three hours with my young and happy undergrads, I suddenly realize it is already five o'clock. My roomie and I usually go to the recreation building to play table tennis once or twice a week. It is a refreshing experience after three hours of teaching.
The day is getting darker and darker, which signifies that it is time to go home, make some dinner, cook tomorrow's lunch, talk to friends over MSN, finish some homework, prepare for the next lab, and read papers while trying to go sleep... Another day has passed. Well, goodnight. Hope tomorrow we will have a clear blue sky without snow.
First semester: I would head to school in the morning, turn on my trusty computer, and get settled in for a day on campus. I usually started things off by reading a paper or preparing for an upcoming lesson (I taught this semester). Then, I might migrate over to the Rackham Grad Library to work on my prelim paper or presentation, or I might read up on general ecology for my orals. Often in the afternoon I had to teach a lab section or hold office hours. By evening I was back to studying or writing for prelims.
Second semester: Second semester I took two classes and taught one. I would, again, head to school before class started to get into the groove. I read a paper, looked at data, or planned for the summer field season prior to heading off to class (which either started at 10 or 11 a.m depending on the day). Then, if I had a lab section to prepare for, I would go to the lab room and assemble things for our lab or field exercise. If I did not have lab, it was back to the office for me where I'd look at data and work on my summer field work plan.
Diego Alvarado Serrano, fourth year Ph.D. student
More than two years ago, I came to Ann Arbor to pursue a Ph.D. at U of M and expand on my main research interest: phylogeographic studies of Andean mice. Since then, my daily routine has totally changed to accommodate multiple grad school activities.
As a grad student holding a teaching assistantship, my days are pretty filled. Whereas some days I spend almost all my time teaching and grading, others I mostly work in the lab doing research and finishing the assignments for the classes I am enrolled in.
Usually, I wake up between 8:30 and 9 a.m. on weekdays, take a quick shower, and go to school. Once there, I check my e-mail, quickly read the main world news, and check recent journal issues related to my field. Then, depending on the day, I attend classes, seminars, or work on writing proposals or paper drafts.
After lunch, which I usually have at 3 or 4 p.m., if I don't have to teach, I move on to the lab. There I work on the samples I have collected over past summers. Then, I usually go back home at midnight or 1 a.m. and have something to eat. After that, I read papers, finish homework or grading, or keep editing proposals and papers until 3 a.m. In conclusion, my weekdays are quite busy, but still enjoyable. Although my schedule seems to be a little bit crazy, I definitely enjoy my life as a grad student at U of M's EEB department.
Ryan Bebej, fifth year Ph.D. student
What is a typical day like for me as a graduate student? Well.... it depends. I almost always have a couple of things to attend each day that are at the same time from week to week: seminars, lectures for the class I am teaching, labs or discussion sections that I am responsible for leading, and any classes I am personally taking (though these are not very common for me at this stage of my career).
Various meetings with my advisor, my students, or a committee are often scheduled as well. I use an electronic calendar/planner to help me keep track of these commitments and show me when all of my "free" time will be. But that "free" time is not really free at all-it is split mainly between working on my teaching responsibilities and my dissertation research. My teaching responsibilities typically include preparing for future labs/discussions, writing quizzes/assignments, grading, and helping students with questions via email or office hours. My research work varies from day to day.
The places I most often find myself are in the library searching for literature, in the fossil or mammal division collections studying specimens, or in my office on the computer putting together presentations, writing papers, analyzing data, learning new software, and troubleshooting any technical issues I encounter. It all just depends on what I need to do at the time! And, of course, I also need to take time throughout the day to read and respond to emails, eat my lunch, and do other such things. While each day tends to be a little bit different, one thing remains the same: at the end of the day, I always find myself wondering, "Where did all the time go?"
Rachel Hessler, second year Frontiers M.S. student
"All of us are living in the gutter, some of us are looking at the stars. -Oscar Wilde"
Why is this quote relevant to research in evolutionary ecology? It means that if everyone is looking in one direction then a good researcher is obligated to look in the opposite direction.
For example, consider the research of animal and plant behavior. When an animal is threatened, there are two primary directions for response: fight or flight. However, when a plant is being consumed by an herbivore, research has focused on plant defenses (fight) and scarcely acknowledged the opposing branch of flight (dispersal). So that's how I spend as much time as possible…thinking about and investigating herbivore induced dispersal at the George Reserve and at my home lab using a common weed and an invasive caterpillar as a model system.
Sometimes the days are a blur from juggling teaching classes, rearing parasitic wasps, attending lab meetings, collecting seeds, and reading "Goodnight Moon" five times in a row to my daughter Terra. And sometimes the days are great. Tonight, I watched a parasite hatch from one of my reared caterpillars. A "pet" caterpillar entertained Terra as I took microscopic photos of the parasite hatch. Life is good. The students in my afternoon discussion group were so engaged they went overtime making being a graduate student instructor as rewarding, if not more so, than being a grad student.
I try to incorporate riding my motorcycle, Athena, to school and the field as much as possible. This weekend I rode with The Michigan Road Queens, an all female riding group, which I founded and coordinate. Riding a motorcycle is a form of meditation and requires complete awareness. That meditation becomes freedom from everything else converted into miles. And technically, it is a form of dispersal.