A Day in the Life of a Teaching Postdoc

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

7am – Alarm goes off

Uuugh. This is early for me, made even worse by the fact that I’m still jet-lagged from holiday travel. But I’ve got a schedule to keep this morning so I drag myself out of bed, get the dog up too, and hop in the shower. Dog opts to go back to bed, the lazy bum.

I get dressed in casual clothes today. I normally dress nicely for work, especially if I’m teaching. I feel like it’s appropriate and I also feel the need to set myself apart from the students since I still look pretty young. But right now it’s winter break so I don’t expect to see many people, and definitely no students will be around.

Take care of the dog, and I’m ready to go!

8am – Walk to work

I’m lucky enough to live in faculty rental housing just off campus, so I have a 5-minute walk door-to-door! Occasionally there’s one other person in on my floor when I get in this early, but not today – it’s dark and quiet.

8:05am – Breakfast and prep

I eat a quick breakfast in my office while the equipment I’m going to use this morning is being cleaned in the lab, just across the hall. I finish prepping the rest of my equipment and am ready to get started!

8:30am – Surgeries

I am working on a project where I’m looking at the action of certain molecules in the brain and how they affect social behavior. To do this, I perform a surgery where I target a specific brain region in rodents and once they recover I infuse particular chemicals into that region and see how it affects their behavior. Working with animals is not my favorite part of the job but it’s important. This research could help us understand the underpinnings of social behavior and discover potential treatments for disorders like autism or schizophrenia that have dysregulated social behavior.

I usually do the surgeries with a student assistant, or I assist a trained student while she does the surgeries. I currently have two seniors working on this project. But right now all the students are away on break, so today takes a little longer to do the setup and cleanup on my own.

I really enjoy working with students in the lab. It is fun for me to teach them and see how excited they get about learning new things. Of course there’s a huge range of capabilities and commitment among undergraduates, but when I get a great student who’s passionate, motivated and independent, it’s so rewarding it makes up for the extensive time spent on students who end up not working out well. Once the students are trained and can do many things on their own, it’s really nice for me to feel like studies are moving forward even while I focus on other things. This project is giving us some exciting results and I’m looking forward to writing it up for publication in the spring.

11:15am – Leave for doctor’s appointment

One of the perks of a job in academia is the flexible schedule. Unfortunately it can be hard to take advantage of that during the semester when I have meetings, office hours, classes, time-sensitive experiments, etc. So I tend to schedule all of my personal appointments in between semesters.

12:30pm – Lunch at home with the dog

I usually take the dog to the dog park in the afternoon but I won’t be able to get home before dark tonight so I take the time now to play around with him outside while my lunch is heating up.

Crazy, lazy dog.

Crazy, lazy dog.

1:30pm – Emails

Back in my office I catch up on my email.

2pm – Write recommendation letter

The last one of the season! I finished recommendations for my seniors applying to grad schools a couple of weeks ago. Now I’ve got one for a sophomore applying for early admission to medical school. This one is easy to write for an outstanding student but still takes way longer than I thought to finish and submit.

4pm – Chat with the program chair

Not quite enough time to start my next project before I have to be somewhere, but good news – there’s now one other person on the floor besides me! I pop in to say hi to my program chair and catch up after the holidays. I return to my office with a few minutes before I have to go so I read a few non-urgent emails I’ve been putting off, like journal contents.

4:30pm – Give postoperative pain killers to animals from earlier surgery

4:45pm – Data analysis

I’m working on a project where I’m looking at differences in DNA sequence between individuals. I’m trying to wrap this up because no one else here will carry it on when I’m gone, though it’s hard for me to put a lot of effort into it since I’m not even sure we’ll be able to publish and I have several other projects to work on. This work is all done on the computer and mostly repetitive data input so I can listen to my audiobook which makes the time fly by. I don’t get as far as I want to and hate to leave things unfinished, but I’ll pick it up again tomorrow morning.

5:15pm – Leave for a chiropractor appointment

I told you I schedule all my appointments between semesters!

5:45pm – Laundry, dishes, make dinner, take care of the dog

Not the highlight of my day.

7pm – Summarize student survey data while watching a movie

I like to save some of the more mindless tasks to do at home while I watch a show or something. It makes me feel like I’m relaxing and productive at the same time! Tonight it’s summarizing feedback from students on a workshop series I ran on applying to graduate school. I draft an email to send the summary to other faculty members who will hopefully carry this on after I’m gone, since the students really benefited from it.

9pm – Netflix

I can’t really work after 9pm so now I’m just streaming Netflix and messing around online.

11pm – Get ready for bed, read

No more screen time after 11pm but I still manage to stay up past midnight every night reading.

Last thoughts before bed:

Today was exceptionally quiet at work, but even in the semester when it’s bustling, I don’t have a whole lot of social interaction. At this small liberal arts college that is more focused on teaching than research, I only really have one peer and friend, another postdoc in neuroscience. It was just a happy coincidence that we were here at the same time since postdocs here are pretty rare. Everyone else is either a student (and as an instructor I really shouldn’t be making friends with them even if I wanted to) or a faculty member in a pretty different life stage than I am. I really enjoy my colleagues here and have appreciated their mentoring, and even had social time outside of work with some of them. But it is so dramatically different than the huge group of peers I had in graduate school, and the rewarding social life with friends and family I left behind there. It is also different than I expect a postdoc would be at another institution that would likely have more people in a single lab, and certainly more in the department and all around.

Fun fact: Although I only saw about a dozen people today, every single one was a woman!

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This entry was posted in a day in the life, academia, postdoc, teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Day in the Life of a Teaching Postdoc

  1. Torschlusspanik says:

    Please do another one when school is in session! How do you balance teaching and research?

    Like

    • SweetScience says:

      I wish I could have done that, but I’ve already left my position there – that day was actually during my last official week! But I hope my latest posts on reflections on the teaching postdoc will speak a little more to the balance between teaching and research.

      Like

  2. Pingback: A day in the life of a Research Scientist in Biotech | A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman

  3. Pingback: A Day in the Life of a Research Postdoc | A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman

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