A day in the life of a PhD student – lab work, student supervision, COVID-19 vaccination assistance

We currently live in an era of everchanging regulations and permissible daily activities due to the measures taken to curb the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, I shared a vlog detailing what my typical day as a PhD student looks like. That was quite early in the year, and it was less busy at that time. At the moment, I am busier than I was back then, and have decided to share some of my current daily activities in another vlog post, see video below:

The year has gotten quite busy, and my typical day consists of assisting/supervising students and lots of lab work as shown in the vlog above. In addition to the activities shown in the vlog, I sometimes assist with COVID-19 vaccinations at the University of Pretoria’s vaccination site. The University of Pretoria was the first academic institution in South Africa to set up a COVID-19 vaccination site. Staff members from the University and the general public can access the vaccination site. Students from our Faculty of Health Sciences volunteer to assist with administrative procedures during vaccinations, and I also volunteered to assist, especially when students are not available.

A photo of me working at the University of Pretoria’s COVID-19 vaccination site

At the vaccination site, I either conduct administrative work or help out at the site pharmacy, where we prepare the vaccines for injection. The vaccination site opens from Tuesday to Thursday, and I unfortunately filmed the vlog on a Friday, therefore, I did not get a chance to show the activities I conduct at the vaccination site. As a PhD student, we normally do not get to interact with the public, and so assisting at the vaccination site has honestly been a worthwhile experience, as we interact with individuals from different backgrounds. I hope that during the festive holidays, I will spend more time at the vaccination site, and share another vlog that details my activities at the site. I hope this current vlog does provide you with a glimpse into the life of a typical PhD student.

Depression: a silent killer

Warning: this blog post speaks about issues of mental health, depression and suicide

I vividly recall the day my supervisor called me into his office and told me: your friend decided to take her life last night. It never made sense to me. I mean, she was such a bubbly person who was always willing to solve other people’s problems, how is it that I could not tell that she was going through her own problems too. Since then I have taken a keen interest in trying to understand mental health issues and somehow attempt to raise awareness on the topic.

We all go through moments of emotional sadness or low moments. These can be caused by various reasons such as relationship problems, academic issues, work issues, or loss of a last one amongst a few other factors. Personally, when lab experiments do not work out, or experience rejection (a very common occurrence in academia), it does trigger moments of emotional sadness. Fortunately, most of us can bounce back from such emotional lows. Sadly though, there are some people who constantly experience various levels of sadness, which are not necessarily linked to obvious triggers and this is characterized as depression. I have always naively thought that this disease is associated with a person’s character, however, in during my studies in Physiology, I have learnt that the disease is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and can affect anyone. The discussion of the underlying biology of this disease is beyond the scope of this blog.

Due to my keen interest in this topic, I have always been on the lookout for any traits/symptoms of depression from the people surrounding me. This is an attempt to try to be there for such people and potentially refer them to seek help before they find themselves in the tragic situation that my late friend found myself in. While I was scrolling on Instagram stories the other day, I came across a post by a good friend of mine – Nokulunga Gumede, which highlighted some of the misconceptions about depression that the general public has. I messaged her to thank her for sharing the post as it will help me with information on a SAYAS blog post on mental health that I have always planned to write. She responded by letting me know that she had actually suffered from the disease and she would like to share her journey and highlight her experiences and her own journey. I was shocked to find out that she was suffering from the condition and she was on the verge of taking her own life. We decided to have an online discussion where she shared her journey to encourage anyone who might be in the same shoes she found herself in. See our video interview below:

Although the symptoms of depression differ amongst various individuals, they include a constant feeling of sadness, fatigue, difficulty sleeping or too much sleeping, loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed, anxiety, changes in appetite, irritability and most importantly, the urge to commit suicide. Some of these symptoms overlap with other diseases, therefore, if you suspect that you could be suffering from the disease, it is important to see a professional health practitioner who can help in explaining various symptoms. There are various organizations that are there to help. Within Universities, there are support services such as the student counseling unit of the university of Pretoria. Nationally, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group is a readily available platform you can freely use for free assistance with any mental health issues you may be suffering from.

Who to contact when experiencing mental health issues?

Fortunately there are various contacts that are readily available numbers to contact for assistance with mental health issues, see them below.

Suicide crisis helpline (24 hours) – 0800 567 567                              

CIPLA mental health helpline (24 hours) – 080 456 789

CIPLA WhatsApp chat line (9 am – 4 pm) – 076 882 2775                              

Department of Social Development substance abuse helpline (24 hours) – 0800 12 13 14