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.

What I get up to when I am not PhDing

One particular question I always struggle to answer is: “Keith, what are your hobbies?” This is due to the amount of time that research consumes, rendering it a challenge to have regular hobbies. Work does not simply end when I leave the university’s gates, as I often have to take some work with me to complete from home. This involves preparing lectures, reviewing documents submitted by junior students, writing papers, amongst a few other things. Working is an integral part of our daily routine, to the extent that I feel like academic responsibilities consume most of my time. Despite this, there are moments when I do find time for non-academic activities.

I love adventure and seeing new places when I do get the chance to. There’s this one activity I have always looked forward to doing for such a long time… skydiving, and I finally managed to go for a tandem jump at Skydive Pretoria early this year. I generally love aviation, but the idea of safely jumping off a moving aeroplane has always excited me. The experience I got was far much better than I expected. We took a 10-minute scenic ride on a light aircraft up to the dizzying height of approximately 3.4km above ground level, where we jumped off the aircraft as I was attached by a harness to an instructor. We then plunged into the rush of a 40-second freefall before the instructor opened the parachute, before guiding us to a safe landing on the ground. Although this is an experience that many people fear, it is certainly an activity I would love to do regularly, and I am considering obtaining a skydiving license so I can jump out of a plane alone. 

Myself jumping off an aircraft, attached to an instructor during a recent tandem jump in Pretoria.

In addition to jumping off planes, I also love reaching destinations. I believe travelling to different destinations broadens one’s understanding of this world, as you are exposed to diverse places and cultures. Fortunately for me, in our field, we get to travel to conferences both nationally and internationally, and this helps me enjoy my hobby while I complete schoolwork. I have travelled to Germany and Japan to conferences, opportunities I would not have been able to afford in my capacity. Travelling around South Africa for local conferences has also given me the chance to experience the true beauty of this country. Sadly though, as I mentioned in my previous blog, physical conferences are currently limited due to COVID-19 precautionary measures. Hopefully, we will get to travel to conferences once the pandemic is over. In my capacity, I travel to neighbouring countries such as Swaziland, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and I am looking to explore other African countries a little bit more.

In addition to attending church regularly, one more thing I enjoy is spending time with high-school students for mentoring and teaching purposes. It is particularly concerning that a lot of students from disadvantaged backgrounds lack role models and people who can guide them to a bright future. Some colleagues and I started the Yakhanani High School mentorship Project, where we go to high schools in disadvantaged areas to mentor and teach children in high school, as a way of preparing them for University, and we usually do this on weekends. With the current COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, such mentoring is a challenge, and I hope we can resume the mentoring sessions soon.

Ultimately, besides these few activities, scientific research is my one true hobby, because it is something I enjoy. As the famous quote by Mark Twain says “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” conducting research is not only a job for me, it is something I enjoy doing while I am working.