A Day in the Life of a Medical Science PhD Student – Tick Research at Festival of Nature

Blog by Megan Payne

Hi everyone! My name is Megan, I’m a second year Medical Science PhD student at Oxford University. My research focuses on taking proteins found in the saliva of Ticks (yes, pesky Ticks!) and I’m aiming to modify them into anti-inflammatory therapeutics. Our laboratory hopes that we can turn these tick proteins to drugs that could treat inflammation in the body. In this blog post, I’ll take you through a typical day in my life as a PhD student.

My morning routine

I usually wake up around 7am and have a cup of coffee in bed whilst reading a book. This week I’m reading the second book in the Dune series - I find reading really helpful in calming my mind before the start of a busy day. At the moment, I am also trying to use this time to practice learning Italian using Duolingo ahead of my holiday to Italy next month, that’s if I don’t have a lab meeting to get to that morning. I’ll then get ready for the day, pack my lunch, and head out the door for my morning scenic cycle to work.

My work day

Once I get into work, I’ll head straight into the lab to start my experiments for the day. This might include maintenance of my cell lines, setting up the bacterial growths, or starting a cell migration assay for the day. The experiments I do that day will fully dictate my schedule, alongside how many I’ve decided to squeeze in! On an average day I’ll be scurrying between the lab and my desk, completing experiments and then analysing the data, while updating my online lab book and grabbing sips of herbal tea or coffee in between.

The idea of my research with ticks is to target a previously hard to target part of the immune system – called chemokines – which have roles in all kinds of inflammatory based diseases like arthritis and COVID-19. I’m really fortunate to work in such an exciting laboratory that has had some incredibly exciting results recently!

I’ll usually have lunch with my fellow PhD students before heading back to the lab. My experiments vary hugely, so on an average day I could be isolating white blood cells from human blood donated to the NHS, or I could be screening the tick proteins to see which ones bind to chemokines. This is an experiment called phage display. I go between techniques such as cell culture, immunology, and molecular biology which I find very exciting as every day can be different and I can regularly challenge myself to learn new skills. This can also be incredibly stressful, which is why I make it a priority to unwind every day.

At the end of my day, I like to have written up all my lab experiments and laid a plan for what I’ll be doing tomorrow. I find it helpful to start my day with a clear idea of what I want to carry out, so I make a to-do list, even if it's just on a post-it! I’ll then hop on my bike for the cycle home – praying it isn’t raining!

My evening routine

As soon as I get home, I might quickly finish up some outstanding tasks on my laptop or I might head straight out of the door and go for a quick run to clear my head and get some exercise, which I find incredibly important for reducing stress. Other nights I might do a relaxing yoga routine or head to a yoga class hosted at my Oxford college, Keble. After a shower, I’ll usually cook myself some yummy vegetarian food which mainly consists of fajitas or a stir-fry for maximal convenience. I’ll watch some TV (mainly Greys Anatomy) and then tuck myself into bed for another read of my book. I always aim to get 8 hours of sleep, so I’ll bunker down around 11pm to set me up for tomorrow, where I get to do what I love for another day!

We’ll be showcasing some of Megan’s research at both Family Nature Party in Bath (Sun 11 June) and Millennium Square’s Wild Weekend (17-18 June), with interactive games for little ones all about the role of Ticks in medicine.

This blog was made possible thanks to the UK Science Festivals Network and the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics. Find out more the role of ticks in science at Festival of Nature 2023.