P in Streams: A Day in the Life of Sophie Weaver

Where would I be without Sophie? She is my number one companion in this tumultuous graduate school experience. We have spent many hours sharing our experiences with experiments, coursework, fieldwork, labwork, advisors, peers, proposals, grant writing, the pressure to perform, and the doubts that inevitably surface about whether we are “smart enough” or if we “work hard enough” to successfully finish.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Sophie as much as I did last semester as I’m still paying off my dental bill for my first “real” cavity. I fell into the habit of stocking her office with sweets so they would be two floors away rather than just sitting at my own desk. I should take a leaf out of Sophie’s book and start stocking her office with (organic) Cheetos instead (no sugar, right Soaps?).

Sophie took the time to answer my Day in the Life questions at 1 am when she was experiencing graduate student “sleep”.

What is your research topic?
I’m studying nutrient and resource limitation of stream biofilms. I’m interested in how light availability, carbon quality, and inorganic nutrient concentrations can impact competition between autotrophic and heterotrophic microorganisms at the base of stream food webs.
Describe your daily routine.
I usually wake up fairly early, jump out of bed, eat breakfast, and head straight to campus. I’m most productive in the morning, so I try to either work in my office or at my favorite coffee shop for a few hours before classes/meetings. I give myself a break at lunchtime, then spend the afternoon in class or working in the lab. I’m trying to get better about leaving by 5, but sometimes I find myself in the lab till 7 or 8 pm. I also try to go for a run around 3 (peak distraction time) to break up the afternoon.
What practices do you employ outside of work time to support productivity and enthusiasm once you’re in the office?
Days off! I have a strict policy where I force myself to take at least one complete day off each week, regardless of how much work I have. This helps me hit refresh and allows me to be more productive on work days. I also try to get outside as much as I can to play in the snow with good friends and cute dogs. Yoga. Skiland!
What is the most productive part of your day?
Definitely the morning. I rarely get to campus later than 8, and I find that I get a lot accomplished in the morning because I have the lab to myself for a few hours. I lose momentum around noon just in time for lunch (candy)!
Do you have any rituals or habits that keep you going through the workday?
I like to take walks. I go to Murie to fill up my water bottle, to Irving to pick up or send packages, to the museum to get a mocha, and often (but not enough!) I walk on the trails with friends and their cute dogs. Even 5 or 10 minutes of fresh air helps keep me going. I also listen to a lot of podcasts. Sometimes I listen when I’m doing something monotonous in the lab like acid washing, but also sometimes when I should be reading papers. They help remind me that grad school is just a tiny slice of reality, [especially] when it feels all-consuming. A little perspective!
What do you admire most in your supervisors? Do your supervisors ever act in ways that compromise your respect for them?
I admire my advisor’s ability to balance work and life while [still] being a successful scientist. I also appreciate his ability to see the humor in many situations. Sometimes he makes comments that make me question his opinion of my intelligence and work ethic, but overall I have a lot of respect for him as a human and a scientist.
Do you ever feel that your efforts in graduate school go unnoticed? Describe.
Does any grad student not feel this way? We work so hard but our advisors focus on our mistakes and slow slow progress. Luckily I have good friends to remind me that I’m working hard enough and making progress!
What is your favorite way to distract yourself from working?
I text my mom, check the weather at Skiland, chat with my lab mates, or paint my nails. Lately, I’ve been very distracted by online coverage of the Olympics.
What are some of your greatest doubts or anxieties surrounding your research?
I often question whether I’m smart enough to complete my research, or whether I’m a good grad student. I get anxious that people around me focus on all of the things I don’t know, instead of all of the things I do know and have learned so far in my research. I’m also completely terrified that I am going to break an expensive piece of lab equipment or ruin an analyzer.
In general, do you think that your fellow graduate students are healthy mentally and/or physically? Do you think that your graduate student environment is supportive and understanding? 
Yes and no. I’m really lucky that my lab has so many intelligent female students (3 MS, 3 PhD – all remote). We all get along well and I think we mostly live healthy (physically and mentally) lives. One student, in particular, thrives in a competitive environment and can occasionally be fairly condescending, which can be difficult (and probably negatively impacts the mental health of some of us. Ha). Overall, I think we are very supportive and understanding of each other, while also being constructively critical and holding each other accountable. I also try to surround myself with grad students outside of my lab that are supportive and positive. Students that understand what I’m going through but also have very different projects, advisors, and experiences in grad school. A former postdoc that recently left the lab (Dr. Ruffing) was extremely supportive and always gave thoughtful advice regardless of the situation. She was a great example of a mentally healthy and successful scientist, and I want to be her when I grow up. I miss her so!

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