Name: Pauline Walton
Research area: Computational Chemistry
Bio: Pauline Walton is a mature third-year PhD computational chemistry student. After 15 years in commercial computation she stopped to bring up her two children in Norwich, and in 2012 she began a scientific Access course. She graduated from UEA in 2015 and was offered this EPSRC-funded opportunity to study biological membranes using computational methods.
7.30am - 9.30am
I am a mature graduate student with a young-adult family so my life is split between home and study. Before cycling to work I take the dog for a walk in Eaton Park near the University and I use this time to consider my plan for the day. Like other PhD students, I find my research intellectually challenging and this exercise is essential to keep me physically and mentally fit.
9.30am - 11.30am
My work is all computer-based modelling so I work in a desk-room rather than a lab. The morning is usually spent preparing simulations, making sense of results or considering ways to improve my system model. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Council sponsors me to simulate biomembrane-drug interactions which can be probed for dynamic behaviour. The theoretical models incorporate experimental data and can help to predict and explain complex atomic interactions.
11.30am - 12.30pm
During the morning coffee break I review work in progress and produce a realistic working plan for the afternoon. My work involves lots of planning and troubleshooting. For example, to quantify structural features in my model, I need to identify the contributing atoms and then find the best way to the extract geometric data. As a non-programmer this means I must be able to recognise the relevance of particular software tools and apply them correctly.
12.30pm - 2.30pm
Even after 18 months the software tools are still quite new to me and after many repetitions, when a procedure eventually produces good and reliable results, I need to write it out and file it as a master. This is likely to come in useful for later work and in future supervision of undergraduate projects.
2.30pm - 3.00pm
Each week I have a meeting with my PI where I am now starting to present results. This time is extremely helpful and ensures that my research will be productive and novel. I am also grateful for the good humour and experience of my colleagues in the desk-room, especially when challenges seem overwhelming.
3.00pm - 3.30pm
This coffee break is also a chance to sit down – when I started my PhD I asked for a “standing desk” which encourages me to move around regularly and to recognise when I need a break. This second break is usually short and aimed at setting a small target for the rest of the day.
3.30pm - 5.00pm
This target might be to develop a good image to demonstrate an interesting result and often identifies the need for more work. I like to end the afternoon on a little “win”, even if it is only noting that a procedure failed. Such small failures become tasks to be addressed which helps me keep positive.
Once home I initially focus on reconnecting with the family and then later I usually do some background reading. A successful day is when there has been progress of any kind.