Have you wondered what life as a PhD student at the BSU is like? Isobel Barrott has given us a glimpse into what a typical day is like for her.
Isobel is a second-year PhD student. Her supervisors are Jessica Barrett (at the BSU) and Angela Wood (at the Cardiovascular and Epidemiology Unit, CEU). Her project involves looking at methods of risk prediction of cardiovascular disease within primary care.
What did you do before joining the BSU?
I completed my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at Durham University which introduced me to topics within Statistics. I followed my undergraduate degree with a Master’s degree in Computational Biology at Cambridge and found out about the BSU while on this course. The opportunity to learn about Biostatistics and develop as a researcher led to my decision to apply for a PhD studentship at the BSU.
What does a typical day for you involve?
Typically, I cycle to the Addenbrooke’s site, where the BSU is located. This takes around 20 minutes and it is lovely to start my day with some exercise.
When I first get into the office, I make myself a cup of tea and look over what I have to do so that I can plan out my day.
Most of the time I am working on my own research. This could mean a number of things, for example reading papers, coding, or writing up my research. At the moment I am writing code to create an R package that will perform a type of statistical modelling called `landmarking’.
I also have regular meetings that punctuate my working week. I have meetings with my supervisors that occur once every week or two, where we discuss the work that I’ve been doing and its possible future directions. I also attend group meetings with other researchers that are working on similar projects to me – we may discuss a research paper or present our own work.
On Wednesday morning the whole of the Unit joins for ‘BSU Together’, this is a weekly meeting that starts off with announcements and is followed by a talk given by a member of the Unit about their own research area. There is also a BSU seminar series that runs throughout the academic year with a speaker from outside the BSU. The topics covered in the seminar series and at ‘BSU Together’ can be fairly different to my own research and so I find that these are a great opportunity to gain a broad insight into current topics within biostatistics.
In terms of work hours, I try to stick to a 9 to 5 work schedule including a short lunch break with other PhD students and Postdocs.
In the future, I would really like to try to communicate biostatistics research to an audience more – one aspect of my PhD that I have found surprisingly rewarding is presenting my research to others.
What does your work space look like?
The only thing I really need for my research is a computer and WiFi. This means I can work from most places, however I prefer to be around other people while I work and so typically I go into the BSU every day.
I try to keep my work space fairly tidy in order to help me focus. Positioning my desk so that it’s next to a window is a bonus as I get to birdwatch while I’m on my breaks.
What is your favourite part about doing a PhD at the BSU?
I would say the people at the BSU. I’m sure others would agree that it is a very friendly place – it is easy to find someone to have a chat and cup of tea with. The other PhD students are a sociable bunch and previously we have organised pub trips, meals out, and trips to a bouldering wall.
I have found that people at the BSU are committed to their roles, my supervisors put a lot of effort in to help me develop as a researcher.
What is your least favourite part?
The most challenging part of doing a PhD for me is the aspect of working independently. Doing a PhD means that you are working by yourself for long chunks of the day. Another component of independent working is that a PhD student chooses the questions that they want to answer and the way that they want to do it. The direction of your PhD is ultimately up to you and this can be daunting. However, my supervisors are supportive and also having other friendly faces from the BSU that I can contact also helps.
What do you like to do when you’re not working on your PhD?
Due to the current lockdown, I am spending a lot of time indoors with my housemates. One thing we enjoy doing is trying to create meals from around the world, for example recently we made sushi together.
I also try to be active and do a little bit of exercise each day, in particular I enjoy running and bouldering.
What advice would give to anyone considering doing a PhD at the BSU?
I would say have a good think about what you are trying to achieve by doing a PhD. It might be that you enjoy doing research, for long-term career aims, or because you are passionate about the subject. I think having this at the front of your mind is important when you are choosing a project, supervisor or university for a PhD.
Blog post by Isobel Barrott