A Day in the Life: Convergent Evolution and Niche Behaviour: Lab-life versus write-up

Siblings Bethan and Oliver Rogoyski are PhD students a year apart from each other. Here we see how much difference a year makes in the PhD world.

World Cancer Research Day

24 September is World Cancer Research Day, which raises awareness of the important and lifesaving work done by researchers. As part of this the EACR asked a variety of members to share a day in their life as a cancer researcher.

Name: Bethan Rogoyski
Nationality: British
Place of work: Leicester Cancer Research Centre, University of Leicester
Job title: Final-year PhD student
How long have you worked there: 4 years

Name: Oliver Rogoyski
Nationality: British
Place of work: BSMS Medical Research Building, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
Job title: Third year PhD student
How long have you worked there: 3 years

As siblings who grew up sharing space, schooling, and the occasional squabble (sorry, Mum), it perhaps shouldn’t be overly surprising that we both ended up studying genetics and pursuing PhDs only a year apart. With the exception of dialectal differences an eight year north-south divide will confer, our lives and ventures into the world of research, have—until recently—been fairly homogenous. However, the difference a year makes to a day in the life of a researcher is not to be underestimated. The debate still rages on whether desperately trying to reap experimental results, or hit an intimidating word count is more terrifying; but both present their highs and lows.

Oliver Rogoyski
Oli presenting his prize-winning poster at the 2017 Eukaryotic RNA turnover EMBO conference, Keble College, University of Oxford, UK


Between a father who studied physics, an academic rivalry with a high-achieving older sister, and the requisite craving for self-imposed struggling, I was doomed early on to explore academia. Having already seen my older sibling head off to university to study genetics, I determinedly pushed aside my own interest in the field to carve out my own niche, studying biochemistry. One BSc later, and despite my resolution to diverge from Beth’s path, I found myself lured into pursuing a PhD in RNA biology and molecular genetics. With the intimidating final year looming, normal working hours are a quaint memory. Despite the permanent eye bags that the lifestyle brings, I’m not sure I’d trade it for Beth’s being stuck behind a screen all day writing up!

Bethan Rogoyski
Beth presenting her prize-winning poster at the UKEMS 2018 conference, Magdalen College, University of Oxford, UK.


Though he often goes uncredited, Oli was actually the inspiration behind my interest in science. During one of the aforementioned cases of sibling rivalry, he implied my stupidity by comparing my brain to an atom; something so small I had to dig out an encyclopaedia and delve my six-year-old brain prematurely into the world of quantum physics in order to produce a more insulting comeback. Though neither myself nor Quark-Brains stuck out physics, we eventually both became interested in different aspects of genetics. Now in my final year, I’ve found writing a thesis to be far more enjoyable than my predecessors haunted expressions had suggested, but I do sometimes miss the rush of new results that follows a long day’s experimentation.

06:10: Arguably not actually conscious at this point, I power through the first of many coffees that today will bring. The bus ride to campus provides me a chance to catch up on the news. I subsequently wish that I hadn’t. A quick gym session before work is the final step in retaining my sanity each morning.

08:30: By the time I wake up, Oli has already had a productive morning and arrived at work. Not something I usually care to dwell on as I get ready for my own day, starting with checking any emails I may have received overnight that could change my schedule. Fortunately, nothing so far.

09:00: A quick round of good mornings and a boiled kettle later, I ease myself into the work day by skimming through my inbox for which crucial piece of lab equipment is currently malfunctioning. 

09:10: Sterilised lab bench? Check. Defrosting reagents? Check. Equipment calibrating to the correct temperatures? I really hope so. I hurry through as many preparation steps as possible, aiming to conveniently line up any time-consuming incubations or centrifuge spins with a reasonable lunch time.

Oliver Rogoyski
Oli being kept busy with his third-year lab rush

10:00: By the time I’ve driven into work and found a hospital parking space, I have already heard the swoosh of my email notification at least a dozen times. Over the past four years I’ve become quite heavily involved with public speaking and engagement. I spend the first hour of my day replying to emails arranging upcoming events, projects, and meetings that I’m involved in.

11:00: I’ve just realised I’m scheduling talks which fall after my thesis submission date. Terrifying. Enough to spurn me into action, I can start replying to emails about my data, data presentation, thesis drafts, relevant papers… did I say I enjoyed this?

12:30: An enjoyable lunch break with my colleagues. It’s amazing just how many conversational topics lead back to discussing science and lab work! Wait, did I just agree to look over the MSc student’s dissertation again?

12:30: As if my own thesis isn’t enough to be getting on with, I have my student’s to proof read and edit over lunch. Maybe I should start getting up earlier.

13:15: Back in the lab, I recover my precious samples from their pre-lunch locations. I nervously quadruple-check the arcane protocol that I’ve (mostly) deciphered, and measure out a check-list of vital reagents needed for the rest of the day. It’s all go from here.

13:30: A quick Athena Swan catch up again proves useful motivation. There are how many more male professors?!

Bethan Rogoyski
Although Beth is now more often found grappling with ‘track changes’ and ‘refworks’, she used to be kept busy in the lab!

13:45: There’s some skill in doing multiple, completely different, jobs while centrifuge timers count down. I’ve got it down to a fine art. My prayers to the gods of science are answered today, as my samples seem to be behaving as expected!

14:00: Whilst I’m still in the office I take the opportunity to do some data viz using software my poor laptop can only dream of running.

15:30: Writing in an office full of students offers no end of distractions. Therefore, I head home for an afternoon of writing with the much quieter company of my cat.

17:30: Balancing tubes so as not to cause an ultracentrifuge to violently explode, I excitedly load the intimidatingly pricy rotor that I’ve borrowed from an obliging lab across the way. Here goes nothing!

18:00: With my samples spinning, I stop and have a revitalising cuppa with whatever snack I can scrounge from my desk drawers. Somewhat rejuvenated, I head to tissue culture, and start screening my budding CRISPR mutant cell lines. Hopefully the strained eyes and aching pipetting hand will be worth it if one of these colonies takes off!

19:30: As the opposite of a morning person, this is my most productive period. I hit my thousand-word target before dinner.

22:00: Perfect timing, as I head to watch the ultracentrifuge spin down to a stop. With baited breath (and RNase-free gloves), I unload my samples… Result! I can see a pellet!

22:30: When there’s always more to do, how do you ever finish? By about ten my eyes are officially square, and I’m pretty sure I can hear my duvet calling to me.

00:00: I hurry home, acquaint myself with Toothbrush et al., and finally settle into bed. Hopefully I will fall asleep before I manage to calculate how many hours I’ll be asleep for.

Bethan Rogoyski
Despite being a year apart, the difference between lab work and write-up is substantial!

How can you get involved with World Cancer Research Day?

1. Sign the World Declaration for Cancer Research

2. On 24 September share a snapshot on social media from a day in your life as a cancer researcher: use #WorldCancerResearchDay

Click here to see more posts about a ‘Day in the Life’ of other cancer researchers.

About the authors:

Bethan Rogoyski is a final year PhD student at Leicester Cancer Research Centre. Her work focuses on identifying a chemopreventive agent for populations at high-risk of developing mesothelioma. She is interested in science communications and illustration, and enjoys being part of the wider scientific community, including being a member of the EACR for the past 4 years. Website and contact details available at phdoodles.com.

Oliver Rogoyski is a third year PhD student at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. His work focuses on exploring how exoribonucleases XRN1 and Dis3L2 regulate levels of lncRNAs, and how disruption of these pathways link to pathological overgrowth, and incidence of several types of cancer. He is a hobbyist photographer and active member of the university photography society. He also enjoys keeping active with weightlifting and fencing.