I’m doing science and I’m still alive

Academic life is hard. That’s just a fact. Perhaps counterintuitively, this is quite markedly true for a PhD student. Sure, we might have a reputation for procrastination1 and being easily distracted, but that’s all a just a ruse. Truth is, doing a PhD is difficult. It’s a tangled morass of understanding things you’ve never seen before, learning things you didn’t know existed before, decyphering the web of publications and arcane jargon of those who came before you and finally, figuring out where precisely you fit and what kind of role you’re eventually going to play. Usually while grappling with existential crises, identity confusion and the occasional feeling somewhere in the pit of your stomach of “Am I really doing the right thing here…?”

All of that said, frankly, the whole thing is incredibly fun and worth every second. Yes, even the seconds where you have too much work to do and not enough time. I love everything about what I’m doing and I genuinely wouldn’t change it for the world. Science might make you fight to get what you want, but the satisfaction you get from doing something well is incredibly fulfilling. Quite a buzz, too.

So in my attempts to survive the weird and wonderful world of science, I put together a little emergency pack. This is a selection of bits and pieces for those late nights working in the office. On proposals, papers, reports, experiments or whatever else I might be required to push myself for.2 So without further ado, this is my Academia Survival Pack:

1. Reviving eye drops
Your eyes are always the first thing to feel uncomfortable. These should help take care of any tired itchiness.

2. Cooling eye masks
These are just magical if you’ve been staring at an LCD screen for too long. Good excuse for a 10 minute break, too.

3. Antiperspirant
I don’t know if it’s just me but, in my humble opinion, there are few things more depressing when you’re busy working than feeling and smelling all sweaty. As a bonus, this stuff is Mitchum, which is arguably one of the best antiperspirants out there.

4. Shrink wrapped t-shirt
No, I’m not kidding. It’s a perfectly good, perfectly wearable cotton t-shirt, conveniently shrink wrapped into a tiny cube. Because for the same reasons as above, feeling all gross is counterproductive. If you’re busy working, you might as well be comfortable.

5. Wet wipes
These little red plastic bulbs contain moistened hand/face wipes. I hate having sweaty hands, don’t you?

6. 4head stick
A genius way of treating a light headache. It’s just a gel stick containing levomenthol. Actually, it only works by distracting your brain into forgetting that it has a headache, but it does the job.

7. Chewable toothbrushes
Yep. Compact and disposable, yet indispensable. It’s surprising how much of a pick-me-up it can be to spend a couple of minutes cleansing your mouth. Plus, these chewy brushes take up next to no space at all!

8. Energy shot
A small bottle of some curious liquid containing a high level of caffeine combined with B vitamins. These things taste godawful but the effect is quite worthwhile. The good ones contain vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) which helps you metabolise carbohydrates, boosting your stamina.

9. Caffeine pills
They’re an old favourite. Containing 50mg of caffeine each, two or three are equivalent to a cup of coffee. Use these carefully in conjunction with any other caffeinated products. A caffeine overdose really isn’t good for your productivity. Trust me.3

10. Mouth spray
There’s nothing worse than an unpleasant taste in your mouth. Especially the one that comes with your adrenal gland releasing too many corticosteroids (stress hormones). Breath spray helps. I like to use Retardex, personally. It’s probably one of the best out there.

11. Ginseng power shot
I only discovered these things recently. Apparently, they’re essentially just concentrated panax ginseng. Which is quite nice, because it gives you a little lift and helps your concentration without containing any caffeine.

12. Chocolate

I haven’t really had to use this pack just yet. It’s still relatively new. Actually, its construction was prompted by me running myself into the ground getting things finished back in December. Next time, I intend to be better prepared!

If you like it, feel free to copy my idea, by the way. In fact, drop me a note if you do. I’d be intrigued to see what you decide to equip yourself with…

1 – As Jorge Cham says, proctastination doesn’t mean you don’t want to do something. It just means that you don’t want to do it right now.

2 – I sometimes wonder if things would be more efficient if we didn’t all leave so much till the last minute. Perhaps being an undergrad teaches you how to procrastinate and be able to get away with it, leading you to a false assertion that you’ll always be able to do so. Maybe I should procrastinate less? I usually just decide to think about this later, before going back to looking at amusing pictures on Tumblr.

3 – Don’t ask me how I know either, even if it might be an amusing story.

4 – Actually, courtesy of its theobromine content as well as some easily metabolisable sugars, a chocolate bar can be a great way to boost your stamina. Plus, it’ll make your brain release some endorphins which is always a good way to forget about your aches and pains.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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15 Responses to I’m doing science and I’m still alive

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oil spill
    Although I’m an avid reader of your blog and enjoy your articles, not to say envy your day to day, I must admit that I have no idea what you want to achieve with this one:
    First off, putting a 65000+ picture seems indeed not dramatic compared to the other spills, as long as we know for sure on which day that amount was reached (after a week, 2 weeks, 1 months…?)!
    Since the beginning, BP and others disagree on the daily amount spilled; BP stating initially 136 t/d (tons per day) while other experts increase this up to 6,800 t/d).
    As such, the picture as well as the comments, have barely any meaning whatsoever, until the day the spill will stop and the
    final figures known. But I bet, it will be a BIG drop on your map.
    thanks for reading, take care

  2. cosmorama says:

    What a great idea. I like the chewing toothbrushes.

  3. beepbeep says:

    This looks more like a survival guide for life ;)
    Even a non-PhD like yours truly can admire this post!

  4. sandalfon says:

    That would be a great meme, think I’ll post it.

  5. 6_bleen_7 says:

    Wow—you’re much more serious about long nights at the office than I ever was. The nice thing about being a statistician by trade (if not by training) is that as long as my link to school works, I can work from home; in which case all I need is #12 and a couple of cats to last until I collapse, unconscious.

  6. madsophia says:

    packets of instant oatmeal are a life saver…I do keep those in my locker at work, just incase I have absolutely nothing to eat.

  7. madsophia says:

    this is brilliant.
    being a stress-ball migraine sufferer with other pesky issues as you know, it should be incredibly important for me to have something along these lines. as it stands, however, I am lucky to have my baby asprin and a bottle of mixed pills.
    if I were to make my own it would have:
    emergen-cee, little fizzy packets of vitamins you dump in water
    snack food such as chocolate or pretzels
    pain reliever, antihistamines and anti-nausea meds
    eye drops
    chap stick
    toothbrush (I like your idea better, tho I don’t know where to find them)
    an extra set of extra comfy clothes.

  8. nimblenimbus says:

    Get it away, get it away!

  9. L.O.V.E IT!!
    Oh, and I kept packets of grits (because I’ve got enough Southern influences in my life), miso soup and other “just add water” things in my one desk drawer in grad school. I do the same thing as a postdoc too!

  10. invaderxan says:

    Haha! I always figure it’s good to be well prepared. :)
    (Though a blanket and a pillow may not be a bad idea…)

  11. invaderxan says:

    Why thank you!

  12. invaderxan says:

    lol… Not really my thing. :P

    Though I have heard of people using ritalin as a performance enhancer. Apparently it’s quite popular in certain US universities…

  13. You could just skip it all and go for meth! Or ritalin.

  14. sandalfon says:

    Very nice. I read your first paragraph to Fred and he’s quite impressed. You really know, beyond the lessons of man.

  15. YES! This is an awesome idea! I currently have only a pillow, blanket and coffee.

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