Hi, I’m Johanna, I’m a first year PhD Student in Peter Zammit’s Group. I work on a suicide gene therapy for a rare muscle cancer, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.

By Johanna Prueller 

8:00  The alarm rings for the first time. If I’m really motivated I make it out of bed, but that doesn’t happen too often. I live close to work, less than 10 minutes by walking, and I often arrive between 9 and 10… you can imagine when I get up.

9:30 I like to divide my day into first lab work and later computer work, because I find it hard to concentrate on reading or answering emails when I have to run into the lab every few minutes. I’ll come in and drop my bag at my desk, not even bothering to take the laptop out. I checked the emails on my phone on the way in, so I’d know if something super urgent happened.

10:00 Most of the work I do has something to do with cells, so first things first, I check all my different cell lines to see which ones need attention and if none of them is contaminated. I’m not setting up new experiments now so all I must do is split them to make sure there aren’t too many in each flask. Muscle cells are sensitive, you get too many of them in a flask and they stop growing (not so muscle cancer cells – they love it. The more the merrier).


11:30 Getting a coffee with my friends in the office (You know who you are!). That coffee has to get me through the day, I’m trying to stick to a strict “one coffee a day” rule – that was a bad idea but I’m stubborn so one will have to do.

11:45 I’m currently doing some cloning, so I’m setting up a PCR and I’m making agarose gels. Currently, I always make four at the same time, I can store them at 4C, no one except me uses this specific tray, and I’m fed up with melting agarose again, and again, and again. (Most of the coffee is currently getting cold at my desk).

There’s no such thing as too many agarose gels!

12:30  The group talks about getting lunch for the first time. We always try to time our work so that we can eat together. I go and find every member of the group to check their timing – we decide for half an hour.

13:00  Someone needs ten more minutes until lunch, that gives me enough time to check on a previous cloning project. Colonies have grown, and I can inoculate 16 (yay) miniprep cultures.

13:15 We are all ready for lunch. I head out to the Shed to get a sandwich, and we meet back in the office to go for lunch outside on the grass. Lunches with the group are great fun, and always a nice break in a hectic day.



14:15 Back in the office to the cold coffee. I’ll check my emails, write some lab-book until I realise that the PCR is long done. Loading it on a gel to see if there is some success to be found today.



15:00 Turns out no success. I’ll pipette the same PCR again, because… I’m sure that will help. Trying at a different temperature this time. I hate troubleshooting PCRs.

15:30  I remember that I fixed and started staining on some cells a few days ago. Thank god they haven’t dried out, so I finish the staining process and take a quick look at them through the microscope.


17:00 I’m finishing the very cold coffee at my desk while writing lab book and musing about the mysteries of my non-working experiments.

17:20 I quickly go to King’s gym for a class, those take half an hour and are brilliant to take your mind off science. Can only recommend.

17:40 And I’m back in the office, ready to do a little bit of reading.

Oh hello there! The bright bands mean that the PCR has worked.

18:30 The second PCR is done, and I have a look at that one – this time at least some samples have worked and I’m happy to let that rest until tomorrow.



19:00 The office is slowly emptying, and this is a nice time to do some data analysis. I do that while drinking tea – because it’s still just one coffee, and that one is finally empty.

20:00 I’m setting up one last PCR, this one is for something entirely different, but it takes about 8 hours to run, and our group only has one PCR machine – they might not be so happy if I don’t run it overnight.

20:30 I’m having a quick mental check, but yes, I have really done everything I had to do today. It is time to leave. I say goodbye to the Postdoc who is still here. We tend to alternate in saying “Don’t stay too late” to the other one.

21:00 Aaaand I’m home. It was a long day, so I got some takeout food on the way, ready to watch some mind-numbing TV (I cannot deny that I have a certain love for Gordan Ramsay shows – I’ve trained as a chef before switching to science and I find them relaxing).