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A Day in the Life of A Ph.D. Student



Life as a Ph.D. student might seem mysterious to some, but for Megan Brown, a Ph.D. student in SMU’s anthropology program, it is a pretty great balance of work, study, and some well-deserved self-care.

Concentrating in medical anthropology, Megan recently received a Fulbright scholarship to research points of connection between health and reforestation processes by linking ethnographic, health, and geospatial data in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Megan kept a log of everything she did in a typical day as a Ph.D. student at SMU and shared it with us.

If you've ever wondered what day-to-day life is like inside a Ph.D. program, read on for an insider's glimpse!  

Thinking about pursuing a graduate degree? Explore "A Guide to Graduate  Admissions at Southern Methodist University" to learn more!


7:27 AM – I wake up before my alarm — something that never happens. Now that my master’s exam — a comprehensive, all-day written exam that all sociocultural anthropology Ph.D. students take at the end of their second year — is done, I have a little more free time, so I walk down to the gym on campus, the Dedman Center, to work out.

Usually I’ll do yoga (GroupEx classes are free at SMU!), run on a treadmill, lift weights, or climb the rock wall, but since I hurt my knee a few weeks ago, I’ve stuck to the stationary bikes. Still, it’s good to get to the gym!

10:00 AM – After a quick shower, I head to Halcyon, my favorite coffee shop these days. It’s close to campus, and I love their tater-tot nachos. Today, I just grab a cappuccino with almond milk while I work on some paperwork for my summer field session.

During a summer research assistantship in Dr. Maryann Cairns’ lab, my focus is on the MERA Coastal SEES Project, which uses microbial analysis of water quality, epidemiologic data, and behavioral observations to improve our understanding of the risk for beach-going recreators in Costa Rica. 


Once the paperwork is done, I submit the slide deck for a group presentation I have tonight in my Global and Public Health class, taught by Dr. Eric Bing. I’m really nervous about the presentation, but I know my group has worked hard to put together a great project. I also do some research for my term paper in my Environmental Health class, which looks at human adaptations and responses to the Cape Town drought. Eventually, I drive home, grab a quick lunch, and get ready to head to campus for the afternoon and evening.


1:00 PM – I walk over the Graduate Writing Center, which is located on the third floor of the Fondren Library. In addition to earning my Ph.D., I also work for the Office of Research and Graduate Studies as a Graduate Writing Assistant. I love helping other students who are getting a doctorate edit their papers, especially because it means that I get to hear about all the cool research that other students are doing on campus. I really enjoy helping other students learn to effectively convey their ideas!

4:30 PM – With my last appointment for the day done, I walk over to Simmons Hall to meet with my group members one last time before our presentation tonight. The six of us — four undergraduate students and two graduate students — have spent the past few weeks consulting with Union Gospel Mission, a homeless shelter here in Dallas, to help develop a program to reduce depression among men at their Calvert Place Shelter.

We’ve met with countless community organizations, hospitals, tech companies, health providers, and donors to pull off this project, which uses a combination of in-house mental health care, expanded wellness programming, patient navigators, and a renovation of the green space on site to improve well-being and reduce depression. It’s all evidence-based, and it’s totally budget neutral!


5:00 PM – The Global and Public Health Case Competition for Social Impact begins! Four groups are presenting. The room is packed with shelter staff, community members, faculty, and friends. It’s really exciting to see so many people turn out! When it’s our turn to present, everything goes off without a hitch. I’m so proud of my group members and the way they ace some tricky questions from the judges! At the end of our presentation, the director of the clinic at the shelter said, “sold!” It’s a relief to be done and we’re so excited to have developed something that they like.

8:30 PM – The presentation is over and the crowd is dissipating. Another team won the popular vote, but my team received amazing feedback from the judges and we couldn’t be happier with how it went. I loved getting to see what my other classmates came up with, and I’m really impressed by their work! I stay after to talk with my professor and one of my friends about the presentations, and we all agree that it’s really exciting to see so many students able to make a difference in the community. Staff members from the organization told us that they are planning to put these ideas into action immediately — as soon as in the next few days.


9:00 PM – I walk home and cook dinner, a quick paleo orange beef dish I’ve been meaning to try, before decompressing on the couch. After a few minutes, I pull out my paddle boarding gear. The weather is supposed to be beautiful tomorrow, so I’m planning on going down to White Rock Lake once I wrap up with my work in the lab. I love having such a big lake so close to campus!

11:00 PM – I’ll be back in the lab at 9 a.m. tomorrow, so I head to bed. It’s been a full day, but such a good one. Thanks for following along, gooood night!

Have you ever thought about what it takes to apply for and succeed in a Ph.D. program? If you have, explore our digital guide — Choosing, Applying for, and Thriving in a Ph.D. Program — to find some answers! 

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