My name is Faysal and I am a second year PhD student at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Smart Medical Imaging at King’s College London and Imperial College London. The aim of my PhD project, supervised by Prof Mark Green (King’s College London) and Dr James Wilton-Ely (Imperial College London), is to develop nanomaterials for use as imaging probes, which can be detected outside of the body to aid with disease diagnoses, thereby preventing the need to undergo surgery.

My morning routine starts by waking up at the crack of dawn for a short prayer before getting ready to go on my daily commute to work. The journey to the laboratory takes roughly 40 minutes, with the bulk of it being spent on the underground, which gives me the chance to catch up on my readings. On other days, the journey can be much shorter as I have access to another lab that is much closer to my house. Interestingly, where I work is often dictated by the work that needs to be carried out and this is one of the benefits of being part of a CDT programme that is hosted by two universities.

Faysal Farah, CDT Student

Once in the laboratory, I perform a short analysis on a reaction I had running from the previous day. From this, I was able to see that I have made my desired compound, but I also noticed the presence of an impurity, which needed to be removed. Purifications can take a while and so it is important that I plan and prioritise what needs to be done during the day. To help with planning, I tend to structure work around my daily prayers, giving me a reference point to make sure I am on track. I finish the purification before the afternoon prayer (1:00 pm), giving me plenty of time to set up another overnight reaction. At roughly 3:00 pm, I was able to get my lab book signed off by a colleague, set up the overnight reaction, and leave my workstation in pristine conditions (some may disagree), before leaving the lab to go back into the office.

On a normal day, I would remain in the office to read up on the literature, but with the looming threat of COVID-19, I decided to head back home to avoid any unnecessary risks of exposure to the virus. I get back home at around 4:00 pm, caught up on some literature reading and finished writing my monthly update report, which gets sent to both my supervisors. Unlike many other PhD programmes, the benefit of the CDT is that you get equal input from both supervisors. This is especially important as I am working in an interdisciplinary field, and so it is very easy to constantly feel as if you are falling behind in each of the fields you are working in. The support is not limited to academics, and instead, you can rely on other PhD students at the CDT for help too! This, I would argue, is the best part of the programme as you get to make friends with other PhD students who are working in other disciplines.

It wouldn’t be an ordinary day without taking part in a Zoom call and almost instinctively asking the question “Can you hear me?”. As is such, I tuned in (or zoomed in?) for a group meeting at around 7:30 pm with Somali Academics to discuss our plans for the rest of the year. The lockdown has affected many students and in particular students from ethnic minority backgrounds, so we decided to look at running a series of online workshops targeted towards Somali undergraduate students. The meeting finishes at 9:00 pm.

Ever since the first lockdown, I made it a habit of mine to call at least one friend (or a family member) in the evening to have some sense of normality. So, I called a friend of mine and we chatted away for an hour, mainly on the topic of the countries we should visit once things get back to normal. I finish the day with a night prayer before diving straight into bed and trying to convince myself that I have added the right reagent to my overnight reaction.