A Day in the Life of a PhD Student

-By Leann Balcerzak, BS ‘19, PhD Student

A typical day in my life as a nursing PhD student starts with a hot cup of coffee, black or with a teaspoon of honey.

 I enjoy a moment of meditation with my coffee to help me prepare to take on the day with a clear perspective. I tend to mentally categorize tasks into classwork, research assistantship or personal projects. As a full-time student, I typically take three or four classes per semester. 

Personal projects consist of a variety of manuscript writing, literature reviews and posters or presentations for disseminating research at conferences. Making time for self-care and being mindful of when I might begin to feel overwhelmed is critical. Spending time with my husband and family is a priority for me each day.


Looking at the beginning of the week, Monday mornings start with a research team meeting at 9 a.m. via Zoom. I am a research assistant on a study funded by a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) research award. Our study team has developed and is comparing a Zoom video conference Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention with an MSBR mobile app to reduce worry for adults in Buffalo particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (for information about study participation you can visit the Mellowing Mind study interest form). Monday morning meetings are a time to catch up with each other, reflect on the past week and look ahead at future goals for the project. Participating in this study provides me with important research experience and has introduced me to so many inspiring mentors at school and in the community. 

At approximately 10 a.m., it’s time to take my dog Captain America out to play. Fortunately, the PhD program is very flexible in that it can be completed entirely remotely. Or, if you are local, you can attend synchronous and hybrid classes in person based on the class needs. Mondays are my usual “work-from-home” days, which “Cappy” prefers. I spend my next few hours answering emails, making a prioritized to-do list for the week and catching up on readings for classes. I then have an online class via Zoom from 4-6:50 p.m., Quantitative Methods in Healthcare Research. Online statistics is a favorite class for my two cats, Alexei and Natasha, because they can walk across my laptop and nap in my lap. I end most nights working on one of my many knitting projects. Knitting was a COVID hobby that stuck and has become a sort of meditative practice for me.


Tuesdays are similar to Mondays, starting with a research team meeting via Zoom at 9 a.m. I am local to Buffalo and am very grateful to be able to safely go to campus in person now, so I head to the office at 10 a.m. in Wende Hall. These are my favorite days because I find myself more motivated and love to see my friends and colleagues face-to-face.

On campus, I will catch up on research tasks. These currently consist of staying up to date with relevant literature, making phone calls to Buffalo community members, transcribing qualitative interviews, recording meditation practices for the MBSR mobile app or just generally being prepared for whatever may come up. My Tuesday 4-6:50 p.m. class, Advanced Qualitative Research Methods: Grounded Theory, is hybrid so I join that in person. This is my first in-person class since graduating from undergraduate nursing at UB in 2019 and it is a special feeling being back in the classroom. 


The rest of my week consists of time management and communication to determine what I will focus on most days, so no day or week is ever really the same. Organization and prioritization are nursing skills that transferred from clinical nursing to research. Deciding to move from bedside nursing to commit more time to research was difficult for me as a relatively new nurse, but I love the challenge of research. When I tell people I am a nursing PhD student and they ask what I do, sometimes I am still unsure how to respond because I get to do so many things!   

About Leann Balcerzak

Leann Balcerzak is in her second year of the Post-BS to PhD program at UB School of Nursing after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in science from UB School of Nursing in 2019.

Published December 6, 2021