(With thanks and apologies to Helen Fielding. ...)

M onday

Number of e-mails read: 23Number of e-mails containing scientific    information: 4 (v. good)Number of e-mails containing jokes from friends:    8 (v. funny)Number of e-mails offering "male enhancement"    or other spam: 11 (v. bad; have they not realised    I am a girl?)Number of e-mails offering me Nobel Prize: 0    (but still hoping)

Determined to make this week superproductive. So I write a very organised to-do list covering experiments for the next 3 days. Realise have spent so much time writing list and checking emails that I am already behind. Move last of today's tasks to tomorrow and get started in the lab. Discover that the evil PhD student has used up all the enzyme. First experiment now moved to Wednesday, pending arrival of replacement stocks on Tuesday. Have to go for a tea break to recover from stress and prevent strangulation of student.

Rest of day not too bad, for a Monday. Set up experiments for whole week: Start cell cultures, book microscopes, make buffers, and even find time over the bacterial incubator for a spot of eyelash fluttering at the sexy postdoc in the lab next door. Feel like the very model of scientific efficiency until the massive heap of unread articles on my desk collapses, launching a tsunami of print and paper. Pick out a few of the most interesting-looking titles and put them in my bag. Notice I actually now have collected quite a pile in there. I'll read them tonight for sure.

Search the Internet for exciting conferences in exotic locations. Very enthusiastic about the prospect of a meeting in Honolulu when I remember that I have (a) no travel money left and (b) no results. My boss points out that I went to a very interesting conference last year in Dorset. Argue back that the windswept vistas of the South Coast are no match for the sun-kissed beaches of Hawaii. She retorts that I should be interested only in the quality of the science and anyway, the funding body thinks that £46 for a return train fare is more than enough to spend on me. Back to Mrs. Scoggins' Bed & Breakfast and not the Hotel Palm Tree Splendide this year, then.

Tuesday

Number of PCRs performed: 48 (v. good!)Number of PCR bands detected on gel afterwards: 3, potentially 4 (v. bad.    Suspect evil student has been turning the machine off and on again).Number of hours spent using fluorescence microscope: 4Number of spots in front of eyes after using microscope: 1082

Tuesday is lab meeting day. Aaargh! It's my turn to present results, and I completely forgot. Recycle slides from last lab meeting and hope no one notices. No one does. Whether this is because they have complete confidence in my scientific approach or they really aren't interested remains to be ascertained. Realise with a sinking heart that I have made no progress anyway, as have spent last 3 months repeating experiments performed by an incompetent summer student, desperately trying to reproduce the interesting (but haphazard) results. When it comes to the "Lab Business" discussion, I glare pointedly at Evil Student and suggest we could all benefit from being team players. Blush like a lobster when someone points out that it was I who left a load of glassware in the sink last week and contaminated the fridge with radioactivity.

Spend the rest of the day hiding in the dark in the fluorescence microscope room, emerging like a mole blinking in the twilight at 6 p.m. Go to pub with other postdocs. Despite best efforts to chat about news, football etc. etc., we all end up talking science again. After one beer, half of them head back to the lab. I go home, feeling wracked with guilt and fully intending to eat a healthy dinner then spend the evening reading papers and planning exciting new project.

11pm: Still surgically attached to sofa, watching reruns of 80's sitcoms with empty ice-cream bucket propped on lap. Hoping to absorb scientific papers osmotically, as I figure out they must have been in my bag for at least 6 weeks now.

Wednesday

Number of cakes eaten: 4.7 (v. bad)Number of times run up and down stairs: 6 (invalidating the above)Number of minutes spent in darkroom with sexy postdoc: 8.2 (oh heaven!!)

One of the postdocs in the lab has come back from holiday, bearing all sorts of goodies. Attack the cakes with gusto, tempered only when Evil Student points out that I will soon be too fat to fit into my lab coat. Will one day spit in his tissue culture, I swear! Now running dangerously behind with experiments, as the enzyme I ordered on Monday has yet to appear. So much for next-day delivery. ...

The x-ray machine on our floor is broken--found out after feeding my precious films into it and hearing an ominous crunching sound. Stick a big "Do not use" notice on it and run away, praying for people not to think it is my responsibility. The only other developer is on the fifth floor, so I get a nice workout trundling up and down the stairs. Rush through the darkroom door, all hot and sweaty, only to find the lovely postdoc from the next lab in there, too! Our hands brush together over a hot autoradiograph, the red light glinting off his safety specs and making me dizzy from excitement. Or maybe it was just the fumes from the developer. ...

Thursday

Number of scientific papers read: 4 (v. good)Number of minutes asleep in seminar: 23 (v. bad)Total number of timers in use at any one point: 3 (v. confusing)

Start to panic as I realise it is now nearly the end of the week and the majority of my to-do list is still undone. Successfully calm myself and start about four experiments at the same time. All going well until about 2 p.m., when all my timers go off at once like a burglar alarm, sending me into a massive flap. Must remember to work out my time plan better in future.

Guest speaker arrives from the United States and gives an outrageously boring seminar, hosted by my boss. The room was warm, the chairs comfortable, and even the lure of free coffee and biscuits couldn't keep me awake. Just hope I wasn't snoring this time. The best thing about snoozing in seminars is the wonderfully abstracted quality of the daydreams, fuelled by hallucinogenic slides and cheap coffee. Just when I think I've gotten away with it, my boss asks me if I'd like a chat with the speaker. Can't escape and spend a terrible half-hour bluffing my head off whilst pretending I listened to his every word. Explain my research to him, using dramatic scribbled diagrams, as he nods and says things like "Mmmhhhh, very exciting ... Interesting. ..." Feel invigorated, until he asks a really dumb question. I realise he has not grasped any of it, make my excuses, and scuttle out of the office.

Run head-first into Sexy Postdoc, spilling buffer over both of us. Mumble apologetically and later kick myself for not making more of the most obvious chat-up scenario known to mankind. Spot him later wearing nothing over his trousers but a lab coat--mmmmhhhhh! Am not brave enough to try this and have nothing to change into. My clothes dry out leaving a most peculiar pattern of salt rings, as if I have some dreadful personal hygiene problem. Very embarrassing. Go home early to change.

Friday

Number of tasks on to-do list as of Monday morning: 36Number of tasks on to-do list as of Friday evening: 27Distance by which frontiers of science have been pushed back this week: 0.73 mm

An apologetic chap from Stores plonks a battered box on my desk. "Sorry love, this fell down behind the freezers and we've only just found it. Hope it wasn't too important." At least I know where that enzyme got to. Sadly, all the dry ice has evaporated and after 3 days behind a freezer, the internal temperature of the box is approaching that of the Gobi desert. Reorder the enzyme, making sure to use Evil Student's grant code.

A whole day of waiting around for things to happen. After yesterday's timer debacle, I am reluctant to overload myself. As a result, I realise with mounting horror at about 4 p.m. that I will have to come in on Saturday morning to finish things off. Determined to make next week superproductive, so copy out remainder of to-do list in a legible form. Pretty sure I must have made progress somewhere, but sometimes you need a micrometer to measure it.

Ah well--another day, another dollar (note to self: Must find out when funding body is giving pay rise).

Kat Arney is currently finishing off the rest of the biscuits. The characters and events described in this diary are fictional--honest. ...