A day in the life of a cancer researcher


The song “A day in the life” sung by The Beatles has always been one of my favorites and probably the reason why many people contemplate what they do in their daily lives.

Although I moved from academia to industry several years ago, I still have good friends working as post-doctorates who are specifically involved in cancer research. In talking with them, I wondered about how a typical day would look like in the life of a young researcher. In this blog, I have tried to draw a pattern from their daily lives and think about the tools and strategies they commonly use to address research questions.

Day in the life 2


So just to give you some background, the person I am describing here today is a post-doctorate working on lung cancer using formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) samples. I call her Dr. Q for the purpose of my writing here and her research focuses on two major types of lung cancer, small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) and non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). SCLC cells secrete hormones, and commonly occur in the primary and secondary bronchi. NSCLC includes adenocarcinoma which stems from peripheral lung tissue and squamous-cell carcinoma which occurs in primary bronchi (1). Gene expression profiling of FFPE tissue samples is essential for any cancer research since it provides the researcher with an understanding of the link between the molecular and the clinical information.

8:00 AM: Arrival Dr. Q reaches her laboratory with a clear agenda in her mind for the day, with some FFPE samples already arriving on her table from the collaborative biobank.

8:30 AM: The isolation After sipping her coffee, she heads to the isolation room where she’s going to isolate miRNA from FFPE human lung tissue samples that had arrived from the biobank this morning. This can be very challenging due to heavy crosslinking of analyte, massive fragmentation and preciousness of these samples. She relies on the miRNeasy FFPE Kit which enables purification of total RNA that includes RNA from approximately 18 nucleotides upwards from FFPE tissue sections.

10:00 AM: She sips another coffee while updating her laboratory notebook.

11:30 AM: Quality check A QC step gives you valuable information so you can take preventive or corrective measures early on and reduce the risk of jeopardizing your results. So Dr. Q will not take any chance but perform a QC check on the innovative QIAxpert System. Once convinced of her sample quality, she will store the sample under appropriate conditions for later proceeding with her RT-PCR experiment.

Day in the life 3

Reflecting on what could be improved right from the start, researchers like Dr. Q can learn more about the key parameters, tools and considerations for quality control by visiting this link:


1:00 PM: She is back from lunch and spends an hour scrolling through her emails and browsing new publications, blogs and other educational resources on the internet.

Day in the life 4

3:00 PM: qPCR preparation Now she is ready to run her experiment on the cDNA which was synthesized few days ago from another sample source. The aim is to analyze the downregulation of selected human genes in the AKT/PI3 kinase signaling pathway.

This is a single-gene level research, and her laboratory relies on the QuantiNova SYBR Green Kits and master mixes as they provide accurate and robust detection of targets with a built-in visual indicator for precise reaction setup. When Dr. Q. has to analyze the expression of a focused panel of genes, specific to her pathway of interest, she prefers to use the customizable RT2 Profiler PCR Arrays.

5:30 PM: Planning the next day It was a long but productive day for Dr. Q as she could achieve the desired success from her experiments without having to repeat any step. Now she will spend some time planning her next day and designing her next experiment where she will focus on evaluating the data with the help of the IPA tools from QIAGEN Bioinformatics solutions.

With a combination of laboratory experiments, coffee, discussions, reading and writing, we get a glimpse into Dr. Q’s typical day in the laboratory. I am curious to know your story, your daily challenges and how you tackle your research. Please feel free to share and comment.



  1. Lung Cancer – American Cancer Society



Abhishek Sharma, Msc., MBA

Senior Global Market Manager, Discovery Sciences

Abhishek Sharma trained as a biochemist and has hands-on experience in nucleic acid and protein purification, tissue culturing and recombinant DNA technology. Previously, he was as a market analyst on emerging technologies in life science research. Sharma also worked in a USA-based healthcare consultancy on the discovery, development and commercialization of new disease treatments across multiple therapeutic areas. Currently, he’s involved with managing QIAGEN’s sample preparation portfolio, specializing in RNA technologies.

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