the PhD Cook

I want to cover something more lighthearted this week so the  topic is….. food! Glorious food. More specifically,  I want to share how the longer hours and stresses of the postgraduate academic life have changed my cooking habits and meals. Not to spoil anything, but I’d say it’s not a bad direction.

There are two round tables in my office that become the social hub at lunch times. Everyone from the lab group who’s present usually comes to sit for lunch at around 12:30. It’s definitely an enjoyable part of the day, because there are jokes, communal hot sauces and just engaging conversation. And of course, there’s the food. Food some people have prepared at home and densely stuffed into plastic containers. Food bought from the science park cafeteria. Food from subway for those lucky enough to have a car. In any case, there’s bound to be a comment on the food at the table, whether it be a joke about someone only eating cafeteria food today because his wife was away or more often, about the displeasing look of the cafe food.

I fit into either the home-chef or the cafe customer categories.  That I now regularly pack myself lunch is a sign that I’m aging. Just kidding… It wasn’t something I practised during my undergraduate years, even when I lived in accommodation with an accessible kitchen. Back then, I cooked simple dinners and ate without leaving left overs for the next day. There was no real meal planning and a trip to the nearby Morrisons for grocery shopping meant that I picked things on the whim there and then; I rarely went in with a list of things in mind.

Oh how things have changed since starting my PhD. I’ve become more adventurous with cooking. Not only that, but instead of buying on the whim, I plan my weekly meals beforehand and purchase the exact ingredients I need. And given that my housemate also enjoys eating my food, I end up cooking in bulk to satisfy both mouths and have enough to carry the next day for lunch. The planning has become a little obsessive to the point that I’m investing time in coding on Python to randomly select recipes for a week and to output the shopping list for everything… and learning coding is fun, or so I encourage myself.

Anyways, I think there are several other reasons which have changed my cooking habits. Firstly, I’m influenced by the others in my lab group who bring home-cooked lunch to the office. Also, did I mention that home-cooked lunch is more delicious AND cheaper. It’s a winning situation. It just requires a little bit of extra time in planning and preparing in the evenings. Admittedly, the PhD hours sometimes push dinner time till later in the evening and coming home hungry and tired means that promising myself to cook something nice also requires discipline. But cooking can also be so therapeutic after a day of working in the lab and starring at a computer screen.

Approaching my mid-twenties has also made me more health conscious, and having some control over the quality of my daily nutrition is a step towards satisfying this goal. Growing up, my parents always encouraged healthy eating and associated it with not just physical health, but also mental energy. So now, when I need my mental energy the most, to face this PhD fearlessly, I remember that I need to eat well. I really recommend this to all my fellow PhDs out there- that food and health is always a priority.

So there it is. I’ve started cooking more and packing lunch for myself. Some days there are no leftovers, but I trying make that less frequent. Also, I’ve found that my fruit intake has declined, so I need to improve in that department. Writing it down here helps to reinforce that.

I usually use recipes I find online for my meals. For simple dishes with time-saving in mind, I recommend I also found a site for simple chinese dishes because I can’t help myself  (

I’d be interested to hear from readers, especially PhD students, about how their cooking and eating habits have changed, for the better or worse, since starting the PhD journey. Someone should maybe jump on the idea of making a cookbook with simple recipes for PhD students with little time to spare for cooking, with academic jokes sprinkled here and there. Do it before I do. haha

Once again, thank you for reading 🙂




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