Student smiling to camera in the lab and holding bowl with yellow contents

A day in the life of a pharmacy student

Hi I’m Eva and I’m in my third year of my pharmacy degree. A typical day in the life of a pharmacy student varies depending on what day of the week it is! The Pharmacy MPharm degree is mostly taught using a mixture of lectures, labs and workshops. Lectures are what most people think of when they imagine uni – lots of people sitting in a lecture theatre taking notes while the professor talks. Labs are where we do scientific experiments, and workshops are where we get to practice our clinical skills.

Sometimes we’ll have placements too, where we spend a few days in a pharmacy, shadowing the workload of a pharmacist. Normally, we’ll either have one three-hour lab, one three-hour workshop, or two to six hours of lectures in a day; and we usually only have three or four days a week at uni, so I tend to work or study on my days off.

Today I had a lab, so I woke up early and made sure I got to Huxley Building on Moulsecoomb campus ten minutes before 9am – if you miss the safety briefing, you won’t be let in! I also made sure I had my lab coat and goggles with me, which should be worn at all times in the lab. I’m in the third year, so this lab was one of a series of four sessions as part of a group project where we make a product from scratch.

My group’s product was curcumin sunscreen, so we started by researching what formulations would be best for a sunscreen. We decided on a cream, as we thought a lotion wouldn’t provide enough coverage, and ointment would be too greasy. We had to think back to the labs we had in first year and remember the ingredients and method for making cream – good thing I kept all my notes!

However, even with the notes there was a lot of trial and error involved. Pharmaceutical creams are emulsions, like paint or mayonnaise, which consist of oily ingredients and water soluble (aqueous) ingredients mixed together and stabilised with an emulsifier. When you make cream, you have to heat the oily and aqueous phases separately until they’re the same temperature, and then mix them vigorously – but if you mix too vigorously or not vigorously enough, the cream will split and you’ll be left with a lumpy mess!

We also had issues solubilising the curcumin powder. There were a few batches that were near perfect but still had gritty bits of curcumin, so we had to adjust the quantity of solvent several times. But by the fourth lab, we had a beautifully smooth emulsion with no grittiness! We did various tests on it, and it lived up to the proper marketing standards, so we were very proud of ourselves. Overall, we had a lot of freedom in these labs, as we’re going to be marked on the quality of the product we formulated as well as the group report we’re going to write, but there are always lab technicians and professors around to answer questions and help if we get stuck.

By 12pm we were done for the day, so we went to the cafe in the basement to get lunch, and then hit the library for a few hours to tidy up our notes from the lab and do some research for the group report. Tomorrow we have four hours of lectures, so another 9am start for me! But before that, I go home to cook one of my favourite student budget meals – red lentil dal with rice. It’s vegan, full of protein, and very quick and easy, so I’d recommend making it if you’re into Indian food! I normally make a huge batch to share with my housemates, and to freeze some in preparation for exam season when I have less time to cook.

After that, it’s time for an evening jiu jitsu session. I joined the university’s jiu jitsu club in first year with no prior martial arts experience (and terrible spatial awareness!) By third year I’d become the president! Joining a sports club or society is a great way to make friends at uni, and you don’t have to be an expert at anything. There’ll be plenty of people in the same boat as you who are just trying different things out. At jiu jitsu the instructors are very patient and always willing to meet you at your level, whether you have loads of previous experience or none at all. If you’re interested in trying a free session, find the club on Instagram at @brightonjitsu!

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