Blog post

Daily routine of
an online student

Being far from Derby, I chose to study online because I can do all my studying and research in my own time. Here’s what a typical week looks like for me.  

By Najma Zaman - 24 April 2023

I’m an online, part time postgraduate research student, which means I can study from wherever I am. I live in London and I work part-time too, so there are a few things for me to balance throughout the week. I have tried to describe what a ‘typical day’ could be for me. As you read, you’ll notice that I’m very much into well-being. My masters degree was in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and I’m currently studying for a PhD in the area of health psychology.

Good morning

Before even getting out of bed, I pray. It’s good to have that quiet time before getting up. One of the things I do after getting out of bed is a little exercise. This could include walking, squats or calf extensions. Not much, just 10-20 minutes (OK, nearer to 10 for me usually…) but I believe a little exercise daily is better than none. Also for me, it’s just more convenient to do little bursts throughout the day.

After breakfast, which includes some fruit and nuts (especially walnuts, which are good for the brain), I tend to go straight to my laptop and log into my uni email. I’ll also check my personal and business emails and reply where necessary. Once all these are dealt with, I start my research.

Walnuts with shells

Researching up an appetite

Wading through databases, I’m hoping to find that relevant article or two. My research is looking at the effects of listening to health podcasts on health behaviours. There’s very little existing research on this, which is great as I’m breaking totally new ground. However, this can make things difficult when doing a narrative review of existing literature. I set a timer to go off every half hour so that I can get up and stretch my legs for a minute instead of being sedentary for hours on end.

Lunch time and today we’re taking left-overs from last night’s dinner and wrapping puff pastry around them. Into the oven it goes, a massive pastry filled with yummy goodness. Now another 10 minutes of exercising for me. Once lunch is finished, back to the laptop, checking and responding to personal and business emails. Sometimes I’ll meet with my supervisors online on Microsoft Teams to catch up. 

Timer on a phone with exercise equipment

Work time

Beyond my degree, I also coach and give psychological support to people who want to make changes in their lives. I have an appointment with a client who wants to lose weight and get healthier. I really like it when a client feels good and energised after a session.

I try to cut down screen time after sunset as much as possible, which in winter means cutting down from as early as 4pm. I have blue light blocking glasses for evening use and I also make an effort to do more paper-copy reading, than on-screen reading – not always the first impulse when you’re studying online. I print out any long articles and settle down with a highlighter pen – what fun! Some of these articles are pretty interesting to me because I’m passionate about the subject of health and wellbeing. It really helps to feel this way about the area/topic you’re researching because you’ll spend a lot of time on it, over a number of years.

Blue light blocking glasses on a keyboard

Winding down

Before dinner time I’ll do another 10-minute exercise session, so that’s at least half an hour for the day in total. I’ll settle down to eat, then after dinner I’ll watch a bit of TV if there’s anything I like on. If not, then I'll go on Facebook before shutting down my laptop and phone to do some personal reading. Wind down a bit before heading off to bed – it all starts again in the morning!

Lastly, weekends: I take Saturdays off completely. No studying, no work. Just relaxing, doing a bit of personal reading, knitting, watching TV or whatever else is fun to me. Sundays are more of a part-time working day for me. Easing back into work and studying. 

Social media icons overlaid on a group of people using phones


At first, I found studying online could be a bit of a lonely journey. Not having peer support, or anyone to just hang out with. However, I then joined the Derby PGR student Facebook group which helped. I also discovered on-campus PGR students aren’t required to go in much. And the best thing for me was attending a webinar for part-time students, put on by the East Midlands Doctoral Network. It was a good opportunity to network. The EMDN put on these webinars a few times per year.

All in all, online study might not be for everyone, but if it suits your lifestyle and you know how to stay self-motivated – then you’ll know that it’s right for you. 

About the author

Headshot image of Najma Zaman, wearing black rimmed glasses and an orange vest top.

Najma Zaman
PhD student

I'm currently a part-time online PhD student at the University. I help people with their health and wellbeing using positive psychology and spirituality. I also host a podcast called Well-being in the Kingdom. In my spare time, I enjoy knitting and sewing but I probably spend too much time on social media!