A Day in the Life of Priyanka Runwal


A woman stands on a rise facing the camera. In the background there is a long view of autumnal trees in a mountain valley.
Priyanka hiking in the Catskill Mountains. Courtesy of Priyanka Runwal

What I’m working on:

I currently work for National Geographic, where I cover health and medicine. I joined the science team earlier this year as part of a residency program, and COVID-19 has been my main focus. In the last two weeks, though, I’ve been obsessing over leeches and their use in modern medicine. My brain, however, hasn’t resisted the temptation to glance over interesting COVID-19 papers that dropped or check out Twitter feuds involving SARS-CoV-2’s origin. After all, I do have a COVID-19 update to file every Friday for our tracker and health newsletter.

Since this pandemic started, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how marginalized populations are navigating a public health crisis that has disproportionately impacted them. Most of this year, I’ve worked on a three-part series highlighting the unique challenges disadvantaged immigrant communities in the U.S. have faced when seeking COVID care. I traveled to agricultural fields outside Los Angeles, to the Arizona-Mexico border, and to the heart of New York City to report, on what it means to be undocumented and contract COVID-19, speak a rare Indigenous language and spend days in a hospital without an interpreter, and work tirelessly to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate health education when misinformation is rampant. This is one of the most emotional and challenging projects I’ve taken on in my journalism career thus far. I’m humbled by the many people who felt comfortable talking with me about some of their most tragic and trying times in life. As we shared tears, laughs, and moments of silence, it was their resilience that moved me most, and I’m motivated to continue reporting on healthcare inequities.

Where I work:

I’m based in New York City, which means I have limited space to work with. I’m mostly making phone calls and typing away in my bedroom. Fortunately, my desk is next to a window that overlooks a quiet street and a gingko tree currently in its fall color glory. I’m hearing a blue jay raise a ruckus outside, but I can’t quite see it to figure out why. The opera singer in my building has just started to warm up her vocal cords, and I’ll hear snippets of her practice routine throughout the day.

I often wish I wasn’t working from home—not because I mind the wonderful sounds that surround me but because I think I’d be more productive in an office environment. I hate to admit, though, that I’d terribly miss my bed, which is essential to getting work done on some days. I’ve unfortunately gotten into the habit of writing in bed on days close to deadline. There’s something calming and comforting about it but my back may one day go for a toss.

A window view overlooks a quiet, tree-lined city street.
Priyanka’s window view overlooking a ginkgo tree sporting its fall foliage. Courtesy of Priyanka Runwal

Daily routine:

My routine is fairly flexible, depending on what I’ve got on my plate that day. Sometimes I’m up by 5:00 a.m. if I’m interviewing someone in Europe, who can only speak before noon their time. On other days, I wake up around 7:30 and scroll through Twitter, catch up on headlines at The New York Times, BBC, The Wire, The Hindu, and flag articles to read later in the evening.

Starting at 9:00 a.m. I’ll answer emails, sign into Slack, and make a list of sources I need to call that day. Around 10:30 I’ll step away to prepare and eat my breakfast, and by 11:00 I’m back to interviewing, transcribing, doing research, or writing my story. I’ll break for lunch around 1:30, and cobble up a salad or make a stir-fry with the many vegetables in my refrigerator. I’ll usually catch a short clip of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, or Mark Wein’s latest food-travel video before I return to making more calls, reading scientific papers, or writing. I’ll work until 6:00 or 6:30 p.m., unless I’m interviewing someone in Australia, perhaps, in which case it’s a 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. end.

In the evenings, I’ll take a walk with a friend in our neighborhood before it’s time to whip up some dinner. On days when I’ve got more time, I cherish my long walks along the Hudson River.

Around 9:00 p.m. it’s time to catch up on the bookmarked articles, call family and friends in India, which is where I’m from, and attend to pending work before I doze off around midnight.

Most productive part of my day:

I’m mostly writing mini-features, and for me productivity strikes any time after I’ve got my lede until my nut graf is in order. That could sometimes be at 3:00 a.m., in which case I’m using the stillness and quietness of the early morning hours to write, or it could be at noon, and then I’ll use the rest of the day to chip away at other sections of the story. But I’m pretty stuck until I have those first 400–500 words polished and flowing well.

Most essential ritual or habit:

Breakfast. Every morning, I eat a bowl of fresh chopped fruits, topped with toasted rolled oats, almonds, walnuts, and flax seeds, and a dollop of plain yogurt. It’s the best!

Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:

Nothing fancy. MS Word or a spiral notepad to scribble in.

How I keep track of my to-do list:

Nothing fancy, again. Just sticky notes to self. But I do meticulously maintain a list of story ideas and links in an email folder.

A tidy room with a desk, two couches, a painting of a peacock hanging on a green wall, and two flower bouquets.
Priyanka’s workspace. Courtesy of Priyanka Runwal

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

Besides regular phone calls, Zoom and WhatsApp are key for me to connect with sources. I use the Super Recorder app for recording interviews, and I take notes, transcribe, and file stories in MS Word. I’m one of those journalists who manually transcribes almost everything. It’s very inefficient but it is my way of absorbing and processing information. I am slowly learning to rely on Otter.ai and Trint. I don’t really use any productivity tools, but when I’m struggling to focus, I put on my headphones and play Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” on repeat.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Scrolling Twitter (although I rarely post), finding food recipes (tried making a black sesame ice cream yet?), and searching for hiking trails near and far.

My reading habits:

Most of my reading these days is work related. I also like keeping up with world political news, so there’s that. But I’m trying to get back to reading fiction and crime. A friend recently lent me a copy of Confident Women, with tales of notorious female con artists who committed outrageous scams. Fifteen pages in and I’m hooked.

Sleep schedule:

Typically 6–7 hours; some days it’s more, other days it’s less.

Skip to content