Monday, October 2, 2017

Office Space

In academia, one of the most noticeable distinctions between untenured faculty and tenured professors is that the latter get their own individual offices, whereas untenured faculty have to share offices or don't get any space at all.

At one of the schools where I used to teach, the English Department would often take over my office for various reasons, such as "because we CAN", which is why I often had to meet with students in the cafeteria during my office hours (which all faculty are required to keep every week in order to be available to help students outside of class, regardless of whether or not they actually have an office). Nothing says, "I have arrived" like telling your students to meet you at the table next to the place where they make cheese sticks.

At another school where I used to teach, there was one office with about half a dozen cubicles that dozens of instructors had to share. There was one computer that we were all expected to share as well. One particularly greedy, self-centered instructor hogged the computer all the time, leaving his books and papers there even when he wasn't using it. When I sat down in front of the computer once, he asked, "Are you even doing work for school right now?" I wanted to say, "Why don't you come a little closer and ask me that again?" I was ready to throw down and go all WWE on him, but I might have gotten in trouble for wrestling one of my colleagues, even though he was a jerk. (I wish him a lifetime of broken computers, limited office space, and colleagues who are exactly like him.)

In Small Town, I shared an office with one other teacher, who was rarely there for students outside of class, so I mainly had the office and the computer to myself. It was nice to be able to work in peace and meet with students without hearing people say stuff like, "HEY! Get your OWN French fries!" I also liked that the department laminated my name, along with my title of "Dr." and hung it on the door, which was a nice change from all the other offices where my name was simply written on an index card and taped to the door. When I left Small Town, I took my laminated name plate with me.

In College Town, my "office" is actually a cubicle in a large room full of other cubicles, though at least I get my own desk this time. I texted a picture of it to one of my friends, who remarked that it was an "officle". I decorated it with pictures of my friends, postcards, and colorful office supplies.

One of the things I like best about working in academia is that I don't have to work in an office from 9-5. I like that I can do a lot of my work from home or in coffee shops, where I tell baristas, "Hit me with your best shot...of espresso that is!" and they all look at me blankly, not getting the Pat Benatar reference because they were born when Britney first came on the scene.

But since I am required to have office hours every week, I do have to spend several hours a week in my officle. I like the faculty; they've all been very nice and welcoming to me. But here is a small glimpse of what it's like to share office space with them:

Coworker #1: It is too cold in here. I'm turning off the A/C, okay?
Me: (sweat dripping down my face) Um, could we leave it on, please?
Coworker: OK, but I have to raise it to at least 75 because it is just so darn cold.
Me: (what I'd like to say: But if you're cold, you can put on a sweater. When I'm hot, I can't take off my shirt because then I'd just end up flashing all the undergrads and this is a college campus, not a Girls Gone Wild video.)

Coworker #2: Mm, this sandwich tastes so good.
Me: I bet all those onions make it taste like that. It's very, um, appetizing.

Coworker #3: How are your classes going? Did I tell you what happened in my class? (Launches into 15-minute story)
Me: (knows it would be unethical and illegal to slip a sedative into coworker's coffee, and yet...)

Also, it's not just my fellow faculty members; it's their students (as well as mine) coming in and out of the office to talk about their papers and their classes. There's constant chatter, and it can be a wee bit distracting.

But on the other hand, I keep reminding myself that officle aside, the point is that I have a better job than I did before, with a better salary too, as well as students who don't ask for a one-week extension to write a five page essay (after already being given three weeks to work on it). Sometimes, I walk around campus and feel lucky and glad to be there, especially after the stress I went through this past summer, where I was worried about not finding a job.

I will, however, be buying more coffee and a desk fan. And possibly sedatives.

What about you? What does your office space look like, either at work or at home?


  1. There is a lot of positives. You get your own officle, which is kind of your own space. I'm glad things are going better for you.

    1. Hi Murees,
      I am glad that I get my own space, even if it's not a regular office; it's less stressful than having to share a desk with dozens of other people.

  2. At home, I write while sitting on my sofa, folders and notebooks spread out beside me.

    At work, I'm on the gym floor most of the time, with loud music and the noise of treadmills running at 10mph :-)

    I love your rundown of work spaces - one day, you'll have your own, with a door that you can shut out the rest of the world, for those moments when you really need to!

    1. Hi Annalisa,
      I can work when there's music playing, but usually only something soothing like Sarah McLachlan or Adele. I always wondered how people at gyms can concentrate with the sound of weights being dropped all the time; they must have a much better focus than I do.
      It would be wonderful to have my own work space someday, even if it's a small one, especially after years of sharing space with so many other people.

  3. Replies
    1. Hi Lynda,
      That's why my new desk fan has proven to be very useful. I tried turning down the A/C, but someone kept turning it back up.

  4. I wouldn't want to share one computer or an office. Having your own desk is good, though.

    1. Hi Chrys,
      I don't really like sharing a computer or an office; it'd be nice to have my own space, even if it was the size of a walk-in closet. Sharing a desk sucked because I was only able to sign up for it for two hours at a time and find alternate spaces outside the office at other times.

  5. In my teaching days at UCLA, I had a parade of office mates. Oh the stories!

    1. Hi Leslie,
      I think stories about office mates would make an interesting book or short story collection. :) If I wrote one, I'd have to fudge some of the descriptions so that I wouldn't end up being haunted by the Ghosts of Coworkers Past.

  6. I think I'd struggle with that kind of office setup. Then again, I struggle with my current space, too. I work from home and the only space for my desk is in the living room. Although I feel your pain on the AC war once everyone gets home from school/work, and I have to share the house with everyone else again.

    1. Hi Caitlin,
      It's hard for me to work from home sometimes too because there are a lot of distractions, like the appeal of taking a nap on my bed or watching Daria reruns on my DVD player. It has been a struggle working in my officle sometimes too, but on the other hand, it's better than sharing half a dozen cubicles with dozens of instructors.