Earlier this week I wrote about one of the many types of random interruptions that can occur during the professorial day. Of course, not all interruptions are unwelcome, and some are an essential part of my job. When I'm working in my office, I keep my door open so that colleagues and students can stop by to chat, ask questions, bring me chocolate etc.
It would be interesting to keep track of visitors during a typical week or month or academic year in the life of a professor and classify them by type, frequency, and duration of visit. I bet I spend more time talking to individuals who stop by my office than I do in most? all? other types of professorial activities, including teaching.
In the absence of a rigorous accounting of these interactions, here is a brief unscientific list of the categories of people who are not related to me who stop by during the day to ask me questions, tell me things, bring me things, take things from me, and/or appoint me to unrewarding tasks, in approximate order from most visits per unit time by population group to least visits, ignoring for now the people who call me rather than physically visit my office:
1. (tie) graduate students
1. (tie) close colleagues/collaborators
5. undergraduate students working with me as research assistants
6. undergraduate students who are taking a class from me
7. random colleagues or other visitors
8. department chair
9. office staff
10. building managers or other physical plant workers
11. computer people
12. random genuinely lost people who are wondering how to find a person or place
13. random criminally inclined people who are casing my office while pretending to have questions (where is the restroom?) as they look around at my computers and other portable items of value
14. sales representatives (textbooks and other items)
15. random people who may or may not be sane and who want to ask me a question or who have a Theory of Something that they want to share with me
#1-5 are the (mostly) welcome types of visitors and are an essential part of my job/life.
#6 is also an essential part of my job and students are mostly welcome to stop by, but there are exceptions. For example, students are definitely welcome during office hours, but are not so welcome in the 30 minutes before class. Students are definitely welcome if they have real questions or comments about the course, but are not so welcome if the main purpose of the visit is to whine or to describe in graphic detail their medical problems.
#12-15 I could do without entirely and not be at all sad.
The middle 5 may or may not be welcome visitors depending on the purpose and duration of their visit.
The at times vast number of visitors, combined with various other random activities and interruptions during the day, are why I like to work at night and for at least part of the weekend. It is essential to me to have this time to think and write and possibly also to work with students and colleagues outside the daytime/weekday working hours. I don't need to work every evening and I don't need to work every weekend, but I need enough of these quiet times to get important things done, write more than a paragraph at a time, and think interesting thoughts about my research and teaching.
Without this extra time to get caught up and make progress with research, I would also have no time to pursue my new hobby of taking aerial photos of cats.