A comment on yesterday's post about professors sowing social discomfort and dread amongst the student populace raised an interesting (somewhat off-topic) question:
Should professors enter the Grad Office Zone?
Is the Grad Office Zone sacred space in which grad students should be free from professorial visits or are professor visits to grad offices a way of showing that the adviser is interactive and interested in their students' research?
I am sure there are all possible examples of professor-grad space interactions: from professors who have never and would never visit a student in a grad office to professors who naturally mingle with their students as they all work in group space; and from students who feel that there should never be professor incursions across the borders of the Grad Office Zone to those who think this is a great (or at least normal) thing for a professor to do.
There is an important structural (architectural/organizational) issue here of course: in some departments, grad offices are dispersed among other offices and labs and may actually be in the professor's solar system. In this case, professor visits to grad offices aren't an issue, though one could pose the question as to whether these clustered offices are a highly efficient way to promote interaction and productivity or whether they create constant stress and anxiety in students.
In other cases, grads are sequestered in a designated Grad Office Zone. This was the case when I was a student, but no one minded when a professor showed up for a rare visit. In fact, it was a matter of much discussion and fascination as to which professors dared enter the Grad Office Zone and which did not. There were only a few who dared, but they were respected for this. They did not visit often, but when they did they were welcome. These tended to be the professors who treated grad students as human beings, and that might have had something to do with their willingness to walk where most of their colleagues would not and also their positive reception when they did visit the Grad Office Zone.
As a professor, I visit my students in their (non-lab) offices if I have something urgent to ask or tell or show, and I don't think anything of doing so. My colleagues do the same. There is nothing unusual or sinister about going to see a student in their office.
When I go looking for a student in a grad office, I don't feel unwelcome or uncomfortable, though I suppose the nature of a professor's visit to a grad office is also relevant to the question of whether it is a good thing or a stressful thing for the student; e.g. a constructive comment, urgent question, or something interesting to show = OK, but constant biting criticism = not so great?
Another relevant structural issue is whether grads have individual offices, share with only 1-2 other people, or are in a room packed with cubicles. I have encountered all of these types at various times and I am more comfortable visiting a student in a small office than in a cubicle farm in which even a quiet conversation disturbs a lot of other students, all of whom look up whenever the door opens and listen (perhaps not by choice) to all conversations.
If grad students (or postdocs) want to discourage visits from their advisers, there are non-verbal ways to do this, as I found out inadvertently years ago as a postdoc when I (innocently) placed a large cactus on an extra desk in my office. I really thought my postdoc supervisor would see the cactus before perching on the desk and leaning back, but he did not.