Friday, May 06, 2011

ProfSpace

Whenever I visit another university or another department at my university and spend some time in faculty offices, I always look around at the physical space of the office. Ignoring ancillary features such as neatness and the presence of disturbing pictures of large snakes, I consider whether it seems like a nice place to work or whether it is a grim little cement cell.

I am sorry to ignore grads, postdocs, and others in my query, but offices for these colleagues and students tend to be smaller and more crowded/modular, on the assumption that the occupants won't occupy them for long and/or can be ignored if they complain. There are exceptions, of course -- I had a nice office as a postdoc -- but my focus today is on the offices of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

My fellow professors: How do you feel about your office?

Of course there are lots of things that factor into our feelings about our offices, not just details of the physical space. For example, if you hate all your colleagues and most particularly the person with the office next door or across the hall, or if your institution schedules chainsaw woodcarving classes in the room next to your office (true story), you may hate your office no matter how beautiful the wainscoting and/or the view.

I am not sure if the opposite is true: Can one love a windowless basement hole with decaying rodent corpses in the ducts (true story) no matter how much you adore your colleagues and students and research? Maybe some people can, but probably many could not.

Another factor in office-affection-level might be whether there are better office prospects when you gain some seniority. For example, if you hate your office, do you hate it more or less if you know that other people have better offices and/or if you know that you can move to a better office at some point in your academic career?

I am not asking you to separate out the intangibles entirely, but to the extent that you can focus on the size, shape, ceiling height, windows/lighting, flooring, office furniture, door features, wall color and texture (± peeling paint that exposes a layer of lead paint below), and anything else you can think of, what is your overall feeling about your office?

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't like my office, but not for any very good reason. It has windows and is of exactly the same size as all the others, but still always feels a bit grim. Silly things like the power sockets are all on the wrong side of the room from the computer so I have trailing extension cords all over the place. And the windows are too high to see out of. I long for the day when I can get promoted and get a different office.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I have a gorgeous office. Whenever speakers visit from more prestigious schools they mention the compensating differentials. I may be out in the middle of nowhere, but the view from my office is absolutely amazing.

Anonymous said...

My office is a windowless basement hole, and the idea of spending the rest of my career in it (quite likely now that I have tenure) makes me want to weep.

Jamie said...

Honestly, I could care less about the actual physical structure of my office (which is a windowless cement cube but with pleasingly arranged office furniture and a few pretty pictures on the walls). When I'm not in the lab or in meetings, my face is planted in front of my two computer monitors. THAT is the question you should ask - one computer monitor or two or more?

Anonymous said...

Got a 'temporary' office while my and my graduate students offices were being renovated. It was a straight up lie; no construction has ever started and I'm still there.

It's right by the entryway (no, i'm not your tour guide to the building and CLOSE THE DOOR TO THE BUILDING IN WINTER) and the lectures on the other side of the wall have lead to me to invest in solid headphones.

grrrrrrrr.....

Anonymous said...

Mine is a grim little windowless cement cell. The lighting was recently replaced with reduced lighting. The other departmental offices are similar. Knowing that I will not be able to move to a decent office is depressing. (tenured)

MamaRox said...

I love my office. I also love my job, and I wonder if I would feel so good about both if I didn't enjoy one or the other so much. Corner office with lots of light, room for a couch, 18th century charm, but with central air. I'm the most junior faculty in my dept, but got the office of the person I replaced because nobody wanted to move. And when my colleagues retire, I don't think I'll want to move either, even though there are bigger offices.

I confess that this matters to me more than it should. I turned down 2 TT job offers without any better offer in hand - not only, but in part - because the offices were windowless cement cells. One of those depts was apologetic, but the other chair indicated his office was equally bad and that was their reality. I'm glad I held out for the job and the office I have.

GMP said...

I have a pretty big office and I love it! The view isn't much, but I have the shutters nearly closed so I don't care. When I came, it had asbestos tiles and 40-year-old metallic furniture. I am still pissed that the department wouldn't pay for furniture -- I was told to buy it from startup funds! (Silly me, thinking that overhead should be used to buy desks and chairs.) Anyway, I paid from my startup to have the tiles removed, carpet installed and bought nice modular furniture, so I am very happy with how it looks (at least on the days when I clean the clutter!) In my department, faculty offices all have windows, which is great. There are three downsides I can think of: (1) I am next to a classroom so there's noise mixing when there's a class in there and I am trying to have a meeting, (2) also close to a door that leads to a stairwell, so there's a lot of traffic, again an issue when my door is open, (3) the ceiling is high and should be covered but isn't, so there are some pipes showing. It wouldn't be a big deal if it weren't for the leaks from said pipes when they switch from heating to cooling and vice versa, which makes it impossible to put a computer in the spot where I really really would like. But, overall, I love my office and it remains one of my favorite parts of the job.

Klaas said...

I moved six months ago and now have the most fantastic office you could dream off: big, sunny, air conditioned, great view of old city (just block partial view of parking lot), space for my 8ft couch, espresso machine, you name it. Definitely an enormous improvement over the decaying smelly cubicle they dared call an office in my previous university.

Anonymous said...

10'x10' cement block room with no windows. There's no way to make it a pleasant place to work, and no place to sit a kid for any length of time if I need to come back after daycare pickup. So I don't.

My lab is great, though.

mOOm said...

Too dark - I have to have the light on most of the time. Trees outside the window block the light. Otherwise it is OK.

Anonymous said...

I have two offices, because I work on two different campuses (~30-60 mins travel apart depending on mode and time of travel).

One office is big, good location, but no window. So it sucks. The other is small and shared with a colleague, but has a great view. The colleague is not always there and the sharing is (kind of) voluntary, so that is not too bad.

I am tenured recently promoted to full prof. So you can probably tell our institution is kind of space-challenged. I am not treated dramatically worse than others.

Anonymous said...

At my first tenure-track/tenured position, my first office was a converted darkroom. Tiny, unventilated. They had thought to cut a high small window into the outside wall although that just made it feel even more like a prison cell. Life would have been better if someone had told me when or under what conditions I could expect to upgrade. But no one could or did as the place operated so secretively with blatant favoritism to some. The kicker was when I arrived at my office one day to find the interior wall ripped out, wallboard dust everywhere in my papers, books, and computers. The remodel actually made my office smaller! Thankfully I've since moved on....

Anonymous said...

When I got my (assigned) office, the secretary thought it was awful that I, the new female hire, had the office next door to the men's room but the new male hire was officed two doors down. Knowing who walks into and out of that restroom with papers in hand creeps me out, and I have an idea of who needs Avodart (based on traffic, the walls are fairly soundproof). On the upside, it was the perfect set-up for eavesdropping on department politics as the guys would often stop to chit-chat outside the door.

Gears said...

My feeling is great, but that's only because I'm new and I get a fresh coat of paint, new carpet, and new furniture for it. Plus, I'm not stuck in a windowless basement, but rather right along "Prof Row".

Maybe it's me being arrogant (again), but if you're a tenure track or tenured prof, you should be treated with a place of relative comfort. It's going to be your home for at least 5 years, so get used to it. Plus, you have students to mentor and more importantly, potential contributors visiting your office (companies, etc). If you were thinking of supporting some random prof who you think has good ideas but they're stuck in a windowless hellhole, you might think twice before writing that check.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm just an adjunct, but... I didn't get assigned an office. I mostly work in the lab, but it's closed to students so I hold office hours in the grad student offices. This morning, I came in to a partially collapsed ceiling, which scattered splinters of wood and nails all over two desks and the floor. Yay for working for a Big State U in a budget crisis!

Anonymous said...

(Former) Harvard professor Matt Welsh has suggested abolishing faculty offices. I think it actually makes a lot of sense for some fields.

Anonymous said...

Both my current office and the one at my last institution (where I was also TT) are terrific. My current one is pretty big, but what's especially nice is the extra high ceiling (as with all offices on my floor), which makes my actual volume of space that much bigger. It really makes a difference (and super for those days with indigestion...). The location is near the department office, which at first I thought would be a negative, but it's actually turned out to be a big plus because I can see/hear what's going on. I have a huge south window which lets in sun and a decent view.

My last office was in a place of exceptional natural beauty, and I had a fabulous view in a historic building. The office was much smaller, but it was fine and I just loved it. There were many less loveable things about that institution.

When I visit other places, I do often appreciate how blessed I am in office space. Speaking of visits, I'd like to comment on office space for long-term visitors. I was recently on sabbatical in another place famed for natural beauty, but the office I was given had no windows at all. Office space is always at a premium, and visitors are even more dispensible in the office space hierarchy than grads/postdocs, but let's just say that it doesn't make a good impression to put long-term visitors in a hole.

Anonymous said...

I had a good office when I started--reasonable size, high ceilings, big window, modular furniture. Then I moved to a bigger office with built-in wood bookshelves and even closets (!). When I walk in, it just feels like a professor's office. I want to get the modular furniture replaced with wood to match. If the state isn't going to let them give us raises, I'll take the better office.

For me, I wouldn't have thought it would make a difference--and I was happy in my previous office--but I feel the difference. It's a genuinely pleasant place to work and be.

Anonymous said...

My old office was dark and dingy, even with a window. The carpet was 30 years old and gray with nasty stains. We moved to a new building that is practically made out of windows and I love my new office even though my view is mostly of the building next door. The window is HUGE (nearly floor to ceiling) and lets in lots of natural light. There is a loud classroom across the hall but I close the door when necessary.

I have a second office on our other campus. It has no window and even has a pillar blocking the view to the central area. I really dislike spending any time in that office. Small, cramped, no view, and lonely.

joshphd said...

I love my office. We are in a new building (about 4 years old) and the offices are spacious and sunny. They are carpeted with a desk and a ton of counter top space underneath the window. There is ample drawer and storage space as well as three nice size book shelves. There is a white board and a door with a little slit-window to see who is knocking (or I can cover it up with my lab coat if I want to hide out). The one downside is the building layout. It is an L-shape and the offices are on the outside (to allow for them to have windows, but the classrooms are in the interior. So all of the offices face classroom space, which depending on who is teaching you can hear the lecture pretty well even with both the classroom door and my office door shut. However, it doesn't really bother me because I love my job. All of the offices are identical with the exception of the chairs and the dean.

Anonymous said...

When I took my first faculty appointment, my rather large office was completely redone with new carpet, paint, nice wooden office furniture, original paintings (a colleague's brother was an artist), etc. My senior colleagues even bought flowers to brighten it up when I arrived. My current office, now that I have moved to another institution, is much less nice - old dingy carpet and paint, smaller in size, etc. But it's functional. And it has a chalkboard, which I really like. I may feel differently after they wall over my window because of construction going on next door. But once the new building next door is up, I will be moving to new office space once again. Perhaps at that point I'll put some effort in to actually decorating my own office.

EliRabett said...

Sad as it may be, you are going to spend a fair amount of your life in your office, so you should invest in it. (what GMB said). That means scuffling, finding stuff and also paying for it. The best solution to the windowless cell problem is about $800 for a WIDE screen TV monitor run from a cheap computer with nice views... .

First thing Eli did was find an old wooden desk in the surplus pile, sand it down and refinish it.

Anonymous said...

I don't like my office but have tried to make it bearable. It's SMALL with sunk in windows. The windows would look out on some hills but there are shrubs now blocking most of the view. Still windows are nice and there's a smidgen on wood which I like (it's a concrete ugly building). I put in things to make it nicer (wooden desk, rug, a few posters) which has helped. The biggest issues are 1- extremely thin walls, I can hear what people say up to two doors down with their doors closed when they talk in a normal voice and I assume they hear me (ugh), 2- it gets cold and hot easily (winter it was freezing and now it's roasting) which makes it a tough place to work.
Could be worse but could be much better.

Anonymous said...

I love my office (though not the mess I have made of it. It has: awesome windows and lots of light, its inside the lab and thus in the midst of things (and slightly harder for students to find with grading complaints), it has bookshelves which i still use to prove I am a dinosaur, and a reasonable but not excessive amount of floor space on which I can pile things. It also has a filing cabinet that only gets opened about once a year, because even I am not that much a dinosaur.

Mark P

acdalal said...

I like my office for the most part. Big, bright, with a big window, decent view, heat/AC that I control, and lots of bookshelves. The two things I don't like are the inherited furniture and the ugly, dingy carpet, but I've gotten facilities to haul away the worst of the furniture and replaced it w/ nicer stuff (paid for out of pocket, but totally worth it!). I also have a large chalkboard---I'd rather it was a whiteboard, but the mathematicians designed the building so I'm stuck with it. :)

Elizabeth said...

There were two hires in my department my year, so they took a conference room and split it down the middle to create two offices.

Upside: I got the chalkboard.

Downsides: I can hear every conversation in the office next door (and probably vice versa). Also, it's too small and we don't have desk of the right type to create a sensible configuration, so most of the chalkboard is inaccessible, and I also have extension cords everywhere.

I am hoping that one day I will have enough seniority to move to a nicer/bigger office, and until then I have moved my Science books here but have not bothered to decorate.
-Principle Investigator

Average Professor said...

I seem to have a lot of opinions about my office. See:

I complain about how ugly it is.

I admit some of its ugliness is my own fault.

I come to think office space, ugly or not, is some kind of status symbol.

MathTT said...

Weird how many people list A/C as a plus. I hate A/C, and unless it's a window unit that I can control completely, I would not want to have it in my office.

I have a pretty good office. In my dept we have two main locations: the quiet wing (all offices, no classrooms), but the offices are smaller and get so much direct sun that the heat can be unbearable; and the loud wing (offices and classrooms), where the offices are a bit larger, not so much direct sun, nice cross-breezes.

I find the weather in my office great, the views are nice, and the space is comfortable. I could have done without the linguistics class across the hall that played movies at full volume every damn class. But annoying classes are: (1) only for a semester, and (2) only for an hour a day or so, and not every day.

For the most part the hallway and class noise is bearable. And I've gotten better about saying no when random students (not mine) walk in to my office and ask if I have a minute to answer a question. I'd like to paint it, get a small futon couch, and maybe a mini fridge. But I have lots of room for books, a nice big desk, a blackboard (replaced the white board - ugh!).

Alex said...

I think you should have named the thread ProfessSpace, in honor of the movie "Office Space."

Anonymous said...

Both my current office and the one at my last institution (where I was also TT) are terrific. My current one is pretty big, but what's especially nice is the extra high ceiling (as with all offices on my floor), which makes my actual volume of space that much bigger. It really makes a difference (and super for those days with indigestion...). The location is near the department office, which at first I thought would be a negative, but it's actually turned out to be a big plus because I can see/hear what's going on. I have a huge south window which lets in sun and a decent view.

My last office was in a place of exceptional natural beauty, and I had a fabulous view in a historic building. The office was much smaller, but it was plenty big and I loved it. However, there were many less loveable things about that institution.

When I visit other places, I do often appreciate how blessed I am in office space. Speaking of visits, I'd like to comment on office space for long-term visitors. I was recently on sabbatical in another place famed for natural beauty, but the office I was given had no windows at all. Office space is always at a premium, and visitors are even more dispensible in the office space hierarchy than grads/postdocs, but let's just say that it doesn't make a good impression to put long-term visitors in a hole.

Anonymous said...

I have a GREAT office - two large windows - plenty of space for my bike parking (plus others when visitors come by bicycle). I feel quite lucky.

But, one of my colleagues was stuck in a windowless office, and when that person said I NEED NATURAL LIGHT, the chair of the department at that time said that this was an unimportant request - not worth his time to address. In general, we are supposed to be immersed in our science and our work etc... and not DISTRACTED by trivial things like whether we have a window - according to that chair.

I COMPLETELY DISAGREE!!!! Anything that makes our jobs more pleasant - anything that improves our moods during the dark dark days of winter in this part of the US (north - middle) - anything that makes a visitor feel welcome and comfortable while discussing science = GOOD! In fact, I would argue that a dingy office is a distraction! If a visitor comes into my office and sees that it's lame, that visitor will leave my department with an opinion of my department.

I feel that student and post-doc offices should also be NICE! Yes - we need to ask students and post-docs to share space - we simply don't have adequate space for each individual to have an individual office. But, that space should be nice and SEPARATE from lab hazards! I think it stinks to analyze data on a computer in a space in which it is UNSAFE to consume a lovely cup of coffee... our students should feel GOOD in their office space....

When people do not feel good and comfortable, they are not productive... and enthusiastic about their work. It is definitely worth time and money to make work spaces safe, comfortable, and enjoyable.

That's just my two cents... coming from someone who LOVES HER OFFICE! (interesting story - previous occupant was a slob - office was offered to several more senior members of the faculty - they all declined - it was offered to me, and I was very junior at that time, and I said sure! Building manager had it cleaned - it's wonderful... Others are now jealous).

Alex said...

The best thing about my office is the marble cafe table that I have for visitors to sit at.

Would you believe that I got it for $15 on Craigslist?

The worst thing about my office is that the janitors haven't mopped the tile floor in a year and a half. I sweep it myself periodically, and I wipe up lunch spills, but it really needs a good mopping.

Anonymous said...

When I was first hired the department head suggested that I share with the other new hire. It happened that both of us are women, and there was only one other women in the department. She pointed out (probably quite emphatically) that there had never been faculty sharing before, and that it really looked bad for this to be proposed for the first time as soon as we hired some women. We both ended up with fantastic, separate, offices - small but with a great view (though, typically for England, with *very* draughty windows so it's freezing in winter). But I love my office.

Anonymous said...

When I was hired as one of the only female professors in my department, the chair told me that one of the senior professors in a related research field had kindly offered to give me a desk in a small cubicle-like space in one part of his office+lab empire. The male professor hired at the same time was given a real office (not a great one, but it was a separate office with its own door). No other tenure-track faculty had an office as lousy as the one I was to be offered, so although it was kind of the senior professor to offer to give up some space, I said no, that was unacceptable to me, especially as I would be breastfeeding my infant in the office. I was given a really nice office that was being vacated by a retiring professor.

Anonymous said...

I've had the same office for the last 9 years (I'm a staff scientist at a research lab). During that time I was moved around to different work groups/teams and projects quite a bit. Some of these teams and projects I hated and some I really liked. I notice now, looking back, that those years where I had to work with people I hated, I also hated my office and the sight of it made me feel demotivated (it is a windowless cement cell in the basement). I tried to make it look as nice as I could - putting in potted plants, nice lights, framed pictures, but I still hated the office and would be filled with despair every day when I would enter it. But the subsequent and more recent years where I was in a good work group with good co-workers and bosses, I didn't necessarily love my office but it just seemed to be irrelevant, meaning that I didn't mind it. you would think it should be other way round - that if I'm in a dire situation (hating all my colleagues and bosses) then the physical office should be the least of my concerns and only if I have the luxury of enjoying my work and colleagues then would I pay attention to little annoying details like the lack of windows and the cramped space. But my experience has been the exact opposite - when I was in a dire situation everything was wrong including the office space. Then when I got into a better work environment (though still the same physical office space) now everything else is OK too...

Anonymous said...

I'm in the only windowless office on my upper floor. It's the office that everyone jokes about, as the most junior new faculty person "doing time" in. It's not that bad of an office actually - good lighting, new carpet, nice plaster walls (as opposed to concrete block), built in whiteboard & cork board. Other than lacking windows, it's only problem is related to climate control. It's apparently on the same thermostat as an open cubicle area, so it's virtually impossible to balance the temperature of the two areas. I bought a space heater and fan combo, worked a lot of the climate issues out.

FWIW, post docs and grad students in my department are only given cubicles, and small ones at that.

Anonymous said...

I liked by office at my 1st tenure-track job, it was tiny but had a huge window (full wall). However in the summers temperature would hit 110-120 regularly, my desktop computer graphics card burned out twice (at a cost of $800 each time...yes I do work that requires special graphics capabilities). In fact it was common for me to work in 'minimal' attire (door locked).

When I finally found enough time to write a letter to my chair requesting that the air conditioning system be checked (as 1st year tenure-track faculty the room temperature was the least of my concerns) the facilities staff would not fix it stating that they needed proof of high temperatures. The unlocking of my door (without knocking) and finding me in my underwear (true story), was not proof enough. After months of begging and a week of data collected with a data logger borrowed from a colleagues lab, I received a letter stating that I should shut my blinds...like I have not tried that considering I was in my 'minimal' attire on a regular basis? My office situation did not get resolved before I left for my current post where I also landed tenure, a tree in front of my window and a thermostat inside of my office.

Anonymous said...

I love my office! My office is adjacent to my lab space which makes it convenient to go back and forth for myself and students. The whole room was gutted after the professor who vacated it retired. He had been in the office since the building's inception back in the 1960s. What had been a dark and depressing room when I first was offered the space, is now bright, comfortable and modern. I was able to pick out the furniture from the wood stain and fabric choices. I brought in a couch and some of my own personal artwork to make the space my own. I am very lucky and appreciate the space as a TT professor. All of the latest hires have gotten similar treatment with gorgeous, good-sized offices. Most of the tenured faculty have had there office renovated recently as well, but those that aren't are pretty drab.

This office is in stark contrast to the previous office I had as a TT professor at another university. There I got a fresh coat of paint and my "choice" of 50 year old metal furniture out of a closet. It wasn't terrible since I did have a sink in my office, but it wasn't quite as cozy.

Anonymous said...

I'm TT in a new-ish office in a new-ish building (finished a year or two before I got here), and we got all new furniture for the whole building about three years ago. Everyone who comes to visit compliments our offices.

Since everyone else has mentioned it, I have A/C, though I'm both from and currently in the South, so the idea of *any* building *ever* being without A/C just blows my mind. As a matter of fact, we suffer from the typical Southern problem of keeping it too cold in the summer and cranking the heat up whenever the outside temp drops below 60. We're always dressed for the opposite season. :)

My office is on an interior hallway and so has no window, which is the same for all of the offices in my department. This bothers me more than I ever thought it would, but it took me a while to notice. I just knew that I was inordinately cranky when I'd been working on a long project in my office, even though I'm usually the sort of person to keep my head down and keep on trucking. I'd find excuses to pack up and take my work home with me, and then feel almost immediately better as soon as I stepped outside. It finally dawned on me that I was missing the natural light. So now I make sure to get out more. ("Meeting in my office? No, sir, I'll come to you!" "You want to discuss the grant proposal? Let's walk for coffee!" "You say my office is hard to find, Mr. Undergrad? I'll meet you at the student center!") Several quick jaunts around campus each day work wonders, and it gives you something of a go-getter impression, so it's a win on both fronts.

Let me tell you, I've learned my lesson. My current office has a spacious desk, ample seating, and dual monitors on fancy arms so they don't take up desk space. In grad school, I had a tiny, mustard yellow, fabric cubical with no privacy and an assortment of broken furniture. But I was just one row over from a giant window. I'd trade the two any day.