Thursday, May 28, 2009

You're Welcome

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
3. postdocs
4. custodians
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.


Anonymous said...

Kitteh!!! CHOCOLATE!!! Welp, that means you won't be nominated for the SCOTUS. You have emotional ties to furballs and that chocolate thing - it's an emotional crutch.
damn. I liked you.
/off to the fridge!

Heather said...

Funny, although my desk is in my lab and I don't have an office door to close, I was just thinking yesterday how interesting it would be to take the measure of the nature and flow of my (mostly welcome, but sometimes...) visitors. I couldn't string two sentences together yesterday. Your categories apply well to my job as a life scientist, but I would also add the group of distant colleagues who only seek me out for the translation of a paragraph (or a paper, sometimes!) into English, or for me to attend a job talk/conference presentation in English to tell them whether or not it is presentable. Such folks would only be about number 7 or so on the list, although they are more frequent in the late spring as the academic year wraps up and conference season starts; in exchange I get no random general public wandering in.

Well, I'll be citing this post. As usual!

plam said...

What about 16. random professors from other cities who are temporarily in town? I just introduced myself to a professor in the town that I was visiting for a couple of days. (The computer science community in Canada is relatively small, so I figure it's worth it to get to know people whenever possible. They might review my grant applications in the future!)

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you ever get this, but my PI is annoyed by a semi-regular stream of another category of visitors: students showing up and asking him if he has jobs available! (These are people he's never met before rather than students from his classes--they just walk up and down the halls, walking into labs with open doors, and asking any professor they see.)

Usually he just says no and shoos them out. Once he said that he had plenty of work they could do but no money available to pay them with; if they were willing to work for research credits, they're welcome. I've never seen anyone hightail it out so quickly!

Anonymous said...

I get a lot of the type unlikelygrad describes at the beginning of each semester. So far (in my first year) 100% of them have been Masters' students from India who were admitted without any funding. It's just like those spam mails from students looking for any possible way to get into a U.S. university.

Female Science Professor said...

All of those requests come by email; mostly computer science MS students without funding. None of them have ever come to my office in person, and I am glad for that because there are a lot of them.

Shannon said...

The thing that irks me most is #12. Two department offices are at the end of my hallway. The rest of the hall is mostly male. Students are CONSTANTLY stopping to ask me where the department offices are. They never stop to ask my male colleagues. Our university is thinking of pooling department secretaries in a central location so as to reduce the overall number of them. The day that happens is the day I start working with my door closed. At any rate, I'm wondering if this is unique to me and my institution or if other FP are asked many more support staff type questions than MP.

Anonymous said...

I have to add the UPS/FEDEX guys up at 6 or so (way more often than my chair who is in another building). And, for similar reasons as Shannon. It amazes me that on a hall filled with male graduate students and postdocs in cubicles on one side, faculty offices on the other, that I, as the young female, get the delivery guys. sigh...

Anonymous said...

I get second-hand textbook buyers coming to my office on a regular basis. I usually don't mind them, they pay cash. But I've noticed an uptick in the frequency of their visits since the beginning of the economic crisis.