The key to my new student office finally arrived in the mailbox. On my first day as a graduate student of the linguistics program, I found my way to the office, and stood outside the door for a minute before opening it. I had never had an office of my own before. What would the office look like? What would it be like to share the office with other grad students? Having become so used to working by myself, at home or in the library, would I be able to fit in with the others?
Two hundred episodes of “How I Met My Mean Colleague” ran through my head. “Okay Sherry, this is just anxiety. You’ll get over it. Let’s do this.”
I opened the door, and there it was: the polished desks organized in a circle, a cozy couch in the corner, and a huge double-sided writing board. I got to claim my own spot near the window, pour myself a cup of tea, and enjoy a stunning view from the 9th floor of the Stata Center, home to the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.
Obviously, I was in the honeymoon period. But now, after having occupied the office for a few months, I have much more to say about what it is really like to share an office with other grad students.
The bad: the party doesn’t stop
While I certainly enjoy having rewarding discussions and debates with my colleagues, sometimes I wonder if I just moved into the middle of a party that goes on even when I am trying to sleep.
This can be particularly challenging or frustrating when I am trying to get some writing done, or if I am working toward a deadline. But when I think about it, this is really in the “lease” that I signed. Part of the grad school experience – and perhaps the most important part – is exchanging ideas with colleagues. And that is exactly what grad student offices are best at, a crucial aspect that differs from studying in the libraries as an undergrad. Also, it occurred to me that sometimes I might be the one who is having a conversation when others are trying to focus on their work. A bit of mutual understanding goes a long way.
Of course, when I really struggle to work in a noisy environment, there is always a quick fix to the problem: put on my headphones, and play some soft music in the background. Spotify and YouTube don’t have to be the counterproductive in the workplace.
The good: make it your own
One thing I absolutely love about being in an office is that I have my own workspace. There is no pressure to get up at 5AM in order to secure a spot in the library during exam time; I know that somewhere on this campus, there is a little corner that belongs to me.
And now that I am spending most (but hopefully not all) of my time in the office, I have really tried to make it my own. True, I didn’t get to decide the color of the curtain or the texture of the carpet; the “grown-ups” in the house, i.e. the Administrative Officer, will make that call. But grad students are still entitled to do whatever they want with the desk and the drawer: an airplant terrarium, a vintage perpetual calendar, a souvenir from last year’s trip to Europe, or some goodbye gifts from friends and family back home. Bring some plants to make the place look more lively. Who doesn’t enjoy coming to work when surrounded by delightful memories?
The low: listen to me everyone
Working in a group takes skills. Deciding which analysis technique to use can be as hard as deciding where to go for a family vacation, and trust me, the negotiation process is no less exhausting and time-consuming. Everyone has their own opinions: some want to go south, and others want to go north. How should we work toward the same goal in an efficient way?
It takes time to grow as a team, and during this process, bickering and conflicts are unavoidable, especially when we are still getting to know each other. But as the cliché goes, communication is everything: be direct, and know that we are all just trying to get to the bottom of the question here. And since sometimes we all get a little lost in the discussions, I find it helpful to set up a clear agenda before each group discussion, and to have someone oversee if we are actually making good progress.
The ultimate high: from colleagues to friends
We are all from very different backgrounds, but here we are today, coming together and sitting around a table to talk about what interests all of us. We share an office because we share a passion for the same field of study. We spend hours and hours working in the office, but we also go out for dinners and karaoke together. Being in the office means we can’t help but share some important moments of each other’s life, and it is through these moments that we bond.
Grad school can be a bumpy journey. But my colleagues, the people that I share an office with, are the ones that are there for me during the rough times. That, I think, is the best thing about being in a student office.
So on the bright side of the story, the pilot episode of “How I Met My Mean Colleague” never got to be aired. Together with my colleagues, I moved into our wonderful student office, a place that I now call home.