Now that I’m a full-time doctoral student, I’ve been allocated my very own desk space in a shared office. This is such bliss! It gives me a place that I can display visual resources (concept maps, whiteboard to-do lists, a 2015 planner, and so on), and a shelf for all my books (set up in descending order of size – it’s a beautiful thing). Not to mention that I have a filing drawer for my lunch box, a plastic container with cutlery, teabags, corn crackers and a little jar of Vegemite. And my own tea towel. Oh, and (joy of joys) a lockable filing cabinet. I can lock stuff up and leave, at the end of the day, and not have to lug everything home and back again like I did last year.
It also provides me with office buddies. At the moment there are 9 of us sharing the room, plus one in an adjoining room, at different stages of our candidature from newly-arrived to almost-submitting. I know this can be problematic in some shared offices, but we all seem to get on really well – very quiet and hardworking, we are. People take phone calls out of the room. We say hello on arrival, and goodbye on departure, and apart from that, conversation and distractions are relatively minimal without being unfriendly.
Which brings me to the Rapunzel Factor. One of the big risks of doctoral studies, particularly for those of us who are researching alone rather than in research teams, is isolation. Social isolation, peer isolation, academic isolation. Even when we’re together, we can be isolated by our own research focus. We sit there crouched over our laptop screens, ruining our eyes, backs, cardiovascular systems and social lives…all in the name of academia.
So the nine of us decided that it was time to go out together for lunch. I take no credit for this apart from being encouraging of others who mentioned the possibility. One of the recently-arrived students eventually showed more initiative and organisational ability than the rest of us, and put up a sign on the door, the eventual result of which was that, recently, all but two of us were on campus at the same time and off we went.
Over lunch, we were able to chat about things related to our studies, and things related to life Beyond the Ivory Tower. We started to get to know each other – countries and languages of origin (diverse), professional experiences, views about current affairs.
We’ve decided that this was such an enjoyable experience it will become a regular Thing. We still work hard, and mostly in communal silence, but the dynamic of the room has changed. I think we’ve started to consider ourselves as colleagues, which is a more active relationship than the passive one we had before. On the surface, nothing much has changed, but there’s an extra warmth when we greet each other now. I believe next time, we’re going to a Thai restaurant…I’m looking forward to that.