Better Grad Student

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Be a Better Officemate

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Sharing an office while in grad school is an inevitable fact. Unless you are one of the few that has an office to themselves, or no one else in your lab, then you will be spending a lot of your time in an environment with other people. Close quarters with anybody can become a frustrating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. A little respect and courtesy will go a long way towards making your office space a healthy and successful atmosphere.

For about a year, I was lucky enough to have my own office. A professor had recently retired and the shared office that I was eventually to work in wasn’t completed. I could be (almost) as loud as I wanted, I wasn’t concerned with my mess, and I was basically able to be self-centered in my space. That all changed when my lab and another professor’s lab started sharing a large office space. Suddenly there were 10 times as many people in my space than before. I quickly learned the basics of inter-personal etiquette and I have formulated what I believe should be the minimum amount of effort required to share an office with others.

The first thing to remember is that these people you work beside are in fact people. They all have their own unique likes, dislikes, and quirks. Everybody else is working just as hard as you and that needs to be respected. Keep in mind that you are not the center of the universe and, following that logic, you are not the center of the office. It is a shared space and you need to respect the people around you. With that said, here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you go to the office.

Check the Volume

Auditory acuity increases when the environment you’re in is quiet. Your shared office shouldn’t be a library, but it’s also not your living room. Be respectful of the quiet in the office. Use headphones when you’re listening to music. Don’t carry on extended conversations in the office. Be sure to step outside when you take a phone call. Also, be aware of what you physically do at your desk. Ask yourself if the noises you may be making at your desk could be lowered or eliminated. Do you talk to yourself? Are you a loud typer? Do you sigh very heavily?  Be honest with yourself and consider whether you’re being respectful of your fellow coworkers.

Control the Mess

Managing your stuff is essential to maintaining sanity in the work place. Especially in a shared environment, you need to make sure that your personal belongings aren’t in anybody else’s way. Part of this requires knowing what space is actually yours. My office has desks that sort of wrap around so that two people share one long surface. The centerline of the desk divides the area in half and everybody respects this boundary. In addition to your desk space, be aware of the space around your desk. Don’t leave stuff on the floor that others can trip on and, like your mother always said, push in your chair when you leave. Basically, clean up after yourself and respect the boundaries.

Mind the Focus

You’ll spend a ton of time in grad school thinking. I’d estimate about 95% of the thinking occurs in the office that you share with other people. At some point, you’re going to be in deep thought and I can guarantee that somebody will interrupt that thought process. It can be a frustrating experience to be working hard on something only to have your focus broken. Be sure to take a moment before you interrupt your coworker to see if they are deep in thought. The presence of headphones can be a big indicator of their concentration. If they’re watching a hilarious video on youtube, then they’re probably not concentrating very hard and it’s cool to interrupt. But if they appear to be working hard, then take a moment and determine whether this intrusion on their time is really worth it. Your time is one of the most precious things you have, and so to get other people to respect your time, you must start respecting other people’s time first.

In my experience, and in talking with others, I have found these three things to be people’s biggest annoyances. All of these etiquette tips can really be summed up into the golden rule: Do to others as you would want done to you. If you find a habit of someone’s to be annoying, then make sure you’re not being annoying yourself before you go complaining or making a fuss. If everybody respects each others time and space, then your work environment will be conducive to success no matter the number of people.


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Written by Taylor M.

February 9, 2011 at 10:13 am

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