When I think back to my own PhD research, one of the nicest things about it was sharing the ups and downs with my office mates who were doing their PhD as well. Your first publication, a tough conversation with your supervisors or an incomprehensible question from the Medical Ethics Review Committee: it all got discussed and processed in the safe togetherness of my PhD room.
And of course, now and then somebody left after defending their PhD thesis and then a new colleague was welcomed and gradually initiated by the more experienced PhD students in the room into the ins and outs of the Training and Supervision Plan, the research proposal and the joys of lecturing.
Nowadays I share an office with people who are at a different stage of their careers, but luckily, the conversations are very similar: an incomprehensible question from your professor, your first grant or a tough conversation with one of the PhD students you supervise: your colleagues are your sounding board and the first touchstone to check whether you’ve gone mad or the world has.
Colleagues are your first touchstone to check if you’ve gone mad or the world has
In short, your colleagues, especially your immediate peers in the form of office mates, are an incredibly important factor in your job satisfaction. Interaction was precisely what most people missed while working from home during the Covid pandemic. A terrible email in your inbox is instantly less terrible when your colleague responds to your snivelling with, ‘what’s up?’
This is part of the reason why I just don’t get why the newly announced ‘accommodation plan’ of my group, the Agrotechnology & Food Sciences Group, is based on flexible workstations, a euphemism for depriving yourself of a fixed spot, permanent office mates and the pleasure and convenience of leaving a paper on your desk at the end of the working day. I get that the world has changed since Covid, buildings are expensive and people are working from home more. But come on! Looking for a spot every day, no longer being able to look at your old conference poster on the wall, and no longer knowing where everyone is sitting? That’s a very drastic change and I haven’t heard anyone have a good word to say about it. Let office mates make their own schedules and solve a problem themselves if there is one, but don’t just deprive them of their rooms.
Guido Camps (38) is a vet and a researcher at Human Nutrition and OnePlanet. He enjoys baking, beekeeping and unusual animals.