Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Praise Of My Cubicle

by Emily May Anderson

When I visited Penn State in March, some of the MFAs gave us an unofficial tour of the Burrowes Building, home of the English Department. They showed us some of the seminar rooms where we’d have classes, the library of lit mags and previous student theses, the big poster listing all the student publications, and they showed us the GTA offices. All the MFAs have their offices in a large basement room divided into shared cubicles. It’s fluorescently lit, cluttered, and feels like…well, cubicles in a basement.

I was a little put off. My disappointment was probably because I had the good fortune to be an undergrad a couple of years after the English Department had moved into a brand new building and the grad students at BG had real offices – two (or maybe three) people might share a room, a real room with a door, and they’d each have a desk – on the 3rd or 4th floor, with windows. Those little basement cubes were just depressing!

At the beginning of this semester, it was a little bit annoying to have to schedule my time in the office in cooperation with my cube-mate; there’s only one desk and one computer so we can’t both be in there at the same time. And the temperature regulation in the basement is not the best; it tends to be hot, so people open windows, so then it gets cold. I’ve learned to leave a sweater in my cabinet.

In spite of the fun that I’ve had here in State College, I’ve still felt pretty isolated, particularly during the week. My “previous life” in Columbus was very social: I had a lot of friends, I might go to trivia on a Monday, karaoke on a Wednesday, or just meet someone for coffee or a drink or dinner any day of the week. I seldom went more than a couple days without some sort of social interaction. And here it’s not like that. We are all buried in our work during the week (some people stay buried on weekends) and I might talk to the people in my classes, I might talk to my roommate for 5 minutes here and there, but then I go home and work.

Enter my cubicle. For a few different reasons, I ended up spending more time in my cube this week, and I realized that I would not want a separate office somewhere. I really like seeing people walk by; sometimes they just wave and say “Hi, how are you?” and a few times this week I actually had real conversations with some of my fellow students. It was nice! Just taking a few minutes out of the work day to chat with someone was surprisingly refreshing, and I realized that I love my cubicle. I would imagine the set-up was just designed because of the lack of available space, but it functions to foster community and to help people feel connected to each other.

So, do you have your own office? Do you have a cubicle? Do you feel like you get enough social interaction during the week? Etc?


  1. No office, no cubicle. I'm studying in the library with the undergrads, dragging a heavy backpack and my own computer around with me. I'm jealous of your cubicle.

  2. I, too, covet thine cubicle. I don't have a use for an office though, not teaching yet. There is an MFA lounge though with a nice view and room for about 4-5 people in it. I went in there once and chatted for a little bit.

  3. I guess it's a perk of teaching, but it is definitely nice to have that common area. A lounge sounds cool too. I haven't found anything like that.

  4. I don't have an office. Like JayTee said, I don't have a need for one. I do work in the English dept. though, which is really nice. Not only do I meet the faculty members who will have some say in giving me a TA or lectureship in the future, but I get to see how things work in the department. I'm in a high traffic office, so I get to see a lot of my classmates go in and out.

    The TAs have a shared office with cubicles, and I'll admit, I am quite excited about the day I might get to use one! (I guess in a sick way I've always wanted to experience a cubicle, haha.)

  5. My problem is sort of the opposite. From 6:45 am to about 9:00 am I can be in my office alone, but after that, the 6 other people who come in (we all have our own desks but share 2 computers and bring our own) are too much fun to talk to. They are so smart and interesting, and we sit and talk politics, social issues, religion, lesson plans, literature — an hour and a half later I'm looking at the task I'd intended to get done and thinking I need to go to the library where there are less interesting people...

    Just got back from a Graduate Instructor party at the head of the writing department's home; his wife is head of the American Studies program, and the entire English faculty was there. We all pulled ourselves away in respect of the early bedtimes most of these early morning writers keep.

    Lots of social interaction. Lots of mind-expanding conversations. A little too much of this. But, I feel like I have a ton of new friends, and I feel there is no negative feelings or overly competitive interactions between any students. It helps that our faculty is pretty well committed to anti-rat-race approaches to everything.

  6. John - I can see how that many interesting people would be distracting. It can definitely get loud and distracting in the office right before and after classes (so around noon, or around 3:00) but other than that, it's not bad. I'm glad you're having a good social experience, as well as a good intellectual one! I've wondered how that works at schools where most students live farther away and just come to campus for classes.

  7. Haha, lament not, Emily . . . it can get a whole lot worse. I work ALONE in a branch office for my 9-to-5 job - which means plenty of time and privacy to write if my tasking is light, but it's still rather a dull arrangement. And I live and work in my parents' finished basement. My bedroom/studio is luxuriously spacious and I've done a fair job of decorating it . . . but it's still a space in my parents' basement. My best friend and visual collaborator is a waiter, so we're lucky if we can see each other once a week. Twice a month I visit friends in the DC metro area, which is an hour away in the least of traffic. My interaction with my friends from my MFA residency is generally limited to e-mails. And I have become a whole new level of familiar with my webcam over the past few months . . . My sense of humor gets me through!

  8. when i had a 9-5 job i didn't mind my cubicle too much, except when certain people who lacked "cube etiquette" would come up and just walk into your cube when you were hunched over working.

    but then again, we also had a system for that person where someone else would wait like 5 minutes and then call you , at which point the annoying person would walk away to find their next victim :)

  9. I have a communal office that I share with all the GAs and some part time faculty. I share my desk with someone who I never see (he comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I've got Mondays and Wednesdays claimed). It is cubicle-esque, but less cubey. I have a spot in the corner near the window, and I like it. Students don't see me when they walk in, but surprisingly that hasn't scared them off!

    I would love if we devoted another posts to pictures we took of our office/desk/cubicles. That would give me an excuse to finally decorate.

  10. Rachel - that is a brilliant idea! My cube-mate and I were just talking today about how we really should decorate.


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