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Friday, August 12, 2016

Grad School: It Ain't Glamorous!

The view from my window. Note the missing
screen, providing an unobstructed view of this
cement wonderland and a point of
ingress for inquisitive squirrels.
I spend about 20 hours a week in my office on the university campus. Located in the underbelly of the football stadium, the student offices for my department come with all the amenities one would expect from the underbelly of a stadium built in 1921 that routinely hosts crowds of over 100,000 people: mice, cockroaches, and asbestos warnings. It may not be pretty, but it certainly has plenty of character.

I share my office with up to 3 other people at any given time, so carving out a personalized spot is key for keeping one's sanity. There isn't much I can do about the dried-blood colored cinderblock walls, teal trim, fluorescent lighting, 1980s industrial furniture, or my wonderful office mate's views on "office organization," but I am working on making the most of the space.

Seriously, Tyler. What is this??

My little corner of paradise may not look like much, but it happens to be the premium desk space in the office. Seniority has its perks. It boasts both a radiator and a window, its own private filing cabinet, an easily accessible wall outlet, and is on the opposite side of the room from the pipe with the asbestos warning.

I consider myself a very lucky girl.

The lack of color coordination borders
on the perverse. I admit the red
microwave was my doing, though. 
A new building is being constructed for our department, but for decades we have been housed beneath the football stadium. Ergo, for decades the student offices have collected hand-me-down items left behind by former graduate students. In my office, dorm room-esque decor left behind by a 2014 graduate furnishes a reading nook while various office mates have contributed to a kitchen area complete with microwave, mini-fridge, electric teakettle, and no less than 2 coffee makers.

As a side note:
In my 3 years here, it has become clear that there are 3 types of office mates: those who leave useful items behind (like our reading nook furniture and books), those who leave their crap behind (like old exams and half-eaten tins of peanuts), and those who take everything with them. A 2015 graduate even took the lightbulbs from the lamp by her desk, which is a level of thriftiness that deserves respect. Don't be a #2, folks.

When spending so much time in such an unappealing space, keeping up morale is key. For me, this means surrounding myself with pithy humor and reminders of all the cool fieldwork I get to do.

This doesn't cancel out the threat of industrial-sized cockroaches dropping from the ceiling, finding a mouse infestation in your desk drawer, or returning from the bathroom to find a squirrel perched on the radiator (all of which has happened to me) but it helps remind me why I put up with all that. And think of all the character I'm building!

Original art, photos, and souvenirs from fieldwork and travel around the world are mixed with family memorabilia. The handwoven blanket that covers my filing cabinet belonged to my grandmother.

As I write this post it occurs to my that I really need a potted plant here. Some sign of life that can't be classified as "vermin."

The Far Side comic that my mother sent me on my 19th birthday my first year of college is one of my most prized possessions. It has taken pride of place in every office space I've had since. I may study post-conflict zones rather than ancient Egypt now, but the sentiment still applies!

A sign with dark humor and a series of original  3-D art pieces found in a downtown Kansas City art gallery add visual and textural interest without competing with the -- let's call it "strong" -- wall color.

My point here is that sometimes carving out a tolerable, personalized haven in a less-than desirable space is enough to make that space enjoyable. In the case of my office, I think its crappiness ends up being part of its appeal. This funky, filthy, eclectic, shared space filled with hand-me-downs is a reminder that graduate school is still "college." I am grateful for this opportunity to continue my education and I know I'll look back at this time in my life with great nostalgia. I might even miss the stadium when we move into our shiny new building next year.


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