Friday, August 8, 2008

Coffee Maker

Yesterday, I finally ordered a coffee maker for my office. Officially, I have been in my office for 3 days now, but unofficially, I have been in my office for a couple months - I was spending 1-2 days a week here.

I had hoped to wait to bring/order things for my office until my new office furniture arrived, but that just became a non-starter for the coffee maker. I probably will wait to bring my books here (though my office looks really bare and I'm lonely) and things to hang on the wall and something for the floor.

Just to back up a little bit and clarify, I'm not sitting on the floor now. There is furniture in the office, but it is circa 1975. Literally. I was told that it was in the office (used) when the previous professor took the office, which was in the '80s. I'm sure it was in better condition at that point (ie he didn't need a tetanus shot).

My desk chair has already arrived, but pieces like the actually desk (U shaped), small round table, visitors' chairs, etc haven't. Everything was ordered in mid-June, and originally was supposed to arrive in late-July (apparently custom furniture takes a long time - the same time frame as it takes to build my entire labs!). But it is now delayed for some unknown reason - I'm checking into it right now.

Simultaneously, I have tried the coffee (several times) at every coffee shop on campus, only to discover that they, not unlike other college campuses, burn their coffee. I have extensive data on this, and I really can't take another cup of exceedingly burnt coffee - I've even tried putting in a lot of milk to cover up the taste. It doesn't work. And I'm not that picky, but if I pay over $2 for a cup of coffee, I want it to taste good, or at least not horrible. Therefore, I have been forced to go to off-campus coffee shops (where I have found a plethora of students and most of the professors as well). However, the coffee there is even more expensive.

[As a side note, at my previous institution, there was a coffee machine in the department. It required that you provide your own beans - it had a built-in grinder - but the coffee was awesome. There is no such machine here. I have found a couple of the "pod" machines in other buildings. You provide your own pod, and each pod costs around $1.25, I think. However, with the quantity of coffee that I drink, the pods will get expensive. And I'm pretty sure that the departments wouldn't be happy with my using their machine excessively.]

The reason this is becoming a problem is that I really prefer to not spend more than ~$7/day on food - maybe this is a holdover from my grad school days when I was broke (although at that point it was ~$5/day, so I have increased the amount) or maybe I'm just stingy. But in any case, because I have to pay for coffee, this means that I essentially have to choose between coffee and food - and coffee is winning out, which isn't good as far as general nutrition goes.

I realize this is my own personal, self-imposed financial restriction, but I think it is actually a good one, so I don't really see any reason to lift it. It also allows me to splurge and take my research group out to dinner once a month, which I think is in everyone's best interest. Researchers and research groups which do things outside of the lab are more "mentally stable" which makes them more creative which improves their research which makes them happier - and thus the cycle feeds on itself. This was in a report I just read.

Therefore, I bought a coffee maker to solve this problem. It shipped yesterday. I'm really hoping it arrives today - but I think that may be overly optimistic. I'm guessing it will arrive on Monday. With my school's extremely slow internal delivery system, that means it will make it to me by Tuesday afternoon, which is still great. I could have an entire pot of non-burnt coffee, in my office, on Tuesday.

I realize this seems like a trivial accomplishment, but I'm really excited.

The next coffee-related decision is whether I should provide a coffee maker (or other caffeine delivery system, such as a fridge with soft-drinks) for the lab. I have heard many arguments for and against this. I have heard that many students feel that when their advisers put caffeine in the lab, they interpret it as their advisers are expecting them to stay up all night or not take "coffee breaks", etc. However, I have also heard that students appreciate it because it helps reduce the cost of such breaks (like I appreciated it).

When I asked my students if they wanted anything for the lab, they said they wanted a microwave, which gives me the impression, they might want a coffee maker and/or a fridge (and just not know it yet).

Any thoughts?


Candid Engineer said...

First, I would find the report about group events outside of the lab to be interesting- any chance that it's online?

Second, your students probably want a coffee maker and just don't know it. No one is saying that they have to use the lab coffee maker if they'd really prefer to take a break and go for a walk to find some. They will also definitely want a refrigerator.

I know a little bit about wants and needs like this because in my current lab, I have none of these things. And yes, it makes me want to hurt someone.

Anonymous said...

My old lab abused the coffee, fridge, microwave rights when they a) refused to wash their cups which would sit out, anywhere and everywhere, and develop new orders of life b) the microwave walls were caked with exploding food items left in way too long and never cleaned up and 3) new orders of life growing on expired food, plastic containers, and pizza boxes in the fridge.
Lessons learned:
1) students can easily buy their own coffee machines (for like 20 bucks) for their desks and they can keep their mugs there too
2) nothing (and I mean nothing) stays in the fridge overnight.
3) nothing goes in microwave uncovered, ever ever ever.
Lay out the Rules with a sign near the appliances:
1) if something stinks at someone's desk, anyone has the right to throw it out
2) if something stinks in the fridge or remains unclaimed for 2 days (48 hours), anyone has the right (and should) throw it out
3) supply plastic wrap and keep it on top of the microwave at all times (chain it to the wall if you have to)
4) the repeat offender will get their picture (an ugly one) blown up and put near the appliances like a poster stating the rules. I promise only one person will be stupid to test you on this, and there will be only 1 hideous poster explaining the rules.

And it would be great if you have money to buy a cabinet where people can put things like canned items, tea packets, snack bars, etc where they can label their stuff or have their own shelf.

You will find that having food around will get people to socialize more, feel like their space is homey-er, and they are more likely to stick around later to get stuff done.

Good luck getting setup!

AsstFemaleProf said...

CE: the report was included in a book published by IEEE about how to be a good professor. It covered issues about mentoring, teaching and advising. I forget the exact title - my postdoc advisor lent it to me.