Friday, August 1, 2008

Space, the final frontier

No, I'm not referring to the region that contains Mars and Jupiter, though I did finally watch In the shadow of the Moon last night, which is really good, if you haven't seen it. I'm referring to lab space, or lack there of. And the constant battle for it. Older professors always want "more". Younger professors just want "some". And there is never enough to go around.

Then someone retires, and there is suddenly some open space, and everyone turns into squatters. I'm pretty sure if it worked how land rights did in the "Wild West", I would see professors sending grad students into empty labs with sleeping bags. (The professors wouldn't squat themselves).

Similar, but more vicious, battles happen over new lab space in new buildings. And, as that involves a lot of space, those battles are more like world wars between departments.

Right now, in my department, both types of battles are occurring - buildings being built and people retiring. Not this year or next, but a couple years down the road. But the fighting has already started. Which is actually kind of funny, if you have the presence of mind to take a step back. What this really means is that while right now, space is really, really tight, in a couple years, we will all be floating.

But everyone is fighting over everything - meaning, each professor is fighting for each space, so to an outsider, it looks like every professor wants everything. When really they are all just panicking that they won't get anything - which won't happen, the chair is a pretty level headed guy. If everyone just sat down, wrote down a list of what properties they needed in a lab (low vibration vs. fume hoods vs. high voltage vs. etc), this could probably be solved by a computer program, instead of a playground brawl.

But, apparently, the more degrees you get, the less rational you become. Or maybe you just become more greedy. In any case, I know I'll get more space. The chair has said so. Every month or so, I re-iterate my concern, but he seems confident it won't be a problem, which makes sense as the sqftage of the dept is almost doubling. And he makes the final call anyway.

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