The Plight of the Post-Doc


Write place, wrong time*

Already posted this over on LabSpaces, but y'all seem to keep stopping by here, so I'll oblige!

Yesterday was my first day back to the gym after my vacation, aka Lobster Week (like Shark Week, but with eating them!), and boy did it bring the pain. Not just because my Ass & Abs class (yes, it is actually called that) teacher is completely evil--it was so crowded! We were packed in like sardines and I had to use the yucky weights that make your hands smell all metally. Blech. As I was wondering why the class had seemingly doubled in size since the last time I was there, it hit me--the undergrads were back.

Now, don't get me wrong--undergrads are adorable. I hope to teach them someday! But what what their return signifies, other than the end of summer and less room to bust out my moves in hip-hop dance class, is the loss of my favorite writing spot. I wrote two grants and one paper this summer, and I did my best work in the evenings from a bustling coffee shop near one of New York's fine institutions. In the summer it's by no means empty--in fact, it's the quick pace and energy that I think keeps me alert and engaged with what I'm doing. But during the school year this place is an absolute zoo. People in every nook and cranny, on each other's laps, garbage piling up...we're talking fire code violations, here. And as a wise poet once said, I can't go for that (no can do).

Everyone has different environments in which they like to write. Some need complete isolation and quiet, so they lock themselves in their offices with some food rations, a gallon of coffee, and a roll of duct tape (hey, you never know), emerging a week later with a full beard and polished manuscript. Others might see writing as an opportunity to stay at home and not get dressed. Liberating, isn't it?

Well. I don't have an office. I have a desk in one of those giant lab spaces (hey!!!) with bay after bay of bench-desk combos. And while I love all the camaraderie and whatnot that goes along with being able to talk to my lab mates even if they are 25 feet away, I cannot get any real writing done there. It is impossible, because there is just too much 
fun being hadinteractive science going on. I do sometimes work from home if I don't have anything I absolutely need to do in lab, but it's not always that productive--the cats are all over my papers, I get distracted by things that need cleaning, and I spend way too much time playing Are You Lunch?

I like coffee shops. I wrote my entire thesis in a coffee shop in my grad school town, and it was awesome. Every day for an entire month I did nothing but drink coffee, eat bagels and cookies (I have yet to meet the person whose thesis-writing experience was not a complete carb-fest), and write. When I go to a coffee shop to write, I am not distracted, because that's the coffee shop's sole purpose. Places like lab or my apartment have lots of other purposes, which makes it hard to focus. But when I'm in my favorite coffee shop, my brain is like, 
OK, this is why we're here, and I totally lock in.

Between job applications, another grant, and probably a paper revision (it's currently under review), I have lots of writing to do in the coming months. So I have to find a new favorite coffee shop, boo. You'd be surprised how hard it is in NYC to find the perfect combination of good coffee, free wi-fi, decent music, and ample tables for working, so if my readers have any suggestions, by all means hit those comments! In the meantime, I'm working from home today, and it's almost time for Are You Lunch?

*As you might imagine, I thought long and hard about which write/right pun I'd use for the title of this post. I could have gone with the obvious, "The Write Stuff," or "The Write Moves," or abandoned that and gone with a more highbrow reference to "A Room of One's Own." In the end, "Write place, wrong time" seemed to fit the best, as I'm discussing how it is the WRONG TIME of the year to WRITE in my favorite PLACE.


expat postdoc said...

I always wear headphones. This Swedish company sells really nice and stylish sets.

Dr. Koshary said...

I know exactly what you mean! I became a connoisseur of coffeeshops all over DOU-Town while working on my dissertation: whose wi-fi was strongest, whose coffee tasted best, whose coffee was too expensive to bother with, whose food was most attractive as writing fuel, whose workspaces were best lit, most comfortable, whose patrons were similarly quiet and work-obsessed like me, etc. Nothing ever did for me 100% of the time, but I developed a small repertoire of workhouse cafés.

I'm a little apprehensive about conducting a similar survey in Hometown, now that I'm here for a spell, but I can only do so much in my dad's house on the couch. (And just try stretching the computer cord to an outlet from that damn couch!) I may respond with a mournful post on the subject in a few weeks' time.

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