I have exhausted the number of places on the Rice campus in which I can expect to productively accomplish any given task. My personal room? Too risky at late hours – things like blankets beckon. Our suite’s common room? Too lush, too classy – good for mindless tasks, including all things involving spreadsheets (BIOE 444, anyone?), that can also be accomplished with wine as an accomplice. Martel commons? Perhaps once upon a time, before it became better suited to hurried lunches and dancing on tables and lots of yelling. Fondren? You’re joking – if sophomore year didn’t ruin that for you, you either weren’t there enough, not hooking up in the stacks, and/or doing something wrong.
So I retreated to the barest block of campus, and became hopelessly enamored. Basic definition: what makes for an effective work space? As far as I’m concerned, the relevant factors can be broken down into several categories, which I’ll describe as follows because, fuck it, it’s 3 a.m. and I love OEDK.
1. It makes you want to work
I am writing this at desk 2D. Should I get up and wander 20 feet, I could play with:
- A slow-drip IV that operates using mass balance
- A salad spinner fitted with centrifuge tube inserts
- An infant pulmonary assist device that operates using water pressure
- A huge $7,000 check won by some team last year at the national ASME competition
- 3 different neonatal incubators
Every single one of those things makes me want to be better – to spend absurd hours creating things on par with what twentyyearoldswhcouldhavebeendrinking have created. More so than this – an inspirational setup – the building itself is raw and spare, uncomfortable. Lights go off when you stop moving. You don’t sleep here. You stay up all fucking night and fiddle and perfect and learn to work for yourself and don’t fucking quit. I napped in the golfcart once last semester, but they’ve since gotten rid of it.
2. It makes you better at working
There is free coffee, so long as you’re one of those people capable of doing dishes. I can reserve a conference room, write on the walls, hook up my music to the room’s speakers and set the display to respond in tune. Did you miss the walls part? Just checking – it’s a real thing. The best is when you’re in the zone and your friends wander past and leave you messages, written on the (glass fishbowl) outside in reverse. That’s part of the point, though – have your privacy within purpose and reason (noise considerations, etc), but don’t fuck around. Instead, we encourage productive distractions in keeping with the larger mission of the space.
Prime example: the magazine rack. I may be the only person who uses these, but particularly when ChromeNanny is up and running, a 20 minute break is fantastically spent flipping through Wired or The Economist or The New Yorker or Foreign Affairs. The mere fact that some of these selections are even available here means the world to me – they imply a larger field of impact for the more tedious aspects of engineering work.
3. It provides a supportive community
I’m watching freshmen play with linked sections of PVC pipes and I honestly have no idea what the fuck they could possibly be doing. A team I bonded with over 4 a.m. coffee sharing is working on a presentation in the computer lab behind me. My orientation week co-advisor spent five nights last week working in the computer lab and I forcibly introduced myself to everyone on his team and two others, and the two BIOEs from my year I didn’t know, and that guy who looked lonely. I hate using “networking”, child of more toolish departments, as the applicable term here. If I see someone making something cool and I don’t know what it is, this is the place to ask – while the doing is happening, while ideas can be exchanged, while they look like they need a break.
Just talked to freshmenz. They’re working out the joint structure for a Strandbeast. YES, absolutely. Perfect.