My spring break was uneventful, as I ended up spending most of my time in a place where I spend the majority of my time when school is in session: the English Undergraduate Office.
I’ve worked as an undergraduate advisor for English majors since the beginning of my first year at UMD, so the space is familiar to me, and the many other advisors whose offices are housed there. These offices are bit nicer than your typical graduate student offices; they come complete with windows, bookshelves, a desktop like any good office should, but most importantly, they are personal, not shared. This allows for every advisor the chance to characterize their space in a way TAs can only dream of.
Or for a different perspective, my colleague Michelle’s (English PhD candidate) office is decidedly better lit and more colorful:
However, as GAs in an office, we are prohibited from doing too much personalizing, especially if that involves paint, glue, hammers, and furniture. The only representation of much physical change that has occurred to this office is a lone hook for hanging pictures. Oh, and Charity’s owl streamer. Thus, much of the way that the spaces change are impermanent. Posters, marker boards, tchotchkes, and books. Lots of books:
It is of course natural that books would be plentiful in the offices of English graduate students, but some of the books I have amassed have a sort of lineage to them. When one of my former coworkers decided to leave the advising office and leave graduate school, the books she had stored in her office were moved to mine, bequeathed to me since she figured I could use a set of Henry James novels and early American texts (she was an Americanist).
The strange thing about these books is that I have never actually used them. They have never left the office, and while I suppose I am happy to have them, they have a fine layer dust from never being touched. They are more remnants than books at this point. More of a remnant however, is a copy of Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year that was in the office when I moved in. This book belonged to another coworker who graduated from the MFA program last year, and who inhabited the office before I did in July. Apparently, this particularly book was either forgotten or left for me, but rested on the bookshelf of my office for a year before it was mine, and so it remains there.
As objects, these books represent something about who placed them there. For the set I inherited, they were books important at one time for a dissertation project or for teaching, and for the Coetzee, it might have been assigned for a class, or inspiration for the thesis. I primarily have inferences based on the person who owned them and why I got them, but at least for this period in their existence, the books have been relegated to their lot on the shelf of an office as immovable fixtures as desk it sometimes seems (yes, I suppose I could read them for once).
This place is interesting to me not just because it is my office, but because it is heavily trafficked. During registration time, every English major is required to pass through this office and speak with an advisor. Thus, the way our offices are organized and arranged is affected by this. For example, my tradition for undergraduates is filling in a marker board comic every semester with a little English major humor. The kids love it, I assure you. The expected traffic, however, means that these offices occupy what seems to be a liminal space between a private place and a public one. It should be inviting, but also is locked when I’m away, only accessible via appointment, and a quiet space on weekends for serious academic work. But the anticipation of what undergraduates will think certainly plays a role in setting the mood for the space (and validates the importance of well-stocked, if not ignored bookshelf).
For my QR code, finding a place to put it was easy, but to make it a bit more public than the one sitting above my desk I decided to place it conspicuously on my door: If it should be seen and provoke curiosity, then the door of my office is a perfect place. That is after all the reason everyone tapes posters to their doors, is it not? And with a portion of approximately 700 undergraduates coming through this door, I can ensure its visibility.