Here at Gradifying, our grad student writers know the importance of having a space of their own to get work done, far away from distractions but also an inspiring and reassuring space. The writers have decided to let you into their homes and give you a peek at their own spaces, letting you know what we find important in terms of getting some solid work done.
Eruani’s Fluid Work Space
Welcome to my favorite reading spot! I like to start my day by reading articles and making notes. My regular reading spot is the comfy sofa in my living room. I usually read with my lap desk, while enjoying a cup of my favorite coffee. Sometimes, I turn my adjustable coffee table into a writing desk. My reading spot faces a large window and a sliding door that opens out to the deck. This spot gets a lot of light in the morning, which makes it perfect for reading.
Overall, my work space is fluid. Later during the day, when I need to tackle non-reading tasks, I move to my home office. I have a large office desk with multiple screens – very similar to Umair’s and Isabel’s work space (read below). Other than the sofa and home office, I am known to set-up shop at the dining table (where I am writing this post). I also remember finishing a conference paper out on the deck. About once a week, I pack up my laptop and find a nice spot at a Tim Hortons or Starbucks. When I need to be on campus, my go-to place is the work area at the back of the first floor of Stauffer Library. I’m the type of person who gets into a rabbit hole with one task. Moving around helps me shift my focus and gets me ready for the next item on my to-do list.
Grace’s Silent Study Escape
It was unnerving when one of the bloggers came up with the idea of this post. I wasn’t sure how I would contribute as there isn’t anything particularly extraordinary or cool about my study space. It is really as simple as it can get. I am easily distracted so I keep it minimalistic. I feel any useless clutter drains energy. I try to prioritize and only have books or material out on the desk that are needed at the moment with everything else out of sight. I like to mentally visualize the content I read and build a mental story as I go, which helps me absorb the material better. So nothingness around me makes visualization easier.
I like to have my desk set up right against the window. The influx of natural light makes me more alert and productive and puts less strain on the eyes. Proximity to the window also allows me to enjoy and observe nature when studying, which can at times be amusing and de-stressing. As I write this post, I can hear the raindrops and smell the comforting breeze coming through the window. I also often see the antics of a little hooligan, a squirrel. There is always a plant or two on my desk, surrounded by my small collection of rocks ranging from exotic Icelandic lava to one from my backyard with a colourful layered design. These natural elements in my study space create a comforting and rejuvenating atmosphere.
The hood of my hoodie makes a special contribution to my study space. The hood really eliminates the possibility of any distractions. I use it when I just need to buckle down and get things done! It keeps my eyes and mind focussed, just like blinkers help horses focus. My fan is also an important part of my study space. I like to have it on when it gets noisy around the house. The white noise from the fan blocks any distractions, creates a calming ambiance and helps me concentrate. Unlike some of the other bloggers, I find it difficult to multi-task. Instead, I try to switch frequently between periods of absolute focus and relaxation. If I feel stuck I usually go for a short nap, a quick run or just rest in silence. These strategies help rejuvenate my mind so it is ready to operate with full force again. I have often discovered that creative outbursts come from a void. So sometimes all it takes is some silent space to transform a block or burnout into a creative thought.
Gabriel’s very own Merzbau
I was entranced the first time I encountered the Merzbau, unsure what I was looking at. In the photos, I saw irregular blocks and beams colliding with the walls and ceiling of Kurt Schwitters’s studio; arranging the photos chronologically, I watched the forms creep, like crystals, through Schwitters’s house, covering not only his work space, but also his family’s living space. I pored over close-ups of what was by now an ordinary detail in the strange logic of the Merzbau, recesses and cavities in the construction filled with bodily matter (of course!), artworks offered, objects handled, clothing worn—things that registered the touch of family, friends, acquaintances, and collaborators. I don’t know if the Merzbau resonated with me because my work space at the time already shared its proclivities towards accumulation, organized chaos, lived-in-ness or if it gave me permission henceforth to relish these qualities; I can say, however, that it is central to how I think about and organize my work space.
Like the Merzbau, the space where I work is the space where I live. I’ve been advised to more consciously separate work and leisure and I understand the value as a veteran of the what-is-a-weekend grad student lifestyle; at the same time, I’ve found that the messiness of flitting between these already blurred categories can be generative. In practice, this means that I like to have academic texts alongside books not obviously relevant to my research (Invisible Cities has been a fixture, Crevasse and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel recent and welcome additions, and all three, mentors), illustrations taped on the wall beside research notes, artworks in progress (you can see my tofu press midway up the photo, on the left), mementos from important people in my life (I am particularly fond of a paper house centipede, which I keep trapped in a small mason jar), and at least twenty pens scattered throughout, all within reach and ready to be pulled into the orbit of potential projects. As Sara Ahmed reminds me, the objects we turn to orient us, a matter of not only how we come to “feel at home” but also how we “find our way” in the world. And all of this, gathered on two large worktables that were, perhaps fittingly, dining tables—sitting at them, I write, read, think, draw, surrounded by objects that I have invited here as guests, who not only offer their insights, but also entertain me, challenge me, comfort me, and sustain me through their company.
Isabel’s Third Floor Victorian Office
Welcome to my little work space! I moved at the beginning of the summer to a little Victorian house just west of campus. My apartment is on the third floor and is a surprisingly quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of the university. The first thing I did upon moving in was make sure to set up my work space. My number one requirement was to have my books right next to me, so as you can see in this photo, one of my several bookcases – filled to the brim with library books – is within hands reach. I just find it comforting to have them near, even if I don’t consult them as often as I’d like. I also have a couple of monitors set up, as the way I get my research done is to have a billion screens and tabs open at once and then jumping back and forth between them all so when I get bored in one spot, I can keep pushing on with another project.
I’m also the kind of person who needs to have a tv show constantly playing while I do any work. It reminds me that the world keeps rolling, even when I get bogged down with research. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies because they’re predictable enough that I can only half watch and work at the same time. I also love that the desk is next to the window, so I can look out and not feel as isolated. As you can see, I have a massive tv screen set up as my second monitor, this was a new addition, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it (or my eyes feel about it) but it is harder to get distracted when all you see is screen in front of you. On the wall, I’ve taped up some photos of family and friends just to make me smile when I need it. I’ve got a white board set up on the wall where I post my goals/work plan (which is currently wiped clean, so I should probably start using it soon…). I’ve also taped up the timeline of important events that happened throughout the period of my dissertation – just so I can quickly glance and remind myself of key details without a lot of searching. I also have a couple of scented candles throughout the room, as lighting them feels like a little bit of self-care I can do for myself while working. This is where I intend to write my entire dissertation this year, so wish me luck!
Umair’s Ready-for-War Station
Welcome to my stressful work station. I like to have multiple, big screens on at all times. Although right now I am analyzing data, I usually have my email and to-do-list on the leftmost screen. In this image, I have four screens open (I probably have my phone on too to look at messages but you can’t see it in this image). My MacBook Pro is connected to the two monitors and my MacBook Air has all the software that allows me to manage and analyze my data. I am simultaneously using and looking at all these screens and it makes me feel more efficient. This setup also helps to keep my mind clear, which I often feel when I am working with one or two screens and a sizeable portion of my time is used switching between tabs, screens, or windows. With this setup, I can have up to five windows open at the same time, and just avert my eyes from one to the other. Comparison, writing, and reading becomes so much easier! Although this setup may seem stressful to some of you, it certainly works for me and has improved my ability to work for longer hours with more efficiency and motivation.