By Gary D. Hutchison|

‘Wake up at 7.20am, travel into the office, sit down at the same desk every day.  Lunch at 12.45 (30-35 mins), two tea breaks, set off for home at 5pm on the dot.’

A typical working day, as described by no PhD student ever – we have no ‘typical’ days.  One of the great advantages of doing what we do is the sheer variety of our activities, both in terms of content and the places in which we slave away on our beloved (and often cursed) thesis.  We’ve had quite a few articles in the Bizarchives series, highlighting their sheer variety, but all with one thing in common: they are compulsory working spaces, for the simple reason that they are where our sources are located.  Outside of this, we can often work pretty much anywhere.  To set the ball rolling, I’ll be talking in general terms about my experiences with some of the different types of work space.


  1. The Home

I was a late convert to this one, having done most of my undergraduate work in the library – and having lived in a series of, erm… let’s call them ‘basic’ flats.

Pros:  Music on demand, tea on demand, biscuits on demand, Netflix on demand… it’s your space.  Plain and simple.

Cons:  Everything on demand means willpower is a definite necessity if you actually want to get anything done.  Also, a messy space littered with books and biscuit crumbs won’t tidy itself.  The biggest one is definitely lack of sunlight and company.  Doctoral study can be solitary enough without giving yourself cabin fever.


 All it needs is a fridge and kettle…


  1. The University Library

A classic – the place where I got into the habit of working.

Pros: All of the books are there.  All of the heavy books are there.  All of those heavy books that have ruined your back muscles from carrying them back and forth are there.

Cons:  Full of people issuing, discharging, and inspecting books – or most likely chatting in the corner.


Not pictured: noisy students


  1. Archives

I know I promised no archive-talk, but I do occasionally choose to work in them voluntarily.

Pros:  Good facilities, and an interesting surrounding to work in.  They are usually very quiet and peaceful places which is great for concentration.

Cons: No food or drink allowed, on pain of death.  No pens either – pencils are compulsory.


 Don’t even think about it


  1. Cafes

I tend to use these when I’m travelling for research and have no other facilities on hand.

Pros:  They’re everywhere – and I really mean, everywhere… supposedly there’s a Starbucks inside the Tower of London.  They’re usually standard quality if you’re using a chain, and there are plenty of caffeine-filled products on offer.

Cons:  The drinks may be guaranteed, but a quiet environment is not.  They also tend to get a bit miffed if you bring a packet of biscuits and a thermos flask of tea with you.


Frowned on


  1. The Train

I spend a lot of time on trains – not so much of it actually working…

Pros:  Free of distractions (i.e. t’internet).  Beautiful and always changing scenery.  You get from A to B while working, so killing two birds with one stone.

Cons:  Bumpy ride, so expect to have plenty of typos to cprrect.  Public place – so again, tranquillity not guaranteed.  Staring at the beautiful and always changing scenery can unexpectedly eat up hours of your time.


Blurry but bucolic


  1. The Nook

That one special place where I’m at my happiest and most productive – and no, I’m not saying where!

Pros:  See pretty much all of the above.

Cons:  Constantly worrying about its fragility – what if word got around about how good it is?


Mum’s the word 


That’s just my small selection – there are plenty of other types of workspaces out there, and a dizzying variety of different spaces within those types.  Keep a look out for subsequent articles describing specific workspaces that PhDers love and hate.

(Photos: Flickr, Wikipedia, Pixabay)