By David Slotnick |
As it’s prominent in the name of the blog, it’s only right that articles about the pub have featured here quite a few times. The unavoidable fact is that the pub is an important feature of university. When I stumbled upon this VICE article a few weeks ago – about a study out of Oxford University which showed that people who live near a pub and are regulars at a local tend to be happier – I started thinking about the roles the pub has played in my professional life, both as a postgraduate university student, and in the “real” working world.
During the first term of my Masters, I had one weekly seminar which ended at 15:30. After the first day, the six of us in the course went out for a coffee in the student union building. The next week, we decided to replace the coffee with “coffee”, and headed to the pub across the road. From that point, “coffee” became a weekly tradition for us and the occasional lecturer or other group of students who would join.
The funny thing is that being social (and imbibing one or two too many) had a particular, almost immediate benefit, besides the obvious one of making us happier and closer with each other. It also helped us recontextualize and reconsider our work. Removed from our desks and notes, the formality of classes, or the sombre quiet of the library, it was refreshing to chat about the required readings or our own research. I’d see it differently when I was thinking lightly about work over a pint, rather than scrutinizing it over a lecture room table.
And this isn’t even to mention post-seminar drinks and dinners. The opportunity to drink with more of our professors and peers with whom we might rarely cross paths was fun! Academia at any level past undergraduate can be insulating and solitary, as people are wont to point out; how great it was to have an established, institutional excuse to meet colleagues I’d only previously known from afar! Taking a few minutes to discuss our own work and hear about others’, with people from outside our normal circles, was brilliant. I distinctly remember a night at the pub, after a seminar, when a former PhD student at my uni helped me find a stroke of inspiration which redefined my eventual dissertation. And, of course, it was great to have the chance to shmooze with the older students and PhDs who had so recently filled our shoes, who were happy to share the tricks and quirks they’d learned (where to find a specialty library, a secret vodka bar, or most importantly, free food).
The working world
Since finishing as a postgraduate and beginning my professional career, I’ve realized that the idea that academia is isolating is a bit misleading. Sure, it might feel solitary sometimes, but that isn’t different from almost any other field or line of work. Even if you’re constantly working with other people, you might not be connecting with them.
After my Masters, I moved back to New York City and started a job doing public relations for a large health system. As far as jobs go, it’s a fairly social one; the people on my team constantly talk to each other about work or other things, we work and network with reporters and the doctors or patients we represent, and despite all of the writing and e-mailing we do, quiet moments in which to do those things are few and far between.
But when I started, it still felt somewhat detached and isolated. Sure we were talking with each other, or working with each other, but it wasn’t really a social connection. Those first few months were busy and saw some new people join the team and a few others leave. Eventually, almost eight months after I started, my team scheduled an after-work happy hour. There was something so nice about chatting with my colleagues outside of work, for a change.
Right after that trip to the pub, we felt morale go a bit higher. Since then, we’ve done similar work outings more frequently, and we’ve all become much closer. We catch up with people we may not see or run into every day, we trade gossip about the workplace, we discuss projects in a much more informal way. The morale boost from socializing separately from our work, combined with the occasional office-related discussion removed from around our desks, definitely helps my productivity. Sound familiar?
To be perfectly clear, I’m not arguing that alcohol is necessary to be social. It’s not the beer, wine, or whisky that’s doing all this (though let’s be honest, it doesn’t hurt). It’s the pub – a setting specifically meant to be social. It doesn’t even need to be a literal pub; a metaphoric “pub,” a place to let loose, unwind, and be social with the people you work with, is all that’s needed. It’s not an office, or an academic common room, or a lecture room. That alone, just the space and its intention, can do the trick. Even if you replace the “coffee” with the real thing.
David earned his master’s in history from the University of Edinburgh, focusing on the social experiences of Jewish American GIs stationed or on leave in Britain during World War Two. In a slight shift away from that subject, he now does public relations for a large healthcare system in New York City. He still stares wistfully over the Atlantic when the winds bring the sounds of bagpipes or Tottenham Hotspur climbing the table. You can follow him on Twitter if earnest posts about medicine, New York happenings, or Spurs are your thing.
(Cover image and Image 2, (c) www.wikipedia.org; Image 1 (c) David Slotnick)