Today I was yelled at by one of the people I share an office with at the university where I teach. It’s a strange office space. There are four desks in the room. Two are officially ‘hot-desks’ where tutors leave their belongings and consult with students on the days they come in to teach. Another desk is occupied by the person who yelled at me today. She is a research associate in the School, which essentially means that she has recently completed her PhD and has access to the amenities of the university while she converts her Doctorate into a book or other publications. It isn’t a paid position, but she benefits from the institutional affiliation and resources and the university benefits through the DEST points, and thus the funding, they will accrue from her publications. I came to occupy the remaining desk on a share basis with another research associate, A___, who rarely used the space; and I was assured by the administrator responsible that I could potentially use it whenever I wanted to. I have never seen A___ in the room, so it has been the case that I have been able to use the desk freely. It has been a very useful arrangement for me, especially because I’m responsible for five tutorials, which equates to about 100 students; I’ve been able to use the drawers to hold the files I maintain for each class, rather than lugging them around between home and a park bench on the university grounds.
When I first moved into the room, I was organising the files I’ve mentioned when the research associate who yelled at me today came into the room. I introduced myself and told her that I was a tutor in the School and had been provided with a key by the administrator so I could use A___’s desk to work from and consult with students. Straight away, she began to explain to me how the room operated and inferred that as I was a tutor perhaps I had meant to sit at one of the ‘hot desks’, since the one I was setting up at was A___’s. I assured her that the administrator had specifically told me to sit at A___’s desk. The research associate kept looking at the files I was placing into the drawer and made an insincere admission that she was only going by what she knew about how the room had functioned since she had occupied it. I said to her that she could check with the administrator.
As an initial meeting with the research associate it was somewhat unsettling. If I had expected to be challenged about using the desk, I thought it would be from A___. I don’t think the administrator informed her I would be sharing her desk and I hoped she wouldn’t mind. The encounter made me wary of the research associate, and I vented—only the strength of a light breeze—to some friends about it. I learned from L_____ why A___ didn’t use the office; when she had first used the room, the research associate had her things spread over the two desks, which A___ had to ask her to move. Subsequent to our first meeting, I have had some very stilted conversations with the research associate. She has a very strange way of drawing conversation out of you then cutting you off.
So, today I went into uni because a student made an appointment with me outside of my usual consultation hour. While I usually like to confine consultations to the time I’ve put aside for it, for a range of reasons, sometimes it’s just not possible. Since I had to finalise my PhD and Scholarship applications today anyway, I agreed to make the unusual time with the student. When I entered the office, the research associate was there and she offered me a perfunctory greeting. I had a fleeting thought that I should advise her about the forthcoming consultation, but I didn’t want to disturb her. In retrospect, this was an entirely illogical thought—I would potentially be disturbing her more, and without warning, when the student arrived—but you have to understand how truly unapproachable she is. Anyway, the student arrived, and since the research associate was on the phone and my desk was covered in application papers and certified copies of Evidence of Australian Citizenship and Official Academic Records, I drew her away to one of the empty hot desks,. The student wanted to talk over the forthcoming assignment with me. We’d had a week on television genres and she was thinking about doing that assignment question, tossing up between learning something new or drawing on work she had done in high-school, in which case she would choose the auteur question. She wasn’t really in a hurry, and neither was I, so I let her talk through her worries about finding promotional material on Scrubs, which she would need to consult to do the question, using that programme as an example, effectively. The student moved on to other topics and so I found out what other subjects she was doing and the science-related degree she hoped to upgrade to. It’s a strange thing to recognise that someone is looking up to you and wanting to make a connection...
Half an hour after she had knocked on my door, the student left and while the research associate had meanwhile departed without me noticing, she soon returned. The research associate confronted me without her usual barrier of spectacles and effectively chastised me, cheeks ablaze, for seeing a student, without telling her, outside of my usual consultation time. Then she said she knew I had used the computer on her desk ( I had used the university provided computer located on her desk on the weekend when I’d come in to finish off my marking—I had not even sat down while I checked my email). I began to explain myself to her, before I thought, “I just can’t engage with this. It’s so out of proportion”. Then I went to lunch with G___. Well, he ate lunch, I indulged in emotional eating in the form of a chocolate butterfly cup cake. Poor G___, this time when I vented it was more gale force than gentle breeze.