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I think this is more of an interpersonal/workplace question rather than an academic but still related I think.

I'm in the first year of a three year post doc in the UK. I enjoy the work I do with my advisor for the most part and I enjoy working with my advisor. Its unfortunately, everything else about the position I dont like.

The building doesnt feel 'academic', rather more of a generic office building. While this is likely minor for most, one of the reasons I chose academia over industry was the dislike of 'office culture' ie semi-forced social events, rumours, cliques, almost timed coffee breaks, offices with many people leading to volume issues or temperature disagreements etc. While some of this may be UK culture (American), I still find it hard to want to come into work. Some interpersonal issues as well in regards to politics (centrist with regards to American politics, which is apparently far far right in the UK).

This has led to me working from home or working odd hours (~6am to 2-4 pm) so that I attempt to remain productive while not having to deal with these issues. This led to rumours about me being depressed and 'raised eyebrows' about how I leave much earlier than others. Outside of work, I enjoy my hobbies and the area and I am mostly content, but having to come into work 5 days a week just drains me and stresses me out and is wreaking havoc on my emotional state and to an extent my productivity.

I have brought this up to my advisor, and we may try and change my location in the building, but there's likely not a free 1 person office so all the previous issues are still there.. just different desk location? Im not as productive at home and Im unsure how 'okay' the department is with regards to me working from home even if my boss is okay with it.

I'm unsure I can manage 2 more years at this rate. Advice?

TL;DR I like the work I do and my boss, I just dont like going to work or being at work. What should I do.

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    In what way do you expect an academic office to be different to one outside academia? I'd suggest that in any environment like this, you're going to get cliques, rumours, disagreements etc. The best you can do is ignore it and do your work to the best of your ability. – Emma Jul 9 at 8:43
  • If you think that's bad, you see see how it works in Asia. Perhaps you search for something quite specific, which means it will be hard to get. I will provide a suggestion in answers later. – Scientist Jul 9 at 13:23
  • No one likes being a postdoc. – darij grinberg Jul 9 at 18:57
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Sadly, I am an American postdoc in an American lab, and I am experiencing the same issues. The details are different, but the sentiment is the same--the laboratory is not conducive to work. At all. It is a noisy, distracting place with coworkers of all varieties doing any number of distracting activities. And right now, I have to write, and i have to write a lot. My PI/boss likes to be able to also come into lab and look over our shoulders, to make suggestions and check progress. This is entirely unnerving to me. it's compromised my ability to be productive and keep those standard hours in the lab. So, I employ strategies- noise-cancelling headphones. Working from home. Telling everyone I'm writing and getting the biggest headphones and possibly sporting a slight scowl in general. It's not fun and i'd love an office. But for me, the bottom line is what I have to show for this experience when it's over. And I'm willing to do whatever it takes, because this is a great opportunity to advance my career. And i need it and i want it badly enough. But, that said. ...it is difficult and the environment works against me, daily. It might be something you encounter in an ideal setting.

And what i've found...is doing 'whatever you must' to be productive, might get some odd looks. People might talk or be judging. Someone might not like you working from home or keeping odd hours.

But you will have those first author papers. And that matters. That matters to your boss, the department, and for your career--far more than whatever situational annoyances arise in the process. You've got to get yours.

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Unfortunately what you describe has become the rule, instead of the extreme exception, among academic groups around the world. There is an increasing pressure and nurturing of company-like standards, which is quintessentially incompatible with quality and deep thinking. Departments are increasing the demands over professors for speed, numbers of both publications and graduating students. Because of this trending treadmill a "boss culture" is also thriving, realised by the scores of professors role-playing the manager or the start-up CEO, surrounded by ever-smiling show-offs and yes-men.

I suggest you hold your horses through creative and adaptive strategies as best as you can through this postdoc period. I bet you can always reach for the library (or even the cafeteria area) so you don't leave early and always leave a bad impression? Maybe switching one of your working days into the weekend ? Think carefully, and try your best as not to "disrupt the group mood" which is also the kind of company nonsense being minded seriously in today's academia.

As a personal advice, I'd recommend you take a look into more introspective work cultures, such as Swiss academia. You might be able to find a better fit for your next step.

Remember: Adaptation is key to survival! Good luck.

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Noise/distraction can be an issue in shared labs/offices (the norm for students and postdocs).

Actually I have this issue in corporate America as well (especially on travel, working with a team in a conference room). What I try to do is find a nook, conf room, study carol or the like where I can be nearby but separate. The issue is not all from others, but from me wanting to chitchat. I think for a postdoc, even more separation is fine, than for a team in corporate America. [If you have an enclosed office, though, there's enough separation to be efficient.]

A couple small other stories (just for comparison) in case it helps.

  1. Had a Japanese postdoc, who would come in and work 3-4 nights (long ones)...and crank out a lot of lab work. Then he would goof off for the other time. He was productive. And it was accepted as people saw he was productive (and not super social).

  2. I wrote my thesis in 10 days (last minute crunch) coming in and working nights. Other people bailed from the lab around 1700. I would be there ~1800-0700. Allowed me a modicum of face time and interaction if needed. And kept me out of the churn. So I could type, type, type-ity type.

Big picture: Figure out what works for you to get stuff done and to it. WAY better to be asocial AND PRODUCE than to "show face" and not get the "ball across the goal" in terms of paper cranking. [This applies in corporate world too. Yes, better to have cake and eat it too. But if it is a choice...pick production over fitting in.]

P.s. Personally, I don't find the at home thing to work for me as I goof off. But whatever works. I prefer at work but with some ability to isolate myself for periods of time. You can still say hi a couple times a day as you get coffee or go to the head, but they are not in your shi... the whole time.

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I'm afraid that it might be difficult to find buildings that feel really 'academic' and I wouldn't want to select positions based on that. Similarly, whenever you work together with other people there will always be some degree of gossiping and cliques. I think your expectations here do not correspond to a lot of academic environments.

I would strongly urge you to find a way to deal with this for yourself - stuff like noise-canceling headphones may work, and you don't need to interact more than superficially with people you don't like. Maybe there are some friendly people around as well; I could very well imagine not everyone is very much into office culture.

However, I'm a little surprised about the discussions about politics and the raised eyebrows/rumours about you choosing your own working hours. This seems absolutely impolite and I would try to find a way to shut this down friendly but firmly ("I'd prefer not to discuss politics/Let's not discuss my mental health.")

Hope this helps!

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