My co-supervisor (2nd supervisor) comes to the office where I work to help her (main) Ph.D. students. The noise distracts my work. I find it unprecedented. Why not help her students in her own private office, instead of coming to the shared office space!?

I am not sure how to resolve this issue. Shall I message her, mention the issue to her students or to a superior academic, or change office?

Like it or not, there is a lot of hierarchy in academia and she has helped me in the past. I don't want to break relationships. In addition, I know I am not the only in the office who has noise issues.

What would be the diplomatic way to have a quiet office space?

Edit & Update:

1) Noise canceling earbudsor headphones are good and I have tried they do help, but to be honest if you want to concetrate to carry a task it's hard to maintain focus with loud volume.

2) I believe I have a common understanding with most of you guys. If there is a small chat in the office is fine but if it's a meeting more than 30 mins they should find a room. In my case, the co-supervisor helped her student for almost the whole day... And as I mentioned in the comment section from what I am aware she has an available office and there are plenty of meeting rooms in the Uni. If it's the computer thing they have laptops...

3) Thank you everyone for your support and suggestions, hope you are getting well with your offices. As mentioned from you, there cannot be a perfect office but at least have some common understanding I guess.

  • 2
    Can you raise the issue with your office mates? Might be better than with the super.
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 13:06
  • 11
    No, just a discussion among peers.
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 13:11
  • 2
    @Poidah Good thought, but the co-supervisor has an office for herself to invite anyone she wants.
    – user61104
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 17:47
  • 9
    In general, you shouldn't expect a shared office to be quiet. This is why people who have shared offices often work in other places much of the time (library, home, cafe, ...) You can try to see if other people will accommodate you, but it's not required that a shared office be quiet.
    – Kimball
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 5:56
  • 5
    @pjs Not everybody wants to work to music and "nice soothing music" isn't very good at blocking noise. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure if I would use the word "unprecedented" here - I have definitely had my supervisor come into my office to explain stuff (or just chat), and I have also done the same with my own students. I can't imagine that we are total outliers here.

That said, unless you have a particularly bad relationship to your fellow students and your co-supervisor, is there anything wrong with asking them to discuss in a meeting room (or their office) if these discussion are lengthy and/or happen very frequently? I certainly would not mind taking our discussion elsewhere if other people are bothered.

To directly address your proposals:

shall I message her

Why not just ask her friendly when they are discussing next time if they would mind moving to a meeting room?

mention her students

You can, but talking to both involved parties at the same time feels a little less passive-aggressive to me.

mention the issue to a superior academic or change office.

That sounds like a massive overreaction, especially if you haven't even mentioned anything to her directly so far. Reporting your (co-)supervisor to some higher authority is a nuclear action of sorts, which you should definitely not do without exploring other options first. And even if you report this, I have a seriously hard time seeing anything coming out of it (aside from a pissed co-supervisor, that is).

The more fundamental issue here may be that your expectation of a "productive" workplace may be different from other students in the room. If you go over to Workplace.SE, there are plenty of questions of workers trying to convince their co-workers to hush up - but the fact of the matter remains that a dead-silent, only-strictly-required-talking workspace is simply not the preferred option for many people (I actually find it extremely uncomfortable if I sit in a shared office where nobody ever chats).

The only real practical solution to this problem is either to change office, or get / order noise cancellation headphones.

  • 1
    I would add that I would find messaging, especially a group message, to be rude. This is something I would want to discuss face to face. Of course you supervisor may be more receptive to messaging than me, so this answer is correct. You could message if that feels right, but do consider talking in out. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 15:46
  • 9
    Noise cancellation headphones are good for rhythmic background noise, but they offer no advantage over non-cancelling headphones for blocking the sound of people talking. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 17:03
  • 2
    @PhilipC. If the music is loud enough, you won't hear any talking. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 22:18
  • 7
    As @PeterTaylor says, noise-cancelling headphones do very little to block people talking. And, in any case, blocking the sound with music doesn't help if what you actually want is a quiet environment. And note that the question just says "quiet", not "silent". For example, I'm completely fine with (and often participate in) a bit of random chat in shared offices but, if you want to have a half-hour meeting or something like that, please go somewhere else or keep your voices right down. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 9:04
  • 5
    @RodrigodeAzevedo You will also stop hearing anything after a while, even without headphones.
    – user39012
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 12:52

Talk to your advisor about it, politely.

You can simply ask: would it be possible to to have regular discussions in a separate space? I find the noise a bit distracting.

There’s no need for petitions, HR complaints, rants to lab mates or other passive aggressive behavior. You are both adults, try to assume you’re dealing with a reasonable person before doing anything that may damage your relationship.

  • Thank you for your answer, I agree with your point and you both determined the same. Wish I could upvote you guys both. Thanks for the support.
    – user61104
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 13:38
  • 15
    Petitions, HR complaints and rants aren't passive-aggressive: they're just plain aggressive. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 8:58

I'd say it is best to approach this informally with your colleague. I believe that you may be seeing this from wrong perspective, which is why it appears to tough to just approach the person. Instead of considering it as a problem, consider it as just a difference in definition of shared space and its perks. The more you believe it is just a difference in definition the better you will come across in regards to it.

Mention, in similar words, that you were hoping for a more quiet shared environment as it seems to give the best productivity to the permanent residents. Assert that there are better suited areas for group discussions and mention relevant places.

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