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I'm curious what happens if a department runs out of space - e.g. they are expanding, but they don't have enough rooms for their faculty, postdocs, visitors, etc. It's presumably possible to squeeze a bit, put many PhD students into the same room for example, but this would be a short-term solution.

The obvious thing to do seems like to petition the dean to allocate more space to the department, but this seems very nontrivial. For example say three departments currently occupy 3 floors each in a 9-floor building. If one department needs more room, the clearest way to do it is to give them another floor, but that would force the other two departments to contract and/or shift some of their personnel to a different building, which might negatively impact their performance.

Similar things must surely have happened multiple times in the past. What usually happens?

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    Giant political fight is what happens...
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 3, 2019 at 1:04
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    Those "short-term solutions" have a way of becoming the long-term solution. Oct 3, 2019 at 1:34
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    Space is casus belli in academia. Oct 3, 2019 at 1:34
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    Build yourself (the department) a new building... Increase number of floors upwards.. Reduce the size of desks (get more in each office)...
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 3, 2019 at 5:13
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    The factor 'space' should factor into the decision to expand in the first place.
    – TimRias
    Oct 3, 2019 at 9:28

2 Answers 2

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There is no "usually". There isn't a worldwide academic rulebook that states what happens when a department runs out of space. This is extremely dependent on the university, the department, who runs each, the current power balance between the different departments and the university, the university's budget, the culture of the research field and the country... Academia isn't different from the rest of the world, how would you even start to answer a question as vague as "what happens when a company's department runs out of space"?!

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    I think one could state with great certainty that, whatever actually happens, it won't be a smooth, simple, emotion-free process...
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 3, 2019 at 13:11
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As someone whose department had the exact problem in the past I can say that things tend to get a little hairy. One issue is that different groups usually have their own offices and while most groups may have a lack of desk space, some have extra. The group leaders with extra space tend to be very territorial about it for various reasons (feelings of being taken advantage of, personal conflicts with other group leaders, anticipating new arrivals but not having anywhere to put them etc.).

The interim solution was to put up new desks in really awkward spaces (in corridors, under staircases) and splitting groups across multiple offices whenever group leaders could come to an agreement. Eventually the department managed to secure additional offices in another building and squeezed a few groups out. I was part of one of the outcast groups and as you pointed out it was in fact very inconvenient as we had to use the old department building for experimental work. Over the course of two years or so though, a few professors retired and their groups dissolved so they freed up some space in the deprtment.

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