I find that when I'm working on research in the office, at least with the door open, I often get interrupted and am generally less productive. On the other hand, I often have students ask to meet with me outside of office hours on days when I don't plan to be in my office, and they're unhappy when I mention that I won't be available that day. I suspect this hurts my student evaluation scores (which are the primary basis for the evaluation of our teaching in our tenure process).

Additionally, as junior faculty, I'm aware that getting tenure is partly about "fitting in" with your department. In mine, many (most?) folks are in their offices for something closer to 9-5 five days a week, perhaps leaving early on Friday. When I am in the office, I make a point to stop in and say hi to colleagues, but I'm sure that I'm less visible around the department than many others.

So rather than a specific answer, I guess I'm looking for guidelines in how you approach this type of decision.


6 Answers 6


I think it's important to set boundaries with students, with colleagues, and with yourself about when and where you're available for meetings. It's also important to find environments that most effectively support different types of work, and give yourself permission to use them.

Like you, when I'm in my office, I expect to be interrupted; so when I'm working at my desk, I can only productively work on tasks that survive interruption. Put bluntly, the office is where I have meetings; if I need to think, I find a whiteboard in an empty conference room; if I need to write, I go to a coffee shop. (Suresh is correct; I am in a coffee shop right now.) As Daniel says, all three places allow for productive work, but of very different types. Even in the computer science building, for small meetings where I don't want to be interrupted, I prefer to go to the other person's office. And because my undergraduate office hours are occasionally very popular (especially right before exams), I don't hold them in my actual office, but in a larger room down the hall with couches and whiteboards.

You express two points of concern, which I'll exaggerate:

  • My students won't like me if I'm not available on their schedule. I agree with DQdlM and Nate. Spread out your office hours to fit as many students' schedules as possible, be in your office (or "office") for every minute of office hours even if nobody shows up, and be willing to offer occasional off-schedule meetings. It might help to announce in your syllabus times that you're willing to schedule sporadic meetings. ("I'm also available for occasional meetings Tuesday or Thursday afternoons; send me email to set up an appointment!") Consider moving (not adding) your office hours if student demand doesn't match your announced schedule. But then stick to your guns. Yes, some students will be unhappy, but that's inevitable; don't take it personally. Your availability outside regular office hours will not be the most significant bit in your student evaluations.

  • My colleagues won't like me if they don't see me in my office. I agree with DQdlM and Suresh here. Yes, it's important to be visible and active citizen of your department; that's not the same thing as being constantly on call. The amount of time you spend at your desk will not be the most significant bit in your tenure evaluation. The danger is not that nobody sees you in your office, but that nobody knows what you're doing. Give regular talks to your colleagues and their PhD students showing off the results of your out-of-office effort. Go to faculty meetings, and occasionally offer an opinion. (Careful, that gun is loaded.) Attend seminars, especially for faculty candidates, and ask questions. If there is a regular departmental social event ("Tea" in many math departments), be there. And so on.

Finally, I strongly encourage you to raise these concerns with your department chair or your senior faculty mentors. (You do have a senior faculty mentor, don't you? If not, find one!) They can help you navigate your department culture far better than Some Guy On The Intertubes.

  • Your answers to both questions are helpful.
    – Dan C
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 21:36

I find that when I'm working on research in the office, at least with the door open, I often get interrupted and am generally less productive.

You need to redefine productive. Having your door open will increase the time it takes to get a manuscript out, but that is not the only thing that defines productivity. Time spent improving your teaching evals (e.g., by meeting with students) and being visible to your colleagues IS time well spent.

  • 2
    Agreed, but up to a point. One needs to find balance, and for some people (like me), meeting with students and chatting with colleagues, while valuable, could take up all my time if I let it. Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 14:43

You may be able to mollify your students a bit by paying attention to your wording. Saying "I can't meet with you on Tuesday because that's my day for research" makes the student feel like a low priority. Saying "I'm afraid I can't meet on Tuesday, but how about Wednesday?" helps convey that the student is important to you and you would like to meet with them when you can. I think accessibility is as much about perception as reality.

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    This is a great point, Nate. I need to remember that a large part of working with any "client" (in this case students) is managing their perception.
    – Dan C
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 21:41

There are a few issues here: one is dealing with students, and one is general "visibility".

For the first, I can understand student unhappiness if you give them office hours but wish to meet outside the allotted time. They have constraints as well and probably don't have a lot of free time to meet with you :). Maybe, since you're concerned about distractons, you can pack all "distracting" activities into a single day and do your office hours on that day ? Alternately, do you prefer to work at home or at a cafe ? If the latter, you could always do your office hours and then disappear.

For the second, I think the issue is a little overrated. As dQdM points out, the issue is whether you're perceived as being active and a "good citizen". The former can be achieved by responding to email promptly and the latter by your usual service responsibilities.

A bit of perspective: I came to academia from a research lab. In a lab, people are usually around all the time, and I was shocked when I came to academia to see how few faculty were around in the office at any given time. So I don't think your absence might even be noticed that much :)

  • Just to clarify, I'm always in my office during office hours. It's the students who ask to meet outside of those hours.
    – Dan C
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 21:24

I think the basic guideline is the perception that you give. The actual time you spend in and out of your office is less important than whether your colleagues feel like you are an active member of the department and your students feel like you are accessible.

  • For your colleagues, I would be conscious of the times and events that seem to build cohesion in your department and make sure you are present for those. This can be informal things like having lunch together. Or more formal things like departmental seminars.

  • For your students, I would set consistent and clearly defined office hours and always be available during those times (even if you don't have a student scheduled). You will need to make sure that these office hours are distributed such that most of your students can utilize some of them and be prepared to be somewhat flexible for students that have consistent conflicts.


When you announce your office hours to the class at the beginning of the term display a chart that includes all reasonable hours but no marks. Point to a particular time and ask, "If I choose this hour how many people will not be able to come to this office hour?" If lots of students raise their hands, say "That's not one of my office hours." If a lot of students indicate they can go mark it as an office hour. Repeat this process, perhaps rearranging previously chosen hours until every student can go to at least one office hour. If you are also available by appointment at other times It should solve a lot of problems. Also at the beginning of the the first day of class you will create a favorable impression. Before you do this you should have a very good idea of time when you do not want office hours.

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