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I'm currently an undergrad, and work as a researcher in an EECS lab. Recently, I discovered a novel application to work on, and so for the last few weeks I've been staying at the lab late almost every day, leaving at midnight or later. Since I live in a dorm on the opposite end of campus, I usually don't get to sleep until around 2-3 AM. In the morning I need to be up and in class by 8-9 AM (depending on the day), in a building that happens to be right next to the lab.

Would it be acceptable to set up a foldable cot at night (leave it under my desk during the day) and sleep at the lab occasionally? I'm usually the last person at the lab at night. If it cultural context matters, I work at a research university in California (US).

EDIT

The lab is mostly composed of graduate students and professors, so they usually maintain a regular 9-5/5:30 schedule at the lab (minus office hours and lectures). As one of a small handful of undergrads, I'm usually there between 4 (when class ends) and well after everyone else leaves. In some cases, graduate students will sleep in the graduate student lounge just outside the lab proper (still part of the lab IIRC).

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    It may violate your local zoning laws and codes (it is not zoned for residential use). This has always perplexed me though because you might be able to argue that you are just napping... – Austin Henley Feb 25 '15 at 21:53
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    Just make sure you let the night cleaning crew know... I almost gave our poor cleaning lady a heart attack the first time I was sleeping on the floor when she came in at 3am to clean! – tpg2114 Feb 25 '15 at 23:58
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    Reminds me of my final year project team -- there were time that we slept at the lab (4 students) by putting chairs as bed... One day we have a device broken in the mid night and we sent an email to the professor, 5 hrs later (6ish) he popped up at the lab and put down a substitute device silently without waking us up (but one of us was waken up because he was sleeping by the door... We suspect he may be sleeping in his other labs too. I guess if you check with your lab supervisor and see if they are okay with that, then it should be fine... – ceoec Feb 26 '15 at 7:01
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    On an unrelated note, please make sure you do get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can and will do terrible things to your performance and health. – Davidmh Feb 26 '15 at 7:44
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    Am I the only former grad student confused about this concept of grad students only being in lab from 9 to 5 or so? – Foon Feb 26 '15 at 13:19
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Ask your supervisor. If your PI supervisor controls the space and gives you permission, there shouldn't be any problem for you.

I've seen situations where there are experiments that need to be babysat over long periods and researchers bring cots into the lab so that they can devote more time and provide more frequent checkups than would be possible otherwise.

Of course, if you are homeless and living in the lab for some longer period of time to avoid paying rent somewhere else, that seems like a much bigger problem. Honestly though, I've seen that done as well. The OK-ness and consequences of sleeping your lab will depend on the local culture, rules, and laws. If you ask a supervisor, it will be their responsibility to make that call.

  • Re: Homelessness. Depending on nation, I've seen departments have cots to borrow for people between leases. I've seen sleeping in one's office at least twice for temporary reasons and one faculty member who does it on a fairly regular basis due this house and his office being an 8 hour flight away from one another (special circumstance, clearly). – T K Feb 27 '15 at 14:44
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    To confused British English speakers, it looks like 'cot' means a camp bed in American English. Not one of these! rainbowwoodsouth.co.uk/… – Joe Feb 27 '15 at 15:12
  • ...and babysitting an experiment is different to babysitting a baby. – Reinstate Monica Jul 24 '18 at 0:42
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I have known many people who did this (or something similar) without much trouble. The key things to look out for are:

  • Safety: are you behind a locked door or in a public space? Will people know you belong or be frightened by an apparent homeless intruder?

  • Courtesy: the lab is not your home, and nobody wants to see you wandering around in your underwear or smelly in yesterday's clothes.

You are probably OK crashing on the floor or a couch once in a while, but if you are going to set up a cot, you need to have a conversation with the people you share the space with to let them know and make sure they are OK with it. Also, many labs have a discreet shower somewhere in the building: learn where, and use it lest you become the subject of derision.

In short: be safe and courteous, and happy dreams!

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    lol 'discrete shower' – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 26 '15 at 11:25
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: a discrete shower is far better than the continuous shower found outside the building – Jacob Krall Feb 26 '15 at 15:55
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    There are always showers in chemistry laboratories, but they are neither discrete nor discreet ;-) (For people not getting why discrete is amusing: discreet vs discrete.) – gerrit Feb 26 '15 at 16:14
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    @gerrit Thanks - not sure why nobody else who noticed it actually fixed the typo. – jakebeal Feb 26 '15 at 19:11
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    @yo' Remind me never to sit next to you: all-nighter has its own distinctive awful odor. – jakebeal Feb 27 '15 at 13:38
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Would it be acceptable to set up a foldable cot at night (leave it under my desk during the day) and sleep at the lab occasionally?

A worldwide internet academic community like this one cannot answer your question directly. You need to ask the head of the lab. This is the person who will need to vouch for you if any other university member (student, employee, faculty...) finds you there at night, and this is the person who needs to feel confident that someone sleeping in the lab is neither a threat, a conflict of interest nor an embarrassment to the lab and its work.

I will go way outside my direct experience and speculate that keeping and using a cot directly inside a university laboratory is not something that the head of the lab is likely to approve. I don't know exactly what is being done in the lab, but if it's in EECS, sleeping is presumably not an intended use of the space. If you are sleeping right next to expensive and/or delicate equipment, then you are not using it as you have been trained to do, and in some (perhaps annoying but nevertheless real) legal sense you may not be qualified to remain in the presence of such equipment in a less than alert state. What if you stumble out of your cot and onto something?

On the other hand, a student lounge is an entirely different story: that seems precisely like a designated space for students to spend down time. If you put a couch in your lounge, then you can reasonably expect people to at least take naps. It would seem like a much better idea to me to place a cot in the lounge rather than the lab itself. If you don't want to do this because there could also be other people there: well, again, the lab itself is not your personal sleeping space. I would think that you could ask even a senior grad student or postdoc "Hey, is it okay if I keep a cot in the lounge and sleep on it occasionally if I need to?"

Finally, although if the right people say so you certainly can sleep in/adjacent to the lab, I wanted to recommend that you give some thought to the work-life issues involved. In the long run, most people are much happier sleeping in a bed in a place of their own and also having some downtime / nonwork interactions between sleep and attending class. If you are sleeping nights in the lab with just a stored cot are you not showering / doing morning and evening hygiene / putting on clean clothes before you wake up in the lab and then go to class? This is most certainly possible and there are institutions full of large numbers of students who do it (I frequented an all-night cafe at MIT as a graduate student and encountered many students there whose motto seemed to be "No shower until I finish this week's problem set". It wasn't pretty.) But nevertheless most people realize that this is just less healthy, less fun and even less productive than doing things in a more balanced way. For that matter, what is it that you're doing in a lab for hours past the time that everyone else goes home? Is all that time really needed? I mean, intensity is great, but after a certain point it gets a little manic. Many of the most successful academics that I know work incredibly hard in a certain sense; but I don't know any leading academic that literally spends all their waking hours working. You just can't do good work for that much time. Anyway, it's worth thinking about.

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    I know of a few EECS labs with a couch in them explicitly intended for the occasional sleepover. (And I also know many grad students - myself included - who routinely go directly between office and gym or other exercise, so have extra clothes, shower stuff, etc in school.) – ff524 Feb 26 '15 at 6:03
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    @ff524: If it's okay with the lab, it's okay with the lab; that was part of my answer. And, sure, lots of people bring a gym bag to school or work. That's not the same as regularly staying overnight so that you can wake up in the morning and go directly to class. In fact I think most graduate programs have at least rumors of students who live in their offices to some extent or another. That doesn't make it advisable, smart or (in most cases) necessary, and more than MIT students need to stay up unwashed for days at a time. – Pete L. Clark Feb 26 '15 at 6:53
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The most important aspect here is that you should strive to be a good lab citizen. To that effect:

  1. Personal hygiene is a major consideration (always) and especially if you're sleeping at the lab.

  2. Every lab has unwritten rules. These rules may not make sense or may not be relative to anyone working there presently.

So gently ask the senior researchers/students what they think and make your decision after considering their input.

P.S. - Sleeping in the lab out of passion, instead of crisis or servitude, is what I would dream of in a student.

P.P.S - Riding your bike back from the lab at midnight sucks. Especially if there are big hills involved and you've got a backpack.

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    I gave this answer a +1, but nevertheless I wanted to respond to: "Sleeping in the lab out of passion, instead of crisis or servitude, is what I would dream of in a student." I dream of students who are brilliant enough to make excellent progress on their work without sacrificing their health or their personal lives. To me, sleeping in a lab after you have done your work there (rather than while work is being done) speaks more to a student's sense of balance and maturity than their passion or work ethic.... – Pete L. Clark Feb 27 '15 at 4:47
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    I would be interested to know whether and in what capacity you supervise students. Those who supervise students -- especially strong ones -- soon find out that work-life issues are something to keep an eye on, and it is worth reflecting on the kind of behavior that one approves of or more subtly models as laudable. – Pete L. Clark Feb 27 '15 at 4:54
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    +1 for asking the other students as well a as the researchers. We had a student who was sleeping in the lab and sometimes had poor hygiene, and there were considerable complaints from the other students. You may network with fellow students for years or decades after graduating, so it is worth cultivating good relationships with them as well. – Nathan S. Feb 27 '15 at 18:05
  • I think the key word is "occasionally". My grad students occasionally have long experiments to run. I encourage them to find alternative solutions, e.g. to work with colleagues so that they all get 10 hours away from the lab, but sometimes it can't be helped, you have to collect virus supernatants every 4 hours for 48 hours and all your friends are off at a conference. When that happens, then sleeping at the lab may well be better than driving or walking back and forth ten times. I follow up by encouraging them to take a full day off as a makeup, or to leave early for the next few days. – iayork Feb 27 '15 at 19:42
  • @PetL.Clark I +1ed your initial comment and I'll clarify. My point is toward the motivation and desire to be there. In this case, sleeping in the lab seems like convenience rather than lack of balance or maturity. And everyone's definition of work life balance is relative. I would send students home if I found them sleeping in the lab more than occasionally and would not expect them to sleep at the lab. But we've all faced situations, whether through bad planning, procrastination, or circumstance, where we have had to pull an all-nighter and needed a nap. Even the brilliant students. – Jesuisme Feb 28 '15 at 3:13
3

Its generally acceptable to occasionally sleep at the lab. You mention that several grad students are sleeping just outside as well.

If a couch is available, sleep on that. Bringing in a cot will attract attention, so check with the lab supervisor (either the prof or a Ph.D. student). I don't see why they would say no as sleeping at the lab every now and then is an unspoken requirement in many departments.

3

You want to set up a cot in the lab?

I'd venture a guess that this would almost certainly be frowned upon. Many people here are arguing that you should worry about your hygiene. That's not the issue. The issue is that labs aren't zoned or designed as residencies. If there ever were an issue, such as a fire in the building or an injury to your person by some piece of equipment, the school would be in pretty hot water.

You might be able to get away with it, but I can all but guarantee you that if the school found out that you had set up a cot in the lab, the administration would shut that down quickly.

2

In some cases, graduate students will sleep in the graduate student lounge just outside the lab proper (still part of the lab IIRC).

This suggests an alternative solution. Your department may be willing to grant an undergraduate who is doing research in the lab, with use of a desk there, courtesy access to the graduate student lounge. I suggest checking into that. If graduate students staying overnight sleep in the lounge, rather than in the lab proper, it would be the more appropriate place for you to sleep.

0

This answer might be slightly off-topic, since you're an EECS-student.

However, in the biology department at my current university there are rooms with beds next to some of the laboratories, exactly for this purpose. These are intended for students and staff performing fermentation that require sampling every hour or two for several hours, sometimes through the night.

So in some cases it is even encouraged.

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Beware, it is mostly much more dangerous as it seems, even if it doesn't violate some policies literally. It is already dangerous if you here there until 2AM.

Things are controlled not only by policies and rules, but also by personal feelings. Especially if you have longer plans about your research, on the sympathy of the employees of the lab will depend much more as you would think. And most of these people goes away around 17-18PM, to his family, and they are always there around 8-9AM, to do their job. If you are out of his cycle, it can make a general, negative impression from you.

Although it can be even positive, if you can show very clearly, your task is important, and you are there because of your diligence. It will depend not on your answers to questions, but on your teachers / leaders (which is probably a prof "governing" the lab and the research there). And this positive effect will only work if it happens seldom.

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    He states he is an undergrad and has classes, so I don't see how others can have any negative feelings because of that. He shouldn't skip class to do research. – Austin Henley Feb 25 '15 at 23:11
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    @AustinHenley Yes, but the second can be also considered not okay. It is not my opinion (I think it means more diligence), but my experience (better to be diligent in the cycle of the longterm employee). – peterh says reinstate Monica Feb 25 '15 at 23:12
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    I have never met a professor or grad students that don't know a undergrad has class commitments. If they don't, then that is a huge red flag that his advisor/mentor doesn't properly communicate with him or have unreasonable expectations and he probably shouldn't work with them. – Austin Henley Feb 25 '15 at 23:17
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    You explain because of personal feelings about working odd hours. Those will apply regardless of him walking home or sleeping in the lab. – Austin Henley Feb 26 '15 at 0:12
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    One of my colleagues, a grad student, arrives at the office every day at 15:00 h. Another technician, never earlier than 16:00. No one has a problem with that. In fact, as long as you are making good progress, most people won't even care how many hours you are putting in. – Davidmh Feb 26 '15 at 0:49

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