Four months in my postdoc and I feel the mess, up to the point that I can't further do any, any work in my office. Nothing. My passion, bioinformatics, is gone.

An office with 12 students where just 8 should be, and plenty of disorganised stuff, people coming in and out, chatting, not very clean... I would say it's more similar to a bar than to a real work office. Almost all them work on the bench, so they come and go to the computer frequently.

I've been promised to get a new place in a 5 students office in about a month, but this has already a delay of 2 months since I should have moved there like 2 months ago. This is the reason to be in a limit situation.

What to do? My mentor knows almost nothing about this. He knows I'm waiting for the new place but thinks I'm doing well, when this is far from true.

I work in bioinformatics but seems my mentor thinks this is like kid games. I feel homeless moving through libraries trying to go ahead with my work.

  • 34
    1. talk to your mentor. why are you holding back? 2. talk to your department/faculty/responsible administrative office. what have you done so far on that front?
    – marts
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 11:46
  • Thanks @marts. I'm holding back because seems I'm the only one feeling this. Everyone is doing well, they like the mess. I have a real problem, can't do anything. Since I have two mentors, the main one and a retired professor, I think I will tell to the retired professor to see what he advices me to do.
    – biotech
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 11:54
  • What do you think I can say to my mentor. 'Hey, I'm doing nothing! My bioinformatic stuff is stacked since 2 months ago?'. In fact, I already told him that I need a new place and he told me that the conditions I have are not so bad. I'm worried he will fire me.
    – biotech
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 11:58
  • 22
    "My office is noisy and crowded, I cannot focus" is a perfectly reasonable complaint.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 14:40
  • 1
    Talk also to the others to find out whether they really do well. Also, knowing both the wet lab and the data analysis world, their needs may in fact be different. And the chatting may quite inherent: they have to be highly concentrated when in the wet lab. Coming to the office may be part of their "breaks". Plus office may be where they find the people with whom to discuss their experiments. Which means that you need to have some extra space where you can do the high concentration part of your work, this is not going to work in your current office. Is home office an alternative? Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 10:48

4 Answers 4


To add another perspective: You write that everyone else is doing fine, and in fact is doing productive work. I know that people have very different working styles (in our department, all office space is 'flex-space', i.e., no-one (including full professors) has an 'own' office and people have very different preferences whether they want to sit in a more quiet place or a more social stting), and it can very well be the case that you are not productive in a setting where others are.

Nevertheless, I think you should consider the possibility that it is actually you who has the problem, not the setting that is the problem. If there is no easy solution (i.e., a different space for you), then, in fact, I guess it would be unreasonable to expect 11 people to adapt their working style rather than you (1 person).

I do not mean this negative at all, but there are solutions to work in a busy place, like putting on headphones and the like. Have you considered such options?

Good luck!

  • 22
    Not to disagree with you at all, but to offer yet another perspective: If biotech were a wheelchair user, we would have no problem at all with the other 11 people accommodating his or her mobility requirements (and anyway, they'd be legally obliged!) It may be that biotech simply cannot adapt to the situation as it stands and that a minor adjustment on the part of those 11 people could yield large dividends in terms of biotech's happiness and productivity. We don't know this, but it's something to consider.
    – Rob Skelly
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 16:06
  • @RobSkelly that's a valid point, thanks for raising it! [I just upvoted the comment]
    – damian
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 19:03
  • Yes, I admit I'm the special guy here @damian. Headphones? I would dream headphones solve this. Just the two girls I have one of each side are enough to kill any of my ideas. My elbows almost touch them! I certainly cannot adapt to the situation. Chaotic environment is not good for my productivity. It may be good for my colleague's creativity. However, minor adjustments are not a problem, never have been. In fact, I love change. I'm looking forward to see what this new office offers, just four-five people seems reasonable for my needs.
    – biotech
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 20:41
  • 6
    If the office is overcrowded and noisy, then I am sure this lowers productivity for almost everyone, whether it appears that way to the OP or not.
    – Kimball
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 2:59
  • "I guess it would be unreasonable to expect 11 people to adapt their working style rather than you (1 person). " I disagree, if you have to work in the same environment then all should compromise. It isn't fair to make someones working environment unworkable just because the majority are happy with it. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 10:29

You are in a difficult psychological position, a problem that is not of your choosing and where you don't feel you have any control. It is easy in such a situation to assume victim status and cease to exercise any motivation at all.

I suggest you check with your mentor and emphasise the importance of your new office.

In the meantime it is very important that you take some small actions to improve your situation (and empower yourself). Take an honest appraisal and brainstorm actions that can help you. Do them. Be aware that your victim status makes you automatically reject any ideas, even helpful ones. My thoughts:

Move to a different desk. I suggest a corner near the back of the room. Away from walkways and doorways. Try for visual quiet space above your desk. Organise this desk to your satisfaction, your own refuge of order.

Schedule your day for quiet times. Come in early, at least two hours or so before the bulk of colleagues. Eat early while the office is busy and you will have time over lunch when the office is quieter.

Use noise cancelling headphones to give yourself white noise.

Be friendly to your colleagues. If they like you the are more likely to accommodate your wishes.

If it is appropriate organise a working bee. Provide some snacks!


You said "Everyone is doing well, they like the mess. I have a real problem, can't do anything"....I believe you should talk to your mentor immediately about the situation and start cleaning the mess on your part. Slowly but steadily keep on cleaning it. I don't think the mess is NOT bothering others but the thing is that no one is willing to do anything about it. If you start cleaning the mess, (by cleaning what I mean is to start assembling and organising things) I believe this is how others are going to realise their mistake and they'll also start doing something about it. I think you need to take an initiative, which is not easy, but someone has to. And that someone is YOU :) Good luck!

  • The real problem is too much people.
    – biotech
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 12:28
  • This is why I have written in the answer that first you need to talk to your mentor then take the next step.
    – Zeb
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 12:32
  • Reaction is not going to be good, everyone knows @Zeb
    – biotech
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 12:35
  • The reaction of your mentor?
    – Zeb
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 12:38
  • 2
    "If you start cleaning the mess" I'd very much recommend to talk with people first and then to clean only mess that does not belong to anyone else and is not in anyone else's space - not everyone takes it as friendly if you touch/shift their things. Particularly if you are the new guy and supposed to move out again soon... (I remember a new colleague giving approving opinions on the first day about the one place in our office that was neatly clean and in order - when everyone who had been there a bit longer knew that this was the place of someone who did not do any work to speak of...) Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 10:43

You are on a bad place. The main problem with things such this, that surely not you are the only one seeing this problem, despite that nothing happens.

In such cases, the System (this time: a system from people, from their wishes and customs) will probably behave on a way, that as you start an action to change it, it will try to attack you back.

You must be able to defend yourself. It is very important, that while you are trying to change it, you must be enough good to be defended by your productivity. If it isn't so, nobody will care if you had right or not. And the System will say things like: "you aren't enough well in communication", "you are not a teamplayer" and many similar. Nobody will say: "We hate you because you won't allow us to sit in a dirty office room", although it would be the truth.

Carefully try to look for people having similar problems as you have.

If you aren't significantly better as the others, you probably can't do anything.

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