We Need Humanities Labs

I wonder how an English professor would feel spending a week in a physics lab. Not about the scientific work, but about the frequent, ongoing interaction between students and peers, post-docs and faculty. Scientists see each other in the lab, if not daily, then at least weekly. They have frequent lab meetings, colloquia and interaction with scholars at other universities around joint research. —Gina HiattWe Need Humanities Labs (Inside Higher Ed)

I agree that academic life in the humanities can be isolating and lonely. While my Ph.D. is in literature, I found myself hanging out in the library’s Java programming lab, where I put in most of the hours of a research assistantship, and drinking in the collegiality in what was at the time the school’s Engineering Writing Centre.

Those were great experiences. I also had an experience that was, if not actually hellish, like a visit to the world of “Office Space,” and a living lab in which I learned how managers can alienate and undercut the work of the managed. Of course I liked the money, and everything worked out for me in the end, but quite frankly, most work in the humanities IS solitary. I realize that hard and serious work is done in group environments, but in the humanities we don’t first *do* research and *then* write it up — typically the writing *is* the research, along with the requisite reading, and most of us need quiet and some control over our schedule in order to get that work done. I can’t imagine going to an office 9-5, and punching in, just so I could start reading “Hamlet”.

I got through it all just fine, and I welcome the collegiality in play at my current job. I think of all the grad students whose work I know of via the blogosphere, and I imagine how different my own grad experience would have been if I’d had access to the kind of online support groups I see in action everyday online.