Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Spoke and hub

In one of the Cal Newport books (I’m re-reading his last three to cull all the insight and distill, more on that probably later), he mentions the setup at Bell Labs and a famous MIT building. They all have a “spoke and hub” setup so people can collaborate and interact serendipitously and then also withdraw in places of privacy and focus. 

This is a key metric I feel for a good scientific environment. And maybe if you are looking at a place of future employment: when being whisked around the campus or department, can you identify where the hub is? Do people seem to appreciate and respect their spokes? Or is it a place where you get your real work done at the coffee shop? 

This sort of hit home with me how we work and how the spaces I’ve occupied as a scientist varied in their approach. Space Telescope, the Kapteyn Institute and Leiden Observatory all had a coffee spot with both free (bad) coffee and space to mingle, chat, and collaborate. ESA was interesting since it was a small department in a huge organization but there was a similar break room. UCT had a cozy break room as well. 

The flip side is how well the offices are appointed and how much people’s space is respected. Here the story is varied. UCT and Leiden were not great as various people felt it was ok to start a sentence in the hallway and expect an answer from me by the time they actually got to my desk and I was still taking my headphones off. ESA was amazing as quiet working on stuff was expected and encouraged. STSCI was somewhere in the middle with open doors everywhere but generally good boundaries, respected by everyone. 

So for those of you on the job market interviewing. This is something to look for. Can you pick out the hub? How do people treat the spokes? Indeed this says a lot about how much good science you’ll get done there. 

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