Why is the Grad Lounge so Empty and Sad?

By: Niki Fritz

On Wednesday I began my investigation into the silence that has befallen the grad lounge. I posted my research question on Facebook, asking my colleagues why the grad lab was suddenly so desolate. The next day I walked into the lab to see three lively grad students working. Clearly it wasn’t going to be easy to investigate this phenomenon without disturbing the natural habitat of the grad lab. I am, after all, not trained in ethnography.

And yet, it seems to me, my Thursday findings may have been an anomaly. It is hard to dismiss the clear trend over this semester towards a bare and energy-less grad lab. Last year I had to put on headphones in the grad lounge because of the lively discussion permeating through the walls from the adjoining lab and interrupting my concentrated search for cute cat gifs. But this year there is an almost eerie quiet in both the lab and the lounge.

I asked the crew gathered in the lab on Thursday why in their estimation fun in the grad lab had tapered off. Sean Connolly gave the pathetic excuse that his ID still doesn’t work on either door. Edo Steinberg said something lame about being super busy and not having breaks in his schedule. Edo also attempted to blame the beautiful collaborative Halloween mural, saying the drawing gave him nightmares.

Hogwash I say. There has to be something more behind the lack of Telecom energy in the lab besides personal grievances.

I started to look to more macro level reasons. Dustin suggested perhaps it all revolves around the microwave. “The microwave was forcibly removed to the other room,” Dustin explained. “Food is community.”

And yet if the microwave was the center of all Telecom energy, the lounge would be hoppin’ now instead of the lab, which it is not.

But the most thorough and detailed hypothesizing came from Ryland Sherman who provided a three pronged explanation.

First, Ryland says the lab needs some anchor tenants, some dedicated people who only hang out in the lab, welcome visitors and encourage fellow grads to stay a while and socialize. Ryland explains this will help us reach critical mass again. Edo even suggested this be included as a new GA position next year, an official M-School social butterfly.

Second, Ryland suggests the weather may be impacting the lab population. It’s fall in Indiana. The sun is shining and our windowless grad lab doesn’t really inspire.

Finally Ryland relies on nostalgia to explain the phenomenon. “Back in the day (’09-’10), there were some students that really made an effort to create Tcom grad student big shindigs that were semi-regular things … This dept. was TIGHT then,” Ryland mused. This last theory made me a) realize just how long Ryland has been in the department and b) made me wonder if maybe the Tcom energy has just shifted elsewhere.

The lab may not be bumpin’ on a Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. but anyone who has gone to Karaoke on Wednesday night knows that there is no lack of love and fun in our Tcom department. Like all organic things, our department is changing and adapting. The lounge may no longer be the heart of the department but that just means our heart may have moved. Clearly I’ll have to do some more investigation to get at the root of this phenomenon. My first stop: $2 Tuesdays.





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