Corner Office


As a child, one of the most humiliating punishments at (elementary) school was being banished “to the corner” for bad behavior. Something to be avoided at all costs. But as an adult, I have learned that there are advantages to being in “the corner.”

For nearly 18 years I have spent large portions of my working day toiling behind a screen (or two or three) in a “compact” (mind the euphemism) office. I had no complaints, being housed in a modern building that was completed in 2004, with a large, well-furnished lab, I was perfectly happy to retreat to my office-closet. I had my kettle, coffee and tea, emergency snack food, an oversized desk and a bookshelf, with little room for anything else. Given that I purchased a “convertible standing desk” ( a few years back, meetings with colleagues or visiting researchers (remember those?) were inevitably uncomfortable, and more than one visitor required the securing of a conference room for a meeting. Such meetings, including with my own students, were always complicated, with technical difficulties in looking at data, whether on my computer screen or on paper.


As if to compensate for the tiny size of my 7thfloor office, I was blessed with huge floor to ceiling glass windows. Nice? Sort of…. The windows faced full west, and even with the blinds permanently closed, the glare often necessitated wearing sunglasses while working at the computer in the afternoons. If that wasn’t bad enough, my view west (in the rare instances when the blinds were open) included: several parking lots, an electrical power station, a smelting factory from WWII that just recently closed, and a large cemetery on the other side of a very run-down industrial road known as “Saddle Creek.” However, we scientists don’t like to complain, and if we have a lab and research resources ($), then who cares about such trivial matters?


However, this summer I was offered the opportunity to move to a corner office at the other end of the hallway and I readily accepted. Unlike all the other offices, this one is different—it is much larger, with space for a nice desk for my co-investigator, as well as a round table for meetings with colleagues and students, and the ability to swivel my screen around to look at data from the table with students. No less significant than the extra room is the northern exposure—meaning that I get natural light all day from the many, large windows facing several angles, without having to close the blinds. Even better is the view, which looking north avoids the power plant, graveyard and factories (although there is a car wash), and I can even see two of Omaha’s iconic sites: the Joslyn Castle and St. Cecilia’s Cathedral.


Whether the new corner office improves my productivity or leads to more exciting scientific advances, I am doubtful. But given that I spend so much time in the office, I am very appreciative of my new surroundings, and certainly no longer dread being banished to the corner. Although, I guess it does mean that I’m getting old…

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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