Scientists and coffee shops

Coffee shops are the place to do work. I can say with the certainty of someone making up a fact that every Costa an Starbucks right now has at least one author writing a novella about a troubled young teenager trying to understand their place in a society that hates hummus.

Authors and artists have really spearheaded this concept. As soon as big chain coffee shops started springing up they were populating them faster than you can say “how’s your novel coming?”.

I think this is a trend that scientists need to get right on top of. Science should always adapt to try and integrate with society at large and if working in coffee shops is trendy then that’s where we need to be doing science!

Now, to start sciencing in coffee shops I think it’s worth understanding the drive and reason of the authors and artists that already follow this trend. Some quick internet reading suggests that the two main reasons are to do with money and human contact. Interestingly, coffee and hot drinks didn’t seem to feature at all.

Money as a driver is simple to understand, authors and artists are stereotypical often broke. For those of you that haven’t looked into what it costs to rent an office or enough of a desk to hold an A4 pad I can assure you that it costs a lot more that a cup of coffee an hour, it would be at least a cup of fancy coffee possibly with a muffin, an hour. For authors and artists who are paid very little on a chaotic schedule of commissions and contract work any desk space more expensive than a cup of water per hour is enough to make most consider it an expense akin to buying a bath tub of caviar.

This fits very well with scientists. Research salaries are catastrophically bad, but they are also not something that often affords scientists anything as fancy as a house big enough for a study… or in some cases even a table.

Human contact similarly parallels well between artists and scientists. Being an author or an artist typically isn’t a team sport. It can be very isolating, especially if you insist on telling everyone about your ideas about a fictional hummus repressing society. Coffee shops may not provide much conversation (especially not in the UK where we have a strict no eye contact with strangers policy) but they do at the very least allow you to spend some time in the company of other human beings.

Science can be equally isolating: long hours in labs that are either so small that you are the only person that fits in it or in labs so large that even when there are other people they are some how always round the next corner, like some kind of very white well lit horror movie scene. Or conversely you can end up so harassed by students and health and safety inspectors it’s impossible to get any work done. Spending some time in the company of other human beings that won’t ask you how to write their own name or question why you need that to be on fire is something we all need from time to time.

So I think scientists need to learn from authors and artists and see coffee shops as the solution to these issues. For the price of one coffee per hour you can have a space free from students, desks covered in towers of paper work and silent lonely labs. Obviously there are some technical challenges in working from a coffee shop depending on your speciality, but with the correct PPE you’ll be able to do your hydrofluoric acid etch experiments safely protected from accidental cappuccino spills.

2 thoughts on “Scientists and coffee shops

  • May 16, 2018 at 13:53
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    There is another reason why scientist should work from a coffee shop: a vast number of academic want to quit their job and run a coffee shop, so working from one is pretty much living part of their dream. ;-p

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