Monday, 1 September 2008

First day at school

I have only had two jobs before now. The previous, at Stockholm University, was a quiet transition after many years as a PhD student, postdoc researcher and part-timer. I didn’t even notice the difference. My first job in Moscow was at the Film Research Institute, newly established and therefore crammed in a few small rooms in a cellar with just two desks for a whole research group of twenty. We had to work in shifts, half a day every week, which nobody minded as we were all happy to work from home. When we eventually got a fancy old mansion, our working hours were extended to a whole day per week plus weekly meetings plus film screenings – which most of my friends wondered whether they could really count as work. I do remember the first day I came to that cellar and was briefly introduced to routines. It was long before computers, passwords, electronic keycards and all these things we take for granted. On arrival, we signed in a large cloth-bound notebook, and we signed out as we left. Our working places were in the library, and most books were reference and not for loan. There was one telephone.

Today I feel like a new girl in school. Everybody knows everyone else. Everybody has a card that gives access to everything. Mine is not valid yet because the computer system is down. I cannot register for the library because I need my card. I don’t have an office, but get a cubicle with a minimal desk. One of my thirty thousand passwords doesn’t work – because the computer system is down. At least my new email address works. I feel I exist, albeit partially. I am taken on a round tour of the building, including toilets, stairs, coffee machines and outgoing mailboxes. I meet new people whose names I will never manage to remember. I have lunch with colleagues and coffee at the magnificent Combination Room. I keep telling myself that I am not a guest anymore, I have rights to be here.

Then I feel I have exhausted the possibilities and go home.

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