Why are graduate students allowed to be assigned offices without windows?

Date: July 2023


Hi Deans,

I was wondering why graduate students (or any university employees for that matter) are allowed to be assigned offices without windows? In some EU countries, it’s considered inhumane to assign workers offices without windows and multiple studies have been conducted showing the importance of natural light on mental state and productivity (here’s a link to one conducted at Cornell).


Looking forward to hearing from you,

Vitamin D deficient grad student


Dear vitamin D deficient grad student,

Your question immediately reminded me of the years I spent as a graduate student in Cornell’s nearly-windowless Bradfield Hall. Most of the building’s 11 floors are dedicated to laboratories, with offices tucked in and around the labs. It had a certain logic to the layout but was not especially cheerful. As students, we had to leave our offices and congregate for lunch or coffee breaks in the small lounges at the end of each floor to see what the Ithaca weather was doing. I suppose that forced us to be social, but I was certain the architect’s secret goal was to prevent us from sensing the progression of time, much the way casinos are windowless to keep people playing slot machines into the late hours of the night!

Space is at a premium on campus and may buildings are now used quite differently from how they were designed. Not all students (or staff or faculty) are assigned dedicated office space and there are many reasons why offices with windows may not be available. My suggestion is to identify several other places where you can be productive based on the specific task at hand and the environments that inspire you. If you need a break from your office it might be possible to write or grade papers by a window at the Big Red Barn during the “write-in” hours each morning during the academic year, or at a sunny carrell in your favorite library a few times a week. There may be a lounge, conference room, or café where you can work for a bit.

Professor Keith Diaz at Columbia University found that taking five minutes to walk every 30 minutes can mitigate some of the worst effects of prolonged desk work. Using those minutes to re-charge your vitamin D battery with a walk to find little sunlight (or a view of the cloudy Ithaca skies) might be a practical way to improve your health and mood. I’ve been trying to get into this habit, although I personally struggle to step away from my desk sometimes, even when my watch gives me a little reminder that I’ve been sitting too long.

Lastly, it’s always fine to ask your advisor or GFA if there are other options for office space. They may be able to keep you in mind if a different space becomes available, and it never hurts to ask!



Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration