We tested a bunch of study spaces to find the most scientifically optimal one

Abstract

Owing to the positive reception garnered by our first venture into the world of scientific studies (Adventures, Unimelb 2018), it was decided that further scientific tests on the conundrums faced by the University of Melbourne student community were indeed necessary. This second instalment aims to continue demystifying student life by empirically ranking several popular study spaces and investigating what makes a study space ‘work’.

Again, we would like to acknowledge existing literature in the field (see: Adventures, Unimelb 2015) which served to outline the amount of choice students have when it comes to study spaces. However, it must be noted that much has changed since the publication of the above article: for example, a claim was made that “you’ll usually find a spot to study [in Baillieu].” No, gurl, you will not.

Consequently, we aim to update the literature in this field, and thereby determine the best study space for students at the University in 2018.

Hypothesis

Baillieu, hands down. A lot of us initially felt that this was a clear frontrunner in our test. To make things interesting, we have decided to omit Bailieu for two reasons:

  1. To stop encouraging students to study within an already-packed library (you’ll thank us in SWOTVAC)
  2. To level the playing field amongst the remainder of our spaces

This undoubtedly muddied the waters, and our seven testers were divided on the remaining study spaces.

Method

The testers

alain

  • Alain
  • Arts student in Media and Politics
  • True to his colours, his favourite study spots are Arts West and Arts Hall
  • Has 197 LinkedIn connections at time of writing

ayush

  • Ayush
  • 2nd year Arts student
  • Will study absolutely wherever he can find a spot (Law library or Bailieu preferred)
  • Dead inside and may or may not have been half-awake for this photo

beau

  • Beau
  • Commerce student but looks and sounds like an Arts student
  • Doesn’t believe in “studying”
  • Picks study spaces based on accessibility and cleanliness of toilet facilities
  • Loud study spaces are a bonus (so she can laugh when she gets a superlike on Tinder)

mark

  • Mark
  • Arts student but looks and sounds like a Commerce student
  • Frequently studies at home so he can play music out loud
  • “Frequently studies” :) :) :) :)

Tash

  • Tash
  • 3rd year Environments student
  • Studies at MSD to feel like an ABP student
  • In no particular order, her ideal study space has natural lighting, warmth, comfortable chairs, good noise levels, and no abnormal smells (Thankfully we tested all of these things. Like, literally all of them.)

tiff

  • Tiff
  • The most relatable Arts student
  • Mostly studies on campus since bed is a big distraction
  • Needs a good Wifi signal and a power point
  • Loves a nap in the Rowdy (shoutout to the no-study library)

yana

  • Yana
  • 2nd year Arts student in Psychology and Anthropology
  • Not nerdy enough for the nerds, but nerdier than your average homegirl
  • Has zero self-control to study at home and therefore enjoys the Panopticism™ of libraries

Testing Criteria

Between 12:30pm and 3:30pm on a Wednesday afternoon, our testers visited a number of study spaces, spending approximately 10 minutes inside each space. We strove to sit together in order to keep our experience of the space uniform. Where this was not possible, we dispersed in order to complete the tests.

We tested the following spaces: The Spot (level 3), Law library (level 4), Giblin Eunson library, FBE building (level 3), John Medley Linkway, Laby (Physics), Chemistry, ERC level 3, Arts West levels 4, The Ida, and MSD (both the basement and the atrium).

The following observations were made for each study space:

  • Whether or not there are power points (if so, how plenteous they are)
  • Whether or not food is allowed into the space
  • Whether or not there are toilets (if so, how many, are they clean, are there accessible toilets etc.) – credit to Beau for her outstanding toilet analysis

Ratings (out of 5) were also given across the following criteria:

  • comfort of seats
  • temperature (it was 27°C outside)
  • lighting
  • ambience/atmosphere
  • noise level (according to personal preference as opposed to actual volume)

This was followed by an overall score, which reflected our holistic views on each study space. These scores were averaged and ranked to present the results below. In the event of a tie, the winner will be determined as whichever study space scores higher on average in a majority (3 or more) of the criteria above. Without further ado…

The Results

The winner: John Medley Linkway (ANOTHER OBSCURE CHOICE)

Study space Score Categories won (1st, 2nd or 3rd place)
John Medley Linkway 4.3 Seat comfort (tied 2) temperature (1) ambience (2)
ERC (level 3) 4.25 Seat comfort (1) lighting (2) ambience (1) noise (1)
Law library (level 4) 3.6 Temperature (2), lighting (3)
FBE (level 2) 3.6 Noise (3)
MSD atrium 3.57 Lighting (1)
MSD basement 3.4
‘The Labyrinth’ Chemistry building 3.3 Temperature (3)
Physics building, Laby IDEAS Centre   3.29
Giblin Eunson Library (level 3) 3.29 Seat comfort (tied 2),
The Spot level 3 study lounge 3.2 Ambience (3)
Arts West (levels 4) 3.19 Seat comfort (tied 2) noise (2)
The Ida 2.5

 

Analysis

12. The Ida (average overall score 2.5)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 1.8 2.4 3.9 2.1 2.1

Likelihood of getting a spot: 80%, but it’s sometimes used as a function space so don’t rely on it too much.
Can you eat there: it’s literally a bar

sdr

The reopened student bar on Level 1 of Union House has always been a chill area for students to hang out, play pool, or study if they so choose (which is why we included it). However, none of our testers scored it higher than 3 out of 5, leading to its subpar ranking. This just doesn’t seem like the ideal place to study for most people—unless you don’t mind the chatter as background noise while you study, it’s hard to imagine being that productive here.

On the plus side, the toilet around the corner is also “the most hipster toilet” at our Uni, if you’re into 70s décor. Also, the natural lighting here is plenteous and there’s booze at the bar. Basically, don’t come study here unless you want an excuse to drink.

Most favourable score: Alain, Mark, Tash and Yana (3/5)
Harshest critic: Tiff (1/5)
Kindest comment: “I love this place to chill and chat and do light work” -Alain
Meanest comment: “weird vibe and straight up distracting” -Tiff
Best summary comment: “well, if your study method includes booze…” -Yana

 

11. Arts West level 4 (average overall score 3.19)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 3.6 3.4 2.2 3.5 3.9

Likelihood of getting a spot: 20%. Better the higher up the building you go, but overall not great.
Can you eat there: yeah go for it

cof

Logically and geographically, this feels like where you’d hit up next if Bailieu was full. Unfortunately, as a result of this, Arts West is pretty much always full as well. In addition to the lack of space, the complete lack of natural lighting also came under fire from our testers; in particular, Tiff gave a score of -5000 in the lighting category. Even just treating this as a 0/5, Arts West wasn’t able to even pass in this criterion, with an average of 2.2/5 for lighting.

It did however perform more strongly in the ambience and noise categories. The echo-y acoustics of the building suited the tastes of most testers, and as Ayush put it, “it is enough to remind you humans exist but not enough to distract.”

Most favourable score: Beau, Mark and Tash (3/5)
Harshest critic: Tiff (1/5)
Kindest comment: “MY FAVOURITE TOILET IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSITY. Accessible toilets on each floor, and the aesthetic is just on point, the white brick wall is just basic yet so sophisticated and minimalistic. The lighting is always on point.” -Beau
Meanest comment: “Everything just reminds me over and over of how stupidly dark this place is for no good reason” -Tiff
Best summary comment: “would not recommend unless you’re an Aesthetic Hipster™” -Tiff

 

10. The Spot study lounge level 3 (average overall score 3.2)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 2.4 0.4 3.4 3.7 2.9

Likelihood of getting a space: 30%. This place has a lot of long bench seats and tables, but in different places for some reason. This means that you have a good chance of finding a seat or a table, but not both at the same time.
Can you eat there: eating is more common in the level 1 study space than the level 3 one, but no one will kick you out for doing it in either.

sdr

The stomping ground of many Commerce students, the Spot study lounge on level 3 (there’s another lounge on level 1 but it’s usually more crowded so we didn’t bother with it) is generally a well-decorated and well-lit place to study, with plenty of power points as well as group discussion pods and a wide variety of seating options. You may wonder why its ranking doesn’t seem to reflect this. A one word answer: ven-ti-la-tion. Comparisons were drawn between this lounge and “Satan’s foot bath”—blame the West-facing windows, and be careful when studying here on warm afternoons.

Temperature issues aside, this was actually a lovely space, receiving the third-highest score in the ambience category for its visually pleasing décor and its productive crowd. There are also vending machines with various Asian snacks and drinks. All in all, a decent space which explicitly lost points for being too hot.

Most favourable score: Beau and Tash (4/5)
Harshest critic: Yana (2/5)
Kindest comment: “feels like we’re in the corner office of Deloitte” -Tash
Meanest comment: “I am breathing in humidity and people’s stress” -Tiff
Best summary comment: “Too. Bloody. Hot” –Ayush

 

9. Giblin Eunson library (level 3) (average overall score 3.29)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 3.6 3.0 3.1 2.9 2.6

Likelihood of getting a space:  20%. Not terrible, but you’ll only be able to find a space at one of those long tables where you need to directly face someone else. This leads to you being slightly paranoid the whole time you’re studying that you’ll look up from your laptop and accidentally catch their eyes.
Can you eat there: technically not (since you know, it’s a library) but it’s pretty common to sneak a snack or two. Just don’t, like, pull out a giant bowl of noodles and start slurping it at your desk or anything.

Performing slightly better than its neighbour, Giblin Eunson library was a fairly similar space to the Spot in many respects. The temperature was on the warmer side as well, and the crowd were also the right mix of productive (so you feel inclined to be productive too) and non-judgmental (so you don’t feel pressured to stay productive for hours on end). Also positive was the collaborative spaces—just be aware that the project rooms are not completely soundproof.

Though there is an accessible toilet, none of the bathrooms are particularly well-lit or “aesthetic”, according to our toilet expert. Also, power points and empty seats may be a bit hard to come by. However, if you do get a seat, you can take comfort (literally) in the knowledge that they are the second most comfortable on campus. According to us, anyway.

Most favourable score: Beau and Mark (4/5)
Harshest critic: Tiff (2.5/5)
Kindest comment: “[The seats are] firm and will support your lower back in a way that business/economics studies will not.” -Mark
Meanest comment: “Why do I feel like I’m in a pantry idk” -Tash
Best summary comment: “Pretty decent but not exactly the best” -Ayush

 

8, Physics South building, Laby IDEAS Lab (average overall score 3.29)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 2.3 2.0 3.5 3.1 2.7

Likelihood of finding a seat: better if you’re a first year – they’re the only place on campus we’re aware of that has a first-year students only study space. For the rest of us, 30%.
Can you eat there: yeah go for it

Going from one corner of campus to another, the Laby IDEAS (always said in all-caps) Lab on the ground floor of the Physics building struck a tie with Giblin Eunson, and came out on top owing to comparatively better scores in lighting, ambience and noise levels. Overall, this was a fairly divisive study space (with the third-highest standard deviation of the lot), and some of our testers were surprised to find it so high.

To be fair, it was pretty stuffy inside, and there weren’t exactly lots of options for seating, but the ambience really struck a chord with some testers, and features such as whiteboards and a TV displaying timetables for first-year physics classes were additional selling points for this space.

It also contains a weird futuristic space-dome thing (pictured left), so you might enjoy it if you like pointless but cool interior design choices.

Most favourable score: Tiff (4.5/5)
Harshest critic: Ayush (2/5)
Kindest comment: “very snazzy place” -Tiff
Meanest comment: “Overall, not impressed with the building so not even going to try to find the toilets” -Beau
Best summary comment: “it’s pretty cute” -Yana

 

7. ‘The Labyrinth’, Chemistry building (average overall score 3.3)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 2.7 4.0 2.8 2.9 2.9

Likelihood of finding a seat: this place literally has two tables. Good luck.
Can you eat there: as far as we can tell, yes

sdr

Finally. A well-ventilated space. You get an H1 in the temperature department. However, that’s probably the only reason this space placed this high—in other areas, it was considered just so-so, particularly in lighting (which was orange and bizarre and unnatural).

We struggled to find seats, since the area was largely a computer lab for Chemistry students only. The building was also very maze-like, and we didn’t spot any accessible toilets or many power points at all. The overall scores all fall between 3 and 4—basically, this is an uncontroversially mediocre area.

Most favourable score: Tiff (4/5)
Harshest critic: Alain, Mark and Yana (3/5)
Kindest comment: “It’s a cozy spot and I like it since it’s got warm lights and it feels like I’m Bilbo Baggins in my hobbit home” -Tiff
Meanest comment: “[This] would never be my first choice. Actually kinda sucks. This is why I haven’t touched Chem since Year 12” -Tash
Best summary comment: “It’s decent but I’m not sure if I’d come here frequently” -Mark

 

6. MSD library basement (average overall score 3.4)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 1.6 2.9 2.9 3.6 2.4

Likelihood of getting a seat: 1%
Can you eat there: emphatically no

sdr

Not gonna lie, we also the most difficulty finding seats here out of all of the spaces. However, those around us who had already found seats were all business, and this space was praised by all testers for its very productive vibe. The temperature was a little divisive—we couldn’t agree if it was “toasty” or “very stuffy”—and some found the quiet atmosphere a little oppressive, though this was definitely a bigger issue for another space on this list (see 3. Law library).

Food isn’t allowed in here and power points are plenteous along the benches and around the individual tables between aisles of books—all of this suggests that this is a library highly conducive to individual study. Note that if you need the bathroom, you will have to head upstairs, unfortunately. Could be a deal breaker for an otherwise very neat space.

Most favourable score: Tiff and Yana (4/5)
Harshest critic: Alain (2.5/5)
Kindest comment: “Serious but not too serious. Aesthetic is spot on.” -Yana
Meanest comment: “I like this space but it’s a bit too barebones and sterile.” -Alain
Best summary comment: “Good if you want a warm place to study hard” -Ayush

 

5. MSD atrium (average overall score 3.57)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 2.5 3.6 4.4 3.1 3.1

Likelihood of getting a seat: 30%, but you might need to hunt around a bit to find a chair
Can you eat there: probably not a full meal, but unlikely someone will stop you if it’s a snack

sdr

Fortunately, many of our qualms with the MSD basement are resolved on the upper floors of the building. Seating is more available the higher up you go, there are toilets on most floors (though poorly lit, according to Beau) and you’re allowed to eat. Power points are also generally available, unless you’re seated at a bench.

However, arguably the strongest selling point of this space is the sheer amount of natural lighting (no tester gave this space a rating lower than 4 for lighting). The openness of the space does lend itself to being a bit echo-y, but I think all of us could use a reminder that the sun exists during SWOTVAC.

Most favourable score: Mark and Yana (4/5)
Harshest critic: Ayush (3/5)
Kindest comment: “studious, productive, modern.” -Yana
Meanest comment: “It’s a good ambience but sometimes there’s pockets of weird noises and distraction and maybe it’s a bit too open” -Alain
Best summary comment: “I love natural lighting So Much NATURAL LIGHTING!!!!!” -Tiff

4. Faculty of Business and Economics (level 2) (average overall score 3.6, tied with Law library)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 2.5 2.7 2.8 3.6 3.8

Likelihood of getting a seat: 50% – the space you enter as soon as you exit the elevator is probably going to be a bit more crowded (pictured left). But if you turn to the right and like, make an u-turn, you might be able to find some sneaky seats down the corridor (pictured right).
Can you eat there: yes (but people will frown at you)

While many pass through here on the way to the Spot, few head upstairs to visit the FBE study spaces. We’re actually a little surprised this one placed so high, considering that it was a pretty average space in retrospect, but the availability and variety of seating options, as well as the abundance of power points and even the inclusion of a kitchenette are definitely pluses for this space. Also, the toilets are clean and functional (with an accessible toilet to boot).

By now, everyone figured out that there’s a fine line between a productive space and a chill one, but in many ways, this space is the line. It’s nice for collaborative projects, but also for people who just want to work alone. Except for that one person who left because of us. Oops.

Most favourable score: Alain, Ayush and Beau (4/5)
Harshest critic: Yana (3/5)
Kindest comment: “People were talking and seemed human (impressive for a Commerce building)” -Ayush
Meanest comment: “Taking off half a point for ugly window view but it was alright. Poor feng shui.” -Tash
Most bizarre comment: “This place traumatises me because I saw a guy sniffing his foot at the coffee sink once at 9pm.” -Alain

 

3. Law library (level 4) (average overall score 3.6, tied with FBE)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 3.3 4.1 4.0 3.3 0.4

Likelihood of getting a seat: 25% (as high as your chances of getting into the JD)
Can you eat there: a law student will kill you and make it look like an accident, starting a series of events that will play out over four thrilling seasons.

sdr

Full disclosure: this was the first library we visited, and we were totally unprepared for the impact that we, a group of seven, would have on the atmosphere inside a study space. This was a cold, brutal awakening for us—we had dirty side-eyes on us the moment we set foot in this place. Walking through the silence was literally like trying to walk through jelly; it was just oppressive and uncomfortable.

On the other hand, if you actually have important things to do, this space is a godsend for you. The Law library performed well in literally every metric, and had particularly impressive natural lighting and air conditioning (both categories in which this space scored 4 or more out of 5). All of this serves to complement the seriously productive vibe in this library. Just don’t bring your friends here.

Most favourable score: Tiff (5/5)
Harshest critic: Alain, Beau and Mark (3/5)
Kindest comment: “Best place for catching up on 17 lectures, a 2000 paper due in 1 hour or SWOTVAC.” -Alain
Meanest comment: “Cemeteries at midnight are noisier.” -Ayush
Best summary comment: “Law students are intense.” -Tash

 

2. Eastern Resource Centre (level 3) (average overall score 4.25)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 3.7 3.0 4.2 4.2 4.4

Likelihood of getting a seat: 50%, since getting to it is such a hassle these days. You might have some difficulty finding a seat in the main space (pictured left) but if you wander around there are a couple of rooms and hidden crannies off to the side that are usually less populated (for example, the room pictured right).
Can you eat there: naaaaaah

Ayyy we’re breaking new ground and moving into H1 territory here (a reminder that all coffee tastes bad and none of them deserved an H1 last time). The ERC is a little hard to get to now with the construction of the new Student Precinct, but it’s definitely worth the trek.

The lighting is clever, with big windows for natural light combined with spot lamps strategically placed above tables. There’s also flexibility in seating options, with sofas available for the more laidback as well. The toilets also have full length mirrors, so if you ever need to check your outfit…

Most favourable score: Tiff (4.75/5)
Harshest critic: Beau (3.5/5)
Kindest comment: “Everyone seems to be productive and it’s a comfortable, relaxed environment to work in.” -Mark
Meanest comment: “The aesthetic is not really there, like it’s old but not old enough to be aesthetically pleasing #vintage.” -Beau
Best summary comment: “very close to perfect” -Tiff

 

1. John Medley Linkway (average overall score 4.3)

Criteria Seat Comfort Temperature Lighting Ambience Noise
Avg Score 3.6 4.8 3.0 4.1 3.4

Likelihood of getting a seat: you’ve got a 50/50 chance
Can you eat there: yeah go for it

cof

This may come as a surprise to many: not a lot of people seem to know where the John Medley Linkway is. As Tash put it, “IT’S THE WOMINJEKA [BANNER]” that overlooks Gate 10, the Uni’s main entrance on Grattan St. Those that have ventured inside will know exactly why this space has performed so well on this test, scoring 4 or higher from all but one of our testers.

In spite of the toilets being a bit tricky to find (they’re in the stairwell), the 60s-70s décor and the perfectly temperature were major wins for this space. We didn’t miss the natural light so much, since the built-in lights were nice and bright, and in many ways, the vibe is just right: as Alain put it, this space manages to be “casual and serious at the same time. You know you’re in the Arts faculty when you’re here.”

Most favourable score: Tiff (5/5)
Harshest critic: Yana (3/5)
Kindest comment: “A pretty damn awesome place to study or chill or whatever.” -Ayush
Meanest comment: “Pretty chill and casual, but I wouldn’t go here for serious studying” -Yana
Best summary comment: “good for study, good for chatting, good for coffee, good for naps” -Tiff

 

Final Comments

Everyone has different preferences when it comes to study—some enjoy absolute silence whilst others enjoy a bit of company or chatter; some prefer to study on a stool at a table in a cold room, whilst others go for cushioned swivel chairs in warm rooms; some like dark walls; others like windows.

At the end of the day, we’d just like to acknowledge what’s really, truly important about our study spaces. That is, that Baillieu is just always too full, and you should definitely consider some of these options instead. If natural light is important, try ERC or MSD’s upper levels. If silence is important, go to Law. If you like a bit of background noise, consider Arts West. Just anything but Baillieu. We beg you.


About the author

mark profile

Mark is a second-year Economics major parading as an Arts student. His idea of a good time is Mariah’s Daydream CD on loop plus biscuits and maybe a good book (he’s currently reading Frankenstein). His favourite joke is that he’s like a ninja at the gym because nobody ever sees him there. He’s funnier in real life, he promises. Find him on instagram @myin.rbc

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