I imagine I’m going to have a lot of posts about being a newbie, so I’ll call this part the first. Being the new person is always hard, and we all know this. I’m fairly well adjusted to being new, after my last two postdocs (the first lasted three years and second lasted two years), but there are different issues at every institution. One rough thing about both of my postdocs is that I wasn’t part of a large lab group, so my direct training and work interactions were with a small number of people. The same is true here, since I’m starting a new lab [read: it’s just me and Shaggy]. That makes it really hard to meet new people, because sometimes interactions at the shared sink are just not enough.
It also depends on the culture of the department and/or institution. My first postdoc was in a biology department, so there were a lot of graduate students who had recently been new and were very welcoming to newbies. I made awesome friends with some of them. My second postdoc was at a place with relatively low turn-over in the long term, but with a lot of visitors from other places in the short term. This made it hard to get to know people, because the constant flux of new visitors kind of wore people out. Also, I am really shy, and introducing myself to people while stressing out about starting a new job is hard.
That brings me to an interesting observation about my current relocation issue. Basically, the people in my department have been super friendly and helpful as I’ve been moving in and getting settled in my lab and office. However, my office is located next to two people from another science department, and they haven’t even said hello. The charitable interpretation of this is that they’re shy (many scientists are!), or maybe they’re still in ‘summer’ mode and don’t want to deal with new colleagues. I won’t go into the uncharitable interpretations here, but we can all think of some. I guess I need to introduce myself today, since the academic appointments are starting, and say “I really am here, right next door to you, and I will be for the next five years. You might want to know who I am, and I want to know who you are.”
So, this is a good lesson in what not to do to make someone feel welcome in your building. The thing is, I kind of deserve it. I’ve definitely built up some bad karma in my past by ignoring new members of my graduate lab and visitors to the various institutions where I’ve been a postdoc. I could have been way more friendly and helpful to people who were in my building, city, or country for the first time. Oh, sure, I can blame stress or other worries for why I didn’t get involved, but everyone faces those pressures. I think that I can and should try to do a better job at this in the future.
How do you feel about welcoming new people into your department/business/program? Have you had someone go the extra mile for you? Have you had someone make you feel unwelcome?