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These days several countries (including Germany, where I am situated) are heading towards some kind of lockdown due to the Corona pandemic. Nonetheless, new group members arrive and I have the feeling that I do not have enough good ideas for the question:

How to welcome new PhD students or postdocs to the group during a lockdown?

Many things are not available like meeting in the halls, getting coffee together, going to lunch together… Of course, virtual group meetings work, to some extent, but apart from that?

For the sake of clarity you may consider the following circumstances:

  • Office spaces may still be used, but only one person per office is allowed.
  • Many people work from home, some are using offices in a shared fashion to avoid meeting in person.
  • The new PhD students may have just moved to the city from someplace else.
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    Very carefully? :-( – einpoklum Oct 25 '20 at 7:19
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    Thank you for asking this question! This is also a problem I'm grappling with these days, and while there are no perfect answers we shouldn't ignore it (my original plan was to organize a dinner with the new members of the department, but this has quickly become infeasible among rising cases). – Denis Nardin Oct 25 '20 at 9:15
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    I feel your pain. One of our postdocs started in June and I only met him in person by chance at a shop about a month ago. It's all very strange, but I'm trying not to suggest to the group members meeting in person because they might feel compelled to do it even if they don't feel safe, due to the power imbalance. I hope this is all over soon. – Miguel Oct 25 '20 at 10:20
  • As someoneon that started a Postdoc 3 weeks before it all blew up, and has not gone back to the office since, I feel you. Do make an effort, as it gets quite isolating, particularly if the person joining is from a different place.(My group is very nice, but all this still sucks a lot) – Ander Biguri Oct 26 '20 at 9:34
  • My real suggestion is: be aware that in the current situation, starting a new job is super hard, and its likely that the person starting will underperfor. Its crazy how much coffee chats get research ahead. Just be understanding and expect that. – Ander Biguri Oct 26 '20 at 9:36
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Here are some things the grad students in my department did to keep connected:

  1. We have a slack group with lots of channels. Some are dedicated to posting memes/talking about random things

  2. We have occasional game nights on Zoom where we play games like Contact and other games that can be played over Zoom.

  3. We sent emails specifically to the new grad students (even though there were only two of them) to check up on them, invite them to our slack group etc. One of the two did start participating quite frequently in our Slack conversations so that was successful.

  4. Also, depending on how careful you need to be with Covid, I think you really can get coffee together. If you're a grad student, and you are new to the city, it's going to be really really lonely staying in your apartment possibly alone and never meeting anyone. Getting coffee or takeout and hanging out outside while socially distanced with one or two people every once in a while is probably a relatively low-risk activity and unless you're particularly vulnerable, I would say it's probably healthier than having no contact with anyone whatsoever.

  5. Along those lines you can also ride bikes, play tennis, or go running together. These things are pretty low-risk depending on where you live. Where I live, there are public outdoor tennis courts that are not very crowded so you don't need to be close to anyone. Exercise has helped me cope with isolation a lot and really improves my productivity.

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    Unfortunately it's getting cold 😔 – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 25 '20 at 20:55
  • Oh yeah depending on where you live that could definitely be a problem. – user128124 Oct 25 '20 at 22:51
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    Outdoor activities are still possible when it's moderately cold (down to -30°C or so). Back when I lived in Sweden we had an annual winter barbecue, it would typically be around -20°C or so. When not putting food right into their mouth people would be covering their nose and mouth anyway, not because of a virus but because of the weather (same at the summer barbecue, but then due to mosquitoes). Use your creativity to come up with outside winter social events, just don't huddle under a blanket together. – gerrit Oct 26 '20 at 10:00
  • Masks conveniently keep your face a bit warmer. – user128124 Oct 26 '20 at 14:58
  • @pictorexcrucia: I thought masks were only an indication of your political leaning... – Ink blot Oct 31 '20 at 16:44

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