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I started a new faculty position this past fall, which also entailed moving to a new city where I don't know anyone. When I first moved here, I was excited about getting to know my colleagues, as they were pretty friendly at my campus visit (pre-pandemic). But since my arrival, I haven't gotten to know anyone really. I have regular meetings with my department colleagues, but everything is so transactional. I know it's harder to have those organic, friendly chats on Zoom, and everyone was already exhausted from this pandemic when I first joined in the fall. But I'm really struggling with loneliness in this new work environment. I moved here alone, and am dealing with family health issues that have been emotionally draining (and some of my colleagues are aware of both of those facts). I've recently started seeing a therapist, so I'm trying to get the help I need, but more than anything I just really wish I had even one friend at work so every dept. meeting wouldn't have to feel like a meeting with strangers every single time.

I'm rather stuck, however, with what to do. I guess I expected that when I first joined, they would be the ones to welcome me and make an effort to get to know me a little (it's what I've done when I've had new colleagues). But now all this time has passed, and it's starting to feel like that window is closing. I don't know if I should just give up and accept that they're not social (or at least not with me), or make some attempts on my part. I've made some efforts here and there, but nothing has worked so far, and that has shaken my confidence, and makes me feel like maybe they don't care to know me.

I know that socializing and developing friendships at work might seem very secondary. This is an otherwise good job and I'm grateful to have been hired, but I just feel like such an outsider and very lonely because of it (I'm also the only one in my field at this university, so even the classes I teach don't even seem to fit in with my department's curriculum). I'm not about to quit my job over it or anything, but being in a perpetual state of outsider-ness is really getting to me and I don't know how to address it. It doesn't help that academia is often such an isolated work environment and many professors just aren't very social even in the best of times (hence why I'm posting here specifically).

EDIT: Just wanted to comment here that I'm very grateful for all of the responses. I feel a little less freak-ish, and a bit more motivated to stay patient and keep the efforts going in the meantime. I'll also add that I think one of the reasons I feel so bothered by my department's current dynamic is that it makes me feel like I need to conform and be as transactional and subdued as the rest of them, which is very contrary to my own personality. Anyway, I think that trying to connect with people - but not at all on my own terms - is contributing to the stress of it all, so I'm glad to have had that realization too. Thanks so much for the advice and words of encouragement!

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    If you work remotely/under social distancing rules, you are simply missing the water cooler talks. In my experience, these don't really happen online between people who don't know each other already. You need to be patient and wait for the end of the pandemic (like everyone else). I know it's not easy (I'm missing conversations during lunch, too).
    – Roland
    Apr 7 at 4:54
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    I added the COVID-19 tag. You might want to edit your question to emphasize this aspect more, since this question will lead to a very different answer in the present time than in a (hopefully near) future in which the pandemic is over. Apr 7 at 8:42
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    I just want to explicitly say that what your experiencing is completely understandable given the situation, and I'm sure there are so many people with very similar feelings. Not that this makes everything better for you, but at least I want you to know that there's nothing wrong with you! These are terribly challenging times, and meeting new people in a new place is difficult even under ideal circumstances. Good for you for reaching out in various ways to take care of yourself as best you can! Apr 7 at 15:59
  • When the pandemic is over, suggest organizing some weekly mixers/social hours (maybe including grad students, maybe not) in your department or such. With snacks/drinks/etc. Grad students often like these, and profs might appreciate it too, given the previous social distancing.
    – user541686
    Apr 10 at 5:46
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I don't know if this is much of an answer, but it's become more than will fit in a comment.

If you just joined in Fall 2020, it's not unusual that you haven't made the kind of connections you're looking for yet, especially given the challenges of the pandemic. I'm a PhD student, and I'm sure it's very different for faculty than for students, but I'm not fresh out of undergrad and have been through a couple career transitions prior to grad school. In my experience it takes a year minimum—even in the best of conditions—to organically develop relationships with coworkers/colleagues. (It took me longer than that to build close friendships with folks in my cohort, and we had weekly, in-person classes together for a year.) Genuine connections with coworkers tend to accrue in small increments over that time, and almost always in the interstices between "official" work demands. It sounds like you're fully aware of all this, but an occasional reminder doesn't hurt.

As you mention, everyone is exhausted these days. Perhaps your colleagues are all on the introverted side, but it doesn't sound like this situation has much to do with their feelings about you specifically. If they'd all been actively avoiding you or unfriendly, that would be a different story (and this is not the story you imply, at least, when you say your efforts "haven't worked so far"). Your colleagues may also be trying to give you space to address (or not feel close enough to engage with you about) your family health issues.

In any case, the window is far from closed. I'm still friends, a decade later, with some former colleagues who barely even spoke to me for the first few years at my previous workplace. And although I'm obviously not a super outgoing make-friends-easily type of person, my sense is that that sort of experience isn't unusual.

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Ah mate, I am in the same situation. Moved city to a new place, a new job in Feb 2020. What a time to do so!

My colleagues are super nice, but covid just makes everything hard. People are having personal issues, burnout etc, and it makes the friendly "hey let’s get a coffee together" very hard (legally impossible often). Not just logistically, but also psychologically. Mental health conditions are skyrocketing, the worst since WWII in the UK, and of course this has an impact on the ability of everyone to socialize.

People are tired, "Zoom burnout" is a real thing, and many people are just exhausted of all this screen time socializing, all the time. Zoom does not substitute face to face interactions, you can’t talk 4 people at the same time, argue, or tell a joke. All does feel like "mandatory fun" when you are having a friendly chat, even when it’s with actual friends.

But remember: This is the pandemic. It’s not you, it’s not them, it’s the very rare and extreme situation we are all living in. It does not feel like an extreme situation because our daily lives are very mundane, but it is very hard for the human brain, especially if you are a social person.

I am sure many of those people will be more than willing to go get a coffee/beer/social_thing with you when it’s possible.

I am telling all this from personal experience, not only with how my colleges behave, but how I personally behave. I am a super social guy, I love meeting people and I think group relationships are key in academia and research. Not only that, but some of my best friends are people I met on the job. But I am tired. I often don't join the "social coffee" chats our group organizes, I don't try to catch up with people to see how they are. Now, believe me, the moment all this goes out, I will be the first to propose a night in the pub! Your window is not closing, people are just doing the best they can to survive this thing.

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I also started a new faculty position during the pandemic, so I know how you feel. There is also not really anyone else at my university working in a similar area. It's very difficult to develop new relationships with colleagues via Zoom, etc. While it isn't a substitute for the casual encounters which help build connections with new colleagues, there are a few things I have done to at least try to get through until in-person social contact is possible again.

  1. Press forward with existing collaborations. This has the benefit of progressing my research, but also keeps me in touch with friends and colleagues around the world socially.
  2. Reach out to connections about starting new projects. Similar to 1 there is also a social side to this.
  3. Organise Zoom 'coffee' meetings with other faculty members (one-on-one or as a group). In particular other faculty at a similar career stage. Many people feel the same way as you, sometimes all it takes is someone to break the ice.
  4. Get involved in non-university social activities. Depending on the pandemic situation where you are some in-person activities may be possible (for example outdoor team sports are allowed where I am). In my opinion this is a good idea even in non-pandemic times in order to have an escape from work.

Hopefully we will all be out of this soon!

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There are already many good answers specific to the academic environment. I just thought I'd add my two cents as an expat.

I moved to a different country 8 years ago and struggled much with the same issues you describe, though I had the advantage of being a student at the time and not having a global pandemic going on. Coincidentally, this country is rated as one of the hardest places to make friends in, I found out later. My problem was people were friendly but it was difficult to make a genuine connection because most people were local and already had all the friends they needed. Yes, it sounds silly. Yes, it was completely true. The friend saturation curve is real and the older you get the more likely the people you meet are already at their desired maximum friend capacity. I know you just moved to a different city instead of out of country, but I think the same situation applies.

The solution I've found: Find the other foreigners/non-locals.

Those people are also lonely and they'd love to be friends with you! You just need to find them. If the city is large enough there are bound to be facebook/social network groups for folk new in town, whether they be from abroad or not. Your university might have some sort of international office. You could try to start a zoom coffee club/ Friday beer at your work place or find out if there is one. Or join some interest group, sports club ect. It's good to be friendly at work but there is no need to limit your social contacts to the work environment.

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Loneliness for new faculty is definitely a problem, even in non-pandemic times. Students/Postdocs/reserach fellows often have research groups or cohorts that provide a ready made professional circle that isn't present when you start as a new faculty. To make matters worse, you will often have had to move a new city/country.

Are there other new PIs at your place? Perhaps you could reach out to them? I'd start by approaching them individually for a Zoom coffee. Perhaps not even in your department, but in related ones. You don't need an excuse beyond "lets get to know each other and each other's work". We have a group of young PIs here that have been key to my development - people who've join the dept in the last 10 years. Mostly we drink together, but also we science together occasionally even now (via zoom).

You say that you feel a bit out on a limb in your dept. How about creating a trans-campus seminar series or journal club or discussion group on some topic connected to your work? Or a group especially for new faculty in any department of the institution.

Finally there are dedicated online communities for new faculty. New PI slack is an online community for new PIs, open to any new faculty member anywhere in the world, but I think the members are heavily enriched for North American and Biomedical science. There is also NewPI_UK that is UK focused more on the UK academic system where people worry about different things (e.g. there is no tenure in the UK, our grant system is much more project focused rather than program focused etc). I suspect there are others.

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  • +1 for New PI Slack. It is both US and BioMed focused, but a lot of the issues you'll face (hiring, teaching) are similar. I've found it incredibly useful.
    – JHare
    Apr 8 at 8:14
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There are two aspects to "making connections": professional and personal.

First, a few words about professional connections. If you are the only person in your subfield at this place then most of your connections are normally found elsewhere, say through conferences and such. But you can also develop a side interest in a related field that is more widely represented at your place. One with an ongoing seminar series might be best.

But the focus here is on personal, local, contacts. Assuming that you don't want to work all the time, which is unhealthy in any case, look for some activities and interests that you share with others, even with grad students in a large place. When I was a doctoral student at a large university, a few of us were very interested in cycling, normally 50 miles or so a couple of times a week. Most of the group were young faculty. The fact that it was aerobic was an additional point in its favor as there is nothing better to clear the mind than a good workout (yes, debatable). Some of us played paddleball/racketball/handball occasionally. I usually lost. Some of this may not be possible in pandemic times. But running/jogging in a widely separated group should be safe enough and is healthy.

You can even walk and talk with proper separation. The talk could be professional or not. Commiserate with your peers about how badly your favorite sports team is doing.

The grad students, along with spouses, organized a pickup softball game once a week. Again, faculty were welcome.

But there may be opportunities for museums or music, especially if we emerge from the pandemic. Book discussion clubs. Interdepartmental things might be possible. Look for common interests. Or even spend a bit of effort to expand your own interests.

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In our company we have started to create "coffee break" video sessions which are explicitly not about work. Most are once or twice a week; and span different organizational boundaries (e.g., mostly on the team level, sometimes more orthogonal to that).

Maybe you can encourage such a voluntary coffee break in your group as well. I would specifically not make it something outside the regular times of work, but smack in the middle. Think of it like the time when you accidentally meet people at the coffee machine. Use the time to talk about anything you would do to socialize.

Also, if you have a common text chat infrastructure, just use that to actively do private or group chats with whoever you can think of. I.e., if you have the feeling that someone mentions something that bothers them in one of your meetings, just follow up on that ("I noticed ... are you OK?"). You don't want to be creepy, but maybe something develops from that.

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Whereas I agree with the answer of cpit, I do think that we have lost the culture of welcoming new members to our working groups.

This might have different reasons.

At first, science and academia tend to build an environment, in which everybody is under pressure to produce some results. And in general, this is not an easy task. Also, it is easy to identify ourselves with the outcoming and the progress of our work, as we usually work a major amount of time on our own to gain those reuslts. I know it from myself: When things do not work out that well in my research I tend to focus a lot on it and I may also become rather unsocial.

Nevertheless, I think this is neither good nor normal. We all should feel responsible to give newcomers a warm welcome. Even if (or maybe especially because) our experience was different when we came to the insitute, university, etc.

My experience is that two crucial points correspond to the achievement of a successful integration process.

1.) The team leader: He or she has to form a team, where everyone feels respected and well esteemed. If this is met, I have no problems to welcome other people - as there is nothing that I can lose from somebody entering new in our group.

2.) The institution has to set up an environment, where it is simple for people to meet, that didn't know each other before.

I noticed that at universities the rôles are sometimes not well organized. The administration of the university might be one reason, why you are here, but they live (obviously) in a completely different world.

The professor might be another reason why you are here, but he or she is busy and trusts the students, that they will welcome you.

Whereas the students either are locals and then often do not have the motivation or the means to integrate people from elsewhere (as they never made a similar experience or they have reached a saturation level of friendships as pointed out by Henya). Or they are not locals and may experience the same issues like you.

Both of the points above cannot really be changed by you.

But what you can change is the way how you treat this situation. There are many other people facing the problem as you, and this is a good starting point (as many other posts already made a lot of suggestions here).

And giving other new members in your group later on a warm welcome might be an even better one.

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