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I don't know how to behave as a new PhD student towards the other people in my group. I started my PhD at the begining of Covid in February 2020. One week after I met the people in our group, our research center was closed. During the last year, only me and my advisor came to the research center. Others visited from time to time.

Now, restrictions were lifted and the other members of the group started to arrive. We know each other, but nobody invites me to anything, even lunch. Besides, my room is in another corridor and there is noone from our group on that side, it's just me. I can't see if the rest of the group is leaving for lunch or not. I feel so excluded and I don't know what should I do. I'm like a complete stranger. They don't have to like me, but I don't understand why they act like that.

There will be group meetings which I don't want to attend. Would it be bad to say to my advisor that 'I do not want to attend the meetings because no one but you has talked with me until now' ?

I want to add this, to be more extrovert, I did my best to bring cake and invite others for coffee.

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    Just to say that as someone who has also recently moved institutes and countries, I sympathise and you are not alone.
    – astronat
    Jul 7 at 15:44
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    Don't forget that Italy is a more open country than Germany and that, in turn, is more open than others. Take your time. Don't be pressured. Is there a Slack-board or some other joint communication platform? Jul 7 at 16:49
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    Do you speak German? do they speak German or English? there may be a language barrier, on top of a cultural barrier, on top of pandemic-related behavior. Even drinking a coffee with some of them after the group meeting may give you a way to bond with some of the group members. At the moment, you do not have any bond: even being in the same group and working on the same topic is not enough for many culture to feel there is a bond and to curate it.
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 7 at 19:02
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    @carlos_ser As a fellow Italian in Germany, don't expect the same "warmth" that you were used to. You will have to take the initiative for many things, and actions that to you seem polite, or even basic norms of common living, are considered rude and excessively familiar here. It sucks, but it's the way it is. The good news is that you can change the group to fit you a bit better, even if it will take a lot of effort. Jul 8 at 7:19
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    @DCTLib One thing I found that works well-ish is to organize social activities myself and invite people. They are a bit shocked at first (as you said, the familiarity threshold for inviting someone in Germany is ridiculously high), but it does work in getting you more included. Jul 8 at 12:11
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I think it would be a mistake to miss such a meeting. You will be isolating yourself, adding to the problem. Go there, even if you only listen the first time.

Perhaps you have an option to switch offices. Ask.

Perhaps there is a coffee room in which people can gather. Go there. Take your work with you in case no one shows up. Introduce yourself when they do. Try small talk. Try asking about their research.

If you are on good terms with your advisor, make the issue known to them. Perhaps they can make a few introductions.

If you meet anyone, let them know you'd like a knock on the door if they go out to lunch. Make small steps lead to bigger ones.

When I was a doctoral student, one of us organized sport activities (pick-up baseball) and we got to meet and interact with each other, even outside our small research groups.

It has been a hard time for everyone and lots of people have lost social skills, so be aware of that.

But go to every meeting that is offered.

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I believe that this is an unusual situation for all involved - for your and your colleagues. Especially with Covid restrictions, lockdown, etc. it was probably difficult for both parties to get to know each other. If your colleagues had already formed a closer peer-group before the pandemic, it is understandable that they have a stronger bond with each other as they have with you for the time being. With the unusual work situation, it may also not be easy for them to commit to getting in touch with you to a greater extent.

As long as your colleagues ar not hostile towards you, I would encourage you to continue with open-mindedness and friedlyness for the time being and hope that your situation will improve as the general work situation normalizes.

Under no circumstances sould you stay away from general meetings, if your colleagues are not hostile towards you. These are, in my opinion, one of your best chances to get in touch with them on a professional level.

10

Sometimes it is hard to enter an established group of people. And I think Covid didn't help, maybe your other group members have to get adjusted to being back at work, and don't really feel like socializing - especially since many of us have had a definite lack of socializing during the last 18 months and might be a bit rusty.

As others have already said, not attending group meetings is counterproductive, because if you make yourself scarce, it will make others notice you less and will not alleviate your situation.

Instead, maybe you could ask your supervisor if you could switch rooms, so that you are physically closer to the others. If that is not possible, try approaching them and telling them explicitely that you would very much like to go to lunch with them, and that they should tell you when they leave so that you can join them. Using a messaging system like MS Teams or whatever you might use already in your group will make communication easier even if located in other parts of the building.

Maybe even bring up your feeling lonely, having moved to another country just as the pandemic hit and not having had much chance to meet and get to know other people. It might feel uncomfortable to approach them, but more likely than not they don't exclude you because they don't like you, but they might not be aware that you feel this way and might just be overwhelmed by the situation over the last year.

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(German here, with some working experience at an Italian university long before covid)

  • First of all, like the other answers say, do attend those meetings!

  • Since your advisor is the one you know best, and since they are your advisor, I'd talk to them about the group taking you along to lunch, and about the possibility to get a place where the group is.
    (when I started in Italy, I got the "status" of having my own office - not good to get acquainted with people. I changed it to share an office with a colleague when the possibility offered. But this is something you need to say, people may be thinking they do you a favor by giving you a work place that is more calm. But all in all, even as a German I think it is not nice to put someone new far away from the group.)

    As a side thought: "There will be group meetings which I don't want to attend." Since you are in a stage of loneliness where you withdraw yourself, I see a certain risk that people may be misunderstanding you thinking you want to stay for yourself.

    Also, I'd expect your advisor to introduce you to the others in a fashion that should open the possibility to collaborate with at least some of them. The seminar may be important in that respect as well.

  • People just returning to the institute may be quite busy/stressed because they try to catch up doing lots of things they had to postpone while they couldn't come.

  • People still have quite different levels of stress/anxiety related to the whole Covid situation. This will make them less able than usual to socialize.

  • Being invited to activities outside work (which is where you really get to know people): Here I'd expect right now to be those activities that do happen to be so private that only friends are invited and you are not yet sufficiently acquainted with people to be in there. More official/group public (less private) activities where you would be invited are quite likely to still not happen right now.

    • for mostly private activities relating to the group it is a bit of a gray zone whether you should be invited or not: when a colleague has, say, a BBQ to celebrate their PhD defense or birthday somewhere else, it would be up to them whom they invite. If they don't know you, I'd say chances are 50 : 50 for you to get invited.

    • I'd expect they start meeting sometimes at a pub again. But in order to know of this (and be invited to come along), you'll like need to first gain entrance into the lunch group.

    • People over here are more "private" in, say, whom they invite into their garden or house or flat. And that applies now even more than usual.

    • OTOH, if someone brings a cake for their birthday to the office, all group members should be invited.
      Unfortunately, this may still be forbidden (like coffee) by your institute administration - or your colleague may not be sure whether it is allowed or advisable and therefore not do it.

    • There are usually also official group social activities - again, I know of institutes whose administration plain forbids any such activities at the moment, even if they are legal and no substantial risk (I've heard such a discussion recently where the proposed activity was to walk to the botanical garden in groups of 10 people, all outdoors, not even taking a bus. Still no way with the administration.)


I'd recommend to try and get acquainted with people at work and outside in parallel. I find meeting people outside work easiest at sports, either university sports (which should be open to you as well) or sports clubs.

There may also be sports groups at work, but again, at least the official ones may still be dormant due to Covid...

6

First, it's worth mentioning that socializing with your lab is not a requirement for finishing the PhD. While the situation is not ideal, your advisor may not see it as a problem for your studies.

It sounds like you're expecting the group to invite you to gatherings. Since they haven't, it's natural to assume that they may be satisfied with the current social situation, and may not be motivated to change it themselves. Since you are dissatisfied, what have you done to change the current situation? Have you invited them to lunch?

Going back to my first point though: if your lab isn't very social or doesn't want to include you, your best option may be to make friends elsewhere.

There will be meeting, I don't want to attend the group meeting, would it be bad to say to my advisor that 'I do not want to attend the meetings because no one but you has talked with me until now' ?

This is probably counterproductive. Other students are more likely to include you if they interact with you regularly. Also, group meetings are usually part of PhD studies, not a social gathering.

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    "Going back to my first point though: if your lab isn't very social or doesn't want to include you, your best option may be to make friends elsewhere." This is not particularly good advice. Most likely the others in the lab just didn't think about inviting OP for lunch. That doesn't mean they actively want to exclude OP.
    – Stef
    Jul 8 at 14:42
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    "your advisor may not see it as a problem for your studies" if they don't, I do see a problem with the advisor. It is plain bad to not help a student get into the group. And much more so with a student who came from far away and thus is unlikely to have friends and acquaintances around. Jul 8 at 19:36
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Firstly ask yourself a question: why do you need them? If it's only for work you can have only official relationships. If it's for friendship and fun you can find other people in different places. We just create problems for our self. Maybe this is not a problem at all? Put more attention to your research or find more friendly environment. Please do not force yourself to friend with them. Forget about it, just do what you should do by your responsibilities and leave them.

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    I don't think this is a good advice. Even if you don't want to make real friend with people with whom you happen to share your work environment, getting acquainted is a great way to foster one's academic career. I've a couple of friends in academia, and they often told me that many occasions for collaborations (shared papers, new research inputs, etc.) have arisen from casual conversation with people in the same institution, may they be regular staff or visiting academics. Jul 9 at 15:56
3

First time poster here, so please be kind and let me know if there is something I should improve.

I basically agree with the other answers, but I'd like to address an aspect which as far as I can see has not yet been mentioned: How have you been introduced to the group?

Over the years I have been working in several German groups and depending on the group dynamics I experienced at least one or even all of the following activities:

  • Boss/professor/supervisor writes an email to everyone, announcing the arrival of a new group member (along the lines "... Warm welcome to our new group member Alice, who will work with Bob on XY...")
  • New group member uses the opportunity to write an email to everyone (including information such as "my name is ... thanks for the welcome... will be in office xy ... I am looking forward to meeting you and working with you... feel free to drop by my office to discuss XY")
  • In the first week(s) follows the "Einstand (link to German wikipedia)" by the new group member. Short summary: New employees in Germany often invite their colleagues to a short (!) get-together which serves as means to introduce themselves. Typically it takes place in the room where the group has coffee, lunch (if brought from home) or informal chats. Typically it is either breakfast (for example in Bavaria white sausages), a small lunch if you want to be really fancy or (most common) cake in the afternoon. Typical sweets from your home region are normally also well received and gives you something to talk about to brake the ice.
  • Did your birthday happen to be recently? Typically people bring cake for their birthday. This also gives the opportunity for a short meeting (for example after lunch) with everyone.
  • The same rule may apply for accepted papers or people returning from conferences abroad brought something typical. I worked in a group where all of the above was applied- yes, we ate a lot of cake ;-)

As you can note there is quite some activity that might be "expected" by a new team member. Depending on how much international experience your colleagues have it may be possible that it just didn't come to their minds that you don't know about them and they assume that you want to be left alone.

Therefore I agree with the other answers: I don't think that skipping the group meetings is a good idea, quite on the contrary. I also suggest to pro-actively try one of the activities above and see how it goes. You can always add that due to the covid restrictions you have the feeling that you are still the "new" member and that therefore you want to say hello and meet people. I have yet to meet a scientist who doesn't appreciate food brought by a colleague for whatever reason ;-) If in doubt about it or you worry about covid rules you could always check with your supervisor.

My background: German who has worked both in academia and industry in Germany and in a few other European countries in German and international groups

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  • Good catch. The "Einstand" wasn't mentioned yet. Since the OP started before the pandemic, it's a bit late for that, though. Perhaps this helps others.
    – DCTLib
    Sep 8 at 19:53
  • Typically people bring cake for their birthday. Just to confirm that, no, this is not a mistake. People don't get, they bring cake to their own birthday... :)
    – henning
    Sep 8 at 20:23
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I really doubt that the PhD group don't invite you because they don't want you to be there. It is probably just a misunderstanding- for example, somehow word did not get around to you that some social meet up was happening (probably online) but the people in your group probably thought you knew about it but just did not attend. Sometimes the supervisors don't even know about or keep track of these student get-togethers. They may be being organised by one or two students from a different group (if they are between groups) and perhaps these people just did not get your name as a new phd student, so you weren't invited.

There are probably some underlying reasons that the group think you are antisocial, or don't know you are a phd with the same group (you said you are down the corridor. Maybe they just think you are an intern since you are separate). The first thing I would do is: go to the meeting, and make sure everyone is one the same page about you being a PhD student with the same supervisor, just like them.

Talk more and become friends with a couple of people in the group. Chances are they will send you a message before one of the lunches and say 'hey a group of us often meet up for lunch and eat together. Do you want to join?'. It is useful if you have some instant messenger for that (facebook, whatsapp etc), or check your email regaularly.

If that fails, go to lunch and just approach them when you see them. Either ask if you can join, or just pull up a chair. You can keep eye contact with, smile and say hi to the couple of people you are closer aquantances with. Just make sure that you keep it smiley and confident rather than awkward. Try to integrate yourself with the group.

Remember that you are doing nothing wrong by trying to have social interaction with the group. You are not infiltrating some social bubble, you are trying to build relationships. A group with good relationships between the members works better together.

-1

Go to the lunch alone, if they don't invite you to the table, don't attend the meeting. talk with advisor..

If they invite you, attend the meeting, you should be more open.

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