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I have just started a new job as an assistant professor in a tenure-track position.

  • What are the most important things that I can do to build good working and social relationships with my colleagues?
  • Related to the above question, what are the tasks that require faculty members to work together, and how do I work well as a member of a team in such settings?

Background I felt that I did not do a good job in developing relationships with other students during my PhD years. I observed that other students seemed to go for lunch/coffee, hang out together, go out to a bar or for a movie, but somehow I did not participate in such social activities. I hope that I do not make the same mistakes as I start my new job as a new faculty member.

Clarification in response to the question How do we have to imagine that you did not participate in such social activities?

I did take part in some department social events, e.g. a student retreat, student BBQs, the intermural soccer team, open houses for prospective PhD students, etc. I didn't join people for coffee because it is not a habit for me to drink coffee. Perhaps I should have joined not for the coffee but for the company. As the stress oh PhD piled up I became more insular because it takes energy for me to socialize with others and I wanted to conserve energy. Now that I look back, I feel that if I had spent a little more time with other people, I could find a happy medium where I am neither too exhausted being with other people (too much social interaction) nor feeling lonely (too little social interaction).

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    Read the timeless classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. – Michael Hampton Aug 7 '15 at 1:08
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Solve the social things by being proactive. Go to your colleagues individually, after committee meetings, or during their office hours, introduce yourself as the new guy, and offer to buy them lunch or a coffee. If colleagues go to lunch after departmental meetings, politely see if you can tag along. The "somehow" in your question is indicative of someone who did not look for such opportunities or dodged invitations. Lunch is probably the easiest time for colleagues in a work setting to begin their socialization. Everyone eats and almost everyone like some company.

As best as I can tell, there are only a handful of things that bring faculty members together for forced work, e.g. departmental committee meetings. That being said, departments have social and semi-social functions. Attend as many as you can. Volunteer to help with student move-in at the dorms. Volunteer to be a marshal and graduation ceremonies with other faculty. Find a hobby and check out the university club (exercise oriented ones like cycling, rowing, and running tend to be popular).

Solve this problem like it was your PhD. Set goals and be deliberate. Also, be friendly.

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    I agree with everything except for the bit about "offer to buy them lunch or a coffee". This may vary a lot depending on the culture this takes place in, but offering to pay for coffe or lunch (especially if it's the same coffee or lunch that the respective people buy themselves on all other days, anyway) can come across as very pushy. "I'm the new one, and I haven't spent any real time with this team yet, nor gathered any working experience with you, but my first and most important goal here is that all of you guys like me, right now!" – O. R. Mapper Aug 5 '15 at 14:34
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    Continued from above: The only exception may be when the OP is actually the new head of a team, in which case it might be more expected (though by no means should it be required) to invite one's new team for a "welcome lunch" or something like that. But in that case, a little more distance to that team the OP is superior of would be somewhat more natural, anyway, maybe making it less likely that they are automatically integrated in social activities of the team. The OP may want to clarify in the question in what way the colleagues they want to get in touch with are organisationally related. – O. R. Mapper Aug 5 '15 at 14:44
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    @O.R.Mapper indeed, I think it's necessary to know what culture the OP is in to say anything definite about that. In my experience, asking someone to get coffee or lunch or something with you is a very common and accepted way to get to know them, and if you make the invitation, you should be willing to pay. – David Z Aug 5 '15 at 14:50
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    @David Z: In my experience, academic invitations to lunch between faculty members rarely carry the assumption of payment. (Between a faculty member and a student: that is more likely.) – Pete L. Clark Aug 6 '15 at 17:02
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Let me offer a somewhat different answer. For many departments in the US, particularly small departments, you don't need to be too proactive to cultivate relationships, because departments are often pretty friendly. Even ones that are dysfunctional often try to be friendly to the new faculty. The most important thing is: just be there. This means be in the department during most normal working hours, and participate in normal things like department seminars and go to department teas. People, especially other young faculty, will naturally talk to you and probably invite you along for lunches or outings if that's something they normally do together there. Of course it's not bad at all to be proactive, provided you want to be, and it can certainly speed up relationship building.

I'm just saying you don't need to force yourself to do a bunch of things you don't want to do to have good relationships with your colleagues. There are differences between being able to work well with someone, to get along with someone socially and to spend a lot of time with someone. Some people are less social than others, and that doesn't make them worse colleagues. (I can't tell if your goal is to participate in social activities with colleagues or just have good relationships, but my answer is for the latter.)

As for the other question: the main tasks that require faculty to work together are committee work. Various faculty will also likely ask for your assistance on random things which may not be part of a committee. However most of this "working together" is just discussing ideas and coming to a consensus at meetings, then doing whatever you were assigned to/agreed to do. Provided you can listen to other people and you're not argumentative or irresponsible, you shouldn't have too many issues with this. And when you're not clear on what is expected of you, or how to do something, ask. Senior faculty are usually happy to help junior faculty learn the ropes.

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    My answer is so strongly weighted towards proactivity because OP seems unable to understand how they didn't make more friends in grad school. Labs/groups tend to be even more tight-knit, so it seems like OP needs some encouragement to be active in seeking these relationships given the clear desire to have them. They don't just materialize, usually. – Bill Barth Aug 5 '15 at 15:18
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    @BillBarth It seemed to me there was some confusion in the question about hanging out with people versus having good relationships with colleagues, which is what I wanted to point out in my answer. As for making friends, it depends a lot on the department. In my department, you need to actively shut people out to not make friends, but I've been to other places where you need to be proactive to even know who your colleagues are. But I think most departments in the US at least try to be friendly to new faculty--it might even be easier for the socially challenged to make friends at this level. – Kimball Aug 5 '15 at 16:06
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Bill's answer is excellent, I just want to add the obvious that you should definitely look for as many academic partnerships as you can as well.

You've probably already found the people at your new university within your field; if you haven't, search papers and find authors from your university. Beyond that, you'll want to reach out to people in other departments whose work is related to yours. Most fields require collaboration across many specialties, and you'll want to reach out to a lot of different people to identify collaboration opportunities. In my case, I was doing biomedical research, but I was working with faculty from electrical engineering, neuroscience, and statistics. Your situation is probably similar. As you talk to people in your department, try to get names of folks in other departments whom you should meet.

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  • Find a mentor within your department.

  • Attend seminars. If no one is bringing cookies, bring cookies.

  • Read the descriptions of your colleagues' research interests. Pick one or two to ask to give you a tour of their lab.

  • Find someone you feel comfortable with to have lunch with occasionally (sandwich brought from home). Don't be afraid to choose a post doc or advanced grad student for the lunch buddy.

  • Read bulletin boards to see what group activities are happening, such as informal soccer games.

  • When talking with someone, make sure you don't only talk about yourself.

  • When you have a question, make sure to begin with a friendly greeting before blurting out your question, for example, "Hi So-and-So, Happy Monday!" with a smile.

  • Treat the secretaries with friendliness and respect.

  • Find a hobby that has nothing to do with your department, for example folk dance, canoeing, whatever you enjoy.

Those are good starting points.

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    "If no one is bringing cookies, bring cookies." - and then you learn that the group of seminar attendees originally always brought cookies, but mutually agreed to discontinue that out of respect for their diabetic colleague ;) – O. R. Mapper Aug 6 '15 at 6:34
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    +1 for "Treat the secretaries with friendliness and respect." First, because they deserve it. Second, because secretaries wield a lot of informal power - you do not want to get on their bad side. (But better call them "Administrative Assistants".) – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Aug 6 '15 at 12:19
  • But do get him or her a card and a gift certificate to a nice restaurant on Secretary's Day (April 26). – aparente001 Aug 6 '15 at 12:59
  • @O.R.Mapper - Sugar snap peas are a healthy treat that usually goes over big. – aparente001 Aug 6 '15 at 13:00

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