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I feel like the answer to this question should be obvious, but it doesn't seem to be.

Anyway, in my second year on the tenure track, I find myself more confined to my corner of the ivory tower than I intended to be, and would like to branch out and meet other faculty in other areas.

My research (in theoretical math) is very specialized, so I don't have collaborations in mind. Also I would rather not volunteer for university-wide committees, as these look rather boring and I don't find myself inspired by the administration's pet projects.

Rather, I have in mind something intellectual and fun, that recaptures some of the enjoyment of being an undergraduate and hopefully leading to making new friends. For example, semi-public lectures on chemistry, theology, art history, virtually anything intellectual, ideally followed by discussions and debates over beer...

Obviously, the first step is to do a better job of carefully looking for opportunities at my particular university. (These have been a bit hard to suss out, but I could stand to look harder). Nevertheless I would be interested to hear success stories. What have people done to make connections outside their own field of interest?

Thank you!

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    Let me just link this great answer by JeffE: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/6035/… – Federico Poloni Mar 23 '13 at 19:59
  • @Federico: I think the OP is interested in making social contacts, not finding collaborators (these areas overlap, of course). – Marcin Kotowski Mar 23 '13 at 20:49
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    JeffE's answer is awesome. Nevertheless, three wonderful aspects of conferences are that (1) there are obvious scheduled events to go to, namely talks, at which you can meet people, (2) it is particularly common and well accepted to introduce yourself to strangers at conferences (in my field anyway!), (3) nearly everyone is separated from their routines, meaning that random invitations are very likely to be accepted. None of these is entirely false in "everyday life", but I particularly love conferences for these (and other) reasons. – Anonymous Mar 23 '13 at 23:02
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I organized a beer night for tenure-track profs in our department (and this was later expanded to related departments). the basic rules were: it's once a month, anyone is welcome, and it happens even if I'm the only one at the bar :).

Do you have one person from a different department you can start this up with ? set up a mailing list and ask around to get maybe another 1-2 people involved. Start doing this regularly, and never lose a chance to mention this when talking to professors.

Word will spread. Tenure-track profs need support groups. Our beer night is very popular :).

  • Interesting suggestion, +1. Our department is very social, mostly the grad students, but our weekly beer night never sees faculty from other departments. Perhaps something to try once I get a little more established. – Anonymous Mar 23 '13 at 23:06
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I think this problem is very common.

I'm no expert in making new friends but I can tell you what work out for me in my internship at UT.

Starting from the lab, we use to hang out for coffee and talking about everything, most of the time it was not about the lab work. This was awesome, especially for an better understanding of the culture, food, girls... stuff like that. Dinners are also very good for socializing.

The housing service was also cool, they organized movie streaming sessions and social events, usually with free food (which means a lot a people and something to talk about).

Finally, when I did more and much stronger friendships was at church (I'm Seventh Day Adventist), people received me really, really well. Not directly related with the academia, but there lots of students in church and we talked a lot about our field of expertise.

Probably the most important thing here is find things you have in commom with other people so you have something to talk about and find more stuff, and so on. Sometimes is right in our faces and we don't see it.

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Just start showing up to seminars in other departments. At my university, there are several different email lists that send out "Events this week." Seek out some talks are interesting and go. Maybe start with closely allied departments (CS, Stats, Physics). Then talk to the speaker if it was interesting, even if it's just to say "Hi, I'm [XYZ] from the department of [ZYX]. I really enjoyed your talk."If the speaker is internal then all the better, if from off-campus then there will certainly be other local people talking. I've had a blast doing this at talks completely outside of my field.

One of the very best things about being an academic is the sheer number of different interesting things that are happening on a university at any time. Academics are driven by curiosity, and a university is a smorgasbord of things to learn. You say that your research won't lead to collaborations, but you never know.

If you really want to stick your neck out, start an interdisciplinary seminar series. Seek out connections between disparate departments and fields.

As a side note: junior faculty should avoid committees above the department level if at all possible. Your department should shield you from these responsibilities. Your job right now is getting tenure. Those committees are for those with tenure.

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