Dr Becca's Lonely Profs Club Band

Aug 07 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

We've just now passed the year mark in New Job City, folks, and there has been much mulling. It's been a long time since I moved to a city where I didn't have a built-in social scene (grad school) or already have good friends (New York). And with J still in NY, trying to wiggle his way into a line of work that's VERY insular in NJC, I've been a little lonely.

Starting a new job in a new city means not only finding your bearings within your department and your university, but also within your world in general. For me, I need to feel a part of the city I live in, and a mailing address just isn't enough. I need to know people beyond my workplace, and have bars or restaurants that are mine. I'm a social person; I need  a social life.

But it's not like exploring the local watering holes on a regular basis is something a new TT professor has tons of time to do. For the first couple of months that I was here, I rarely went anywhere besides my apartment and campus. I was working hard on the R21, trying to staff and equip the lab, and squeezing in a quick workout at the NJU gym when I could. It was pretty rough--I felt totally disconnected from any semblance of reality, especially with only cats to come home to instead of J (nothing against my cats, of course--they're very snuggly. It's just that they don't have quite as much to say about Game of Thrones).

My reward to myself for finishing the R21 was a membership at a real gym in downtown NJC, which helped somewhat; at least it got me off campus. I got to see and interact (a little) with actual NJC young professionals, and spent a little more time exploring NJC (the eucalyptus-scented towels didn't hurt, either). In addition, I was exceedingly lucky that a new prof from a different department was given temporary lab space near mine while hers was being finished. We became quick friends, and even though we do completely different kinds of science, were able to help each other negotiate our New Lab Startup deals with Fisher and VWR in a slight variation on the classic Good Cop/Bad Cop routine. It was awesome. But then she moved across campus, and though we make an effort to have lunch or drinks once or twice a month, it's not the same thing as seeing someone every day--being able to pop in and say good morning, yell across the hall to their office, or spam them with text messages when you can tell they're having a particularly ridiculous phone interaction with a vendor.

Late spring/early summer I was perhaps too busy wedding planning, getting back in the research swing after a killer semester teaching, and looking forward to a much-needed vacation to notice that I was lonely. But after a week at the beach with J--the longest stretch of time we've spent together since the move--it hit again, and it hit hard. The reality of how long we've been living apart, and that there's no end in sight to this, is sinking in. The day after we get married, he'll go back to New York, and I to NJC.   It is too depressing even to think about.

I realized recently, too, that I'm kind of Science Lonely. I miss having people in my immediate field around who I can chat with about a new paper, or bounce ideas off for a grant. The latter has really started bugging me in the last few weeks, as I started to put together two grants due this fall. I couldn't quite wrap my head around my ideas, and I really needed to talk to someone. In person. I thought about trying to organize some sort of "NJC New Faculty Drinking Club" (there are one or two other reputable institutions of higher learning in the area), but figured that might take too long for something like that to build up steam. So I put on my big girl pants, and emailed the faculty member who intimidates me most to see if she wanted to have lunch. I figure I've got a few more weeks left of being able to play the new girl card--time to cash those chips in.

And just for good measure, I took myself out for a drink. There's a super old fancy hotel that I walk by on my way home from the gym, and for the last 6 months I've been drooling observing as renovations to their stunning dining room/bar progressed. When they were finally complete a week or two ago, I popped in after spin class and perched at the bar with a paper, happy just to be in a beautiful, bustling space with a decently made cocktail. But one of the things about hotel bars that makes them easy to go to alone is that a good majority of the other people there are also alone, and it is not at all difficult to start making friends. I happened to be next to an alone woman a few years my junior, in town on business from Seattle, and we had THE BEST TIME. We are friends on facebook now.

Of course, the downside to hotel bars is that the patrons are rarely from the city in which the hotel is located, so this may not be the best long-term course of action for creating a community for myself. Perhaps next spring I'll start working on my NJC Lonely Profs Club--I think with enough interest, we might be able to get a monthly thing going. In the meantime, I've got two grant deadlines, two speaking engagements, two meetings, and a wedding coming up--that should keep me busy for a while.


38 responses so far

  • miko says:

    We had a hard time leaving all our friends in grad school city for postdoc city. I had one pre-friend coming here, and together we've slowly accumulated some more. Gym (but even better, sports: finding a squash/tennis/racquetball ladder, running club, etc, is good) and music. Since becoming homeowners: neighbors. Turns out no one talks to renters, at least not on our old street. My building at work is designed to prevent you from ever encountering another human who is not in your lab, so I've become non-smoking friend to the smokers, because they are always loitering and want to take breaks.

    It took a couple years to feel like we lived here. Doing it alone is a tough slog-- we've had shorter times apart but with the end in site, and I can't imagine. Hang in there... it will work out!

    • Dr Becca says:

      Thanks, miko! I have a couple of semi-pre-friends here. Some old acquaintances from high school or college, but it's hard to nail people down, especially when they have kids. A running club is a good idea--I've started again after a long hiatus, and am enjoying it.

  • [...] at Scientopia, Doc Becca has an evocative post about loneliness in the modern world. She’s a new assistant professor in a new city, [...]

  • I can't offer up advice to moving to a new city without contacts, as I just did that last week and have yet to really start exploring, but I can speak volumes to the long-distance marriage, and assure that it DOES get easier. We JUST moved to the same city after 4 years of long-distance marriage, and by the end, the thought of people actually living together and seeing each other everyday seemed foreign and strange, rather than feeling like I was the strange one like I did in the beginning. Much like you and J, my husband and I both work all the time, so there was little time to sit around feeling "lonely", but we still managed to see each other twice a month on weekends, on average. I know it's really frustrating not knowing when you'll live together (for us, we thought it would be a year and a half... which became two years... and turned into three years... and then four years... and then four years and a few months...), but it really is worth it in the end, despite what other people say. The simple answer if that if you're going to spend the next 60 years with someone, a few years apart is nothing compared to all that time in your future. And even if you don't wind up together for a while, it can still work out -- my college roommates parents have been married 35 years and only lived in the same place for 8 of them, and they have the best marriage of anyone I know because they NEVER take their time together for granted.

  • Dr. O says:

    If it weren't for Monkey, and the social network that goes along with him, we'd be in a very similar situation. Although the parental social network certainly hasn't filled the science-talk void. I've also been trying to cash in my new girl chips for coffees and lunches, but that only goes so far.

    I wish I had some advice. The first year is hard, SO hard, and it's got to be even more difficult when you're partner isn't there with you. But y'all will get through it and be stronger for it - some consolation prize, huh? Until then, (((hugs)))

  • Dr. Z says:

    Can stomach the commitment of getting a dog? Or borrow someone's dog? Dog walking can do wonders for meeting people in a new place.

    • Namnezia says:

      Or you can pretend to walk a dog.

    • drugmonkey says:

      Especially a pit bull. Those are really good social lubricants.

      • Lady Day says:

        Actually, you'd be surprised at how many people will go out of their way to pet a pit bull. In fact, I've known people to reconsider their choice of dog after meeting a friendly pit bull.

    • Dr Becca says:

      I've always been jealous of the instant conversation pieces dog owners have, and there's a park across the street from my apartment where a group congregates in the morning. But not only do I not have the time or space for a dog (small 1-br apt), I also have a small army of cats to contend with, so...I'm probably good for pets right now.

  • Mark B. says:

    I had a few friends from college and science that helped cushion the social blow of moving to my first "real" job in a new city not unlike NJC. I really bonded with the other new assistant professor in my department and her husband (who are still really close friends even though we've all moved to new places now). I think the Lonely Profs Club / New Profs club is a great idea - good way to make newcomers feel welcome and to make a support system for getting through the junior faculty years.

    Science loneliness is a lot harder. I didn't realize what it was like to have lots of good local colleagues in my area until I moved to my current position. Nothing makes up for people that you see every day, but you can buffer it by building relationships with folks that are local but not at NJU (lunch once a month or so) - or start a collaborative project that gets you over to someone else's lab (and/or brings them to your lab).

    • Dr Becca says:

      The collaboration thing is huge, and is maybe worth a post on its own, but for now I'll just say this---it's hard to know when to dive into real collaborations as a new prof. I want to, because I want to do exciting things and build relationships etc, but I also feel enormous pressure to get myself completely off the ground on my own before doing so. I'm thinking maybe once I have my first paper as last author I'll start talking to people in earnest, but honestly I'm not sure what the best course of action is.

      • anon says:

        I would love a post on this. I have a bit of Science Loneliness too as a postdoc--didn't realize how great things were in grad school--and am gearing up to start a TT position in a little under a year. I've been exploring possible collaborations with people at various institutions (current, future, and other), trying to imagine a group of people with whom I could brainstorm and plot and do science. It's just really hard. If I'm not thinking super critically and creatively, I walk away from these networking meetings with the feeling that everyone else already has enough friends/collaborators and ideas and doesn't need any more. It can be very demoralizing, especially because I'm still trying to define what projects I want to focus on. Sometimes I wonder if I should be waiting longer before chatting with others in ancillary fields (I'm in theory/computation, so collaborations are important), or if it's better to get on someone's radar at this stage and revisit later. But I worry I'm not thinking as hard about the science because I'm mostly sitting around scheming on my own.

        'Nuf about me. It would be awesome if you could describe what has and hasn't worked for you.

  • Namnezia says:

    That being said, we've been here for about 8 years and still don't have any super-close friends. Between being busy with the kids and the work, we don't have time to meet people or the ability to easily just "go out". The social network we built when the kids were little(er) is still there, but you realize that for most cases the only thing you have in common with the other parents is that, well, you both have kids. And in many cases that's about it. So it doesn't necessarily get much better, maybe a bit.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Dude! Even though you feel alone, you are so not alone. We have been in our *new* digs for almost 2 years now. We still don't have 'friends', well at least I don't. Not really. When you are a grad student and then post-doc, you are surrounded by folks who are going through the same things that you are. In TT assistant prof land, everyone seems to be at a different stage-career, family, etc.,. Hubby is stay-at-home, so we haven't broken into the inner circle of the 'other parents with toddlers'....although I see them and stare at them (not at ALL creepy) when we are at the park. I had an almost-friend, but she is good friends with one of my grad students, which ultimately, didn't work for obvious reasons....So, um, good luck and it will get better.

    I'm keeping ALL appendages crossed for J to find a job in insular NJC....

    • Dr Becca says:

      Thanks for your appendage-crossing!

      Boy, you and Namnezia are bumming me out a little! Maybe you can be friends with each other?

      • DrLizzyMoore says:

        We're tweeps if that counts....for me right now, it totes does. That aside, I think had I known of the difficulties up front, I would have been more proactive from the beginning....gotten a hobby or found a yoga class *before* I got pregnant again. That sort of thing. You're already more proactive than I ever was/am.....:)

  • B_J says:

    After reading your posting I am now determined to drive myself to the city 4 hours away from mine, to see my friend who graduated and moved there this spring.
    I know she's lonely. me too. I am just glad I can still spare the time, as an ABD.
    "NJC Lonely Profs Club" sounds a really good idea. I sort of organized a "Lonely ABDs Drinking Club" in my gradschool, but now even my lonely members are leaving. lol.

  • What perfect timing for this! We are in some sort of post-doc limbo like situation where we don't fit in with the students any more, but can't afford to go out regularly w/ the TT profs or any of the profs in this area [stuffy Ivy League school in the northeast]. I was here before my husband for a few months, and spent a lot of time commuting the 6 hours back to where we went to graduate school.

    The area isn't known for safe outdoor activities, unless you are part of one of the over priced country clubs in the area. We do live in a dog friendly building and have met a few people out on walks, but our normal solution to a new place is to find tons of outdoor stuff to do, we can't do much in the city because of crime/lack of public options. We've been invited to a couple of nights out and have enjoyed ourselves, but as you said, it's hard when everyone is busy for this to be a regular occurrence. The couple of times I've ventured out for what used to be an evening walk with the dogs, I've been approached in a "crap-this-could-be-bad-why-didn't-I-carry-mace" kind of way.

    It's hard when everyone you know is just as busy as you are, but at least I have the husband here now too. I think another thing that's compounding the problem for me, is that we aren't going to be here for that long, nor are many of the people we know, so no one tries to get involved since we're all temporary anyway.

    If you ever need to chat about Game of Thrones, feel free to message me... I'm sure I'll be doing nothing.

  • Bashir says:

    I will also chime in on most of these experiences. The long distance, the new location. Not really having time or an obvious way to meet new people. We have imported old friends into our current location, which makes things much nicer.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I got into ichthyology from the aquarium hobby, so I knew from previous contact, or quick acquaintance, aquarists where ever I was. My wife is a musician who knows people all over the country. So making friends outside of the university was not a problem. One disappointment on becoming a professor, was the lack of scientific buzz in the faculty. I have published only four papers with a local colleague as coauthor. I was fortunate to make good ichthyological connections as a graduate student and from then on. My work involved travel to museums and considerable field work, so I pretty quickly knew a lot of people in my field. And yes, my kids played soccer, and I coached a little.

  • xekina says:

    Just wanted to add to the "I understand" team...I'm a newish post-doc (6 months in) in a new city...still pretty much friendless, while I have my partner and baby here, (way easier than you going it solo), in many ways they compound the friendless situation, he's a stay-at-home dad and as DrLizzyMoore said that doesn't help with getting into parenty circles and having a bub in a city where we know no one makes going out late impossible and me reticent to involve myself in after-work activities as I already feel I hardly see my son (and I'm my partners main IRL social interaction....). Not sure if I should be disheartened by peoples comments about the time it takes to establish in a new city....

  • I felt like I was really lonely in First Postdoc City, since it was impossible for me to take part in a lot of department activities due to Epsilon's schedules. Now that we're moving, I'm realizing that we did have several friends in the area (Epsilon's friends' parents and from my local religious organization). None of them were as close as the friendships we formed in gradschool, but we certainly miss those relationships now. I just postedd about this.

    The best luck we've had forming non-academic friendships were in our pre-Epsilon days when my partner managed to mostly work from my Grad School City rather than his. We had my religious organization, the volunteer activities we both worked with, my weekly dance group. It helped that I was in GSC for long enough to find these organizations and become a regularly appearing member.

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    Mr I and I lived apart for a year and it was really, really hard. My sympathies.

  • A nother A says:

    Sorry you're lonely. I hope it gets better. I find my postdoc city, countries away from my home county pretty lonely and still haven't established good friends despite being here nearly two years. Before your post though I thought it was just me, so thanks for sharing.

  • Sxydocma1 says:

    My husband and I lived apart for 2 years. He was in Germany and I was in New York. It was very, very hard. But, we made it. I don't think it's that unusual for academic couples to spend some time apart.

  • Dave says:

    As someone who moved countries for a post-doc, I know exactly how it feels. I think it has taken several years for me to build up a nice circle of friends, family of friends, friends of friends etc. By default I am quite happy on my own and so it has been quite a process to establish a little network in my new city.

    It is funny that you mentioned the gym though because that is where I have met so many people that I now consider friends. One piece of advice: go early in the morning and go at the same time everyday. Early in the morning it is quieter and the patrons tend to be very regular and take their workouts seriously, so it provides a good opportunity to meet and chat often. My buddies and I will often sit in the gym cafe and share a morning coffee before work, and we will frequently meet socially on the weekends. It has been really awesome and gets me away from sciency people as my gym buddies are a lot smarter than us and are lawyers/doctors/salesman/MBAs etc.

  • Zuska says:

    Mr. Z and I lived apart for two years and it was difficult but there were also things about it that were good (for me, not him) - I was able to really focus on work. He was just lonely.

    It gets harder and harder to make new friends as you get older. The places people seem to meet new friends are: church (doesn't work for me); kid-related activities (again doesn't work for me); and athletic hobbies (once again, since I am a sloth, doesn't work for me). The workplace is often where people find friends, but I don't work. It's nice moving into a nice little neighborhood but then such places can be insular, where everyone already knows everyone and isn't particularly interested in knowing you. I'm thinking of joining the local ferning society - seriously - they are mostly way older than me but seem like an odd lot and interesting bunch of folks who can maybe teach me how to grow ferns. They only meet once a month or so, so no big time commitment. Book clubs are another way to try to meet like minds, but then you have the time commitment of reading the book. 🙁

    Hang in there and find ways to treasure your time both together and apart. Someday soon you will be in each other's faces all the time and you will find yourself thinking back to those halcyon days when it was just on weekends...just kidding! But seriously, once you finally move in together, you'll never live on your own in your own space again, and you'll never have all that control over how you organize your space and your time - you will have another person's needs to consider. Which is wonderful, and also difficult at times. All that said, I hope you two get together super soon!

  • anon says:

    I started a TT position as a single person, and was surrounded by people who did not have common scientific interests. It was incredibly hard, but knew from moving to other cities, that it takes about 2 years to settle into a place. I became friends with a much older faculty member, who was willing to socialize with me outside of the work place. It was great until things started getting difficult for me (funding wasn't coming through, money was running out, and deep budget cuts to the MRU were looming threats), and my position was eventually dissolved. At that point, my "friend" dissociated herself from me. As heart-breaking as that was, other people came out of the woodwork from unexpected places and offered unconditional support. I really regretted not having noticed them before as potential allies. Now that I have left that place, I am still in touch with those who stepped up for me during that time. When times are ridiculously tough, you really do find out who your real friends are.

    I am married now. And no way, never, will I ever consider living apart from my husband. I understand that there may be no choice in some situations, but I would prefer to avoid it at all costs. Good luck to you and your marriage. My advice is that you probably do have great friends in your workplace; they are probably right in front of you and you just haven't seen them yet.

  • anon says:

    There's a thread in the Chronicle of Higher Education forum about this problem:

  • Cellia says:

    Contact the local alumni club in the area. You can sign up for your college and grad school clubs. Most of those have young club members as well as a healthy amount of older members.

    I personally love the older members, they have experience, great taste in booze and restaurants, and so much to teach you (and more free time since their kids are gone).

    Good luck.

  • [...] August: We've just now passed the year mark in New Job City, folks, and there has been much mulling. [...]

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