Our graduate director once told us: when it comes to university-related social events, you should consider them mandatory.
This has been tough for me. I’m not a joiner by nature, and while I’m outgoing and friendly, I consider myself an “introverted extrovert.” Mingling and “working the room” are not my strong points. But I also recognize the need to get to know my colleagues; this is why I advise new grad students to attend those picnics and potlucks, even when you don’t feel like going.
This advice came back to me last night. Incoming faculty members at my new school were invited to an evening reception that seemed optional by nature, and I debated whether to go. On the one hand, I was exhausted after a full day of orientation, of meeting dozens of people, of being “on” for hours. I really just wanted to go home and relax. On the other hand, I didn’t want to commit a social faux pas right out of the gate. The group was large enough that I probably wouldn’t be missed, and yet … what if a departmental colleague later asked me “How was the reception? Did you meet so-and-so?” and I’d be forced to admit that I didn’t go.
I debated right up until it was time to leave for the party. In the end, weighed the pros and cons, and the pros won - really, the only “con” was my apprehension. I realized that if skipping the reception turned out to be a mistake, I’d be starting off on a bad note, and there’d really be no way to fix it. I also knew that if I didn’t go, I’d worry about the fact that I hadn’t, and the best way to alleviate that worry was to … just show up, and not sit at home fretting about it. Besides, you should do something every day that scares you, right?
So I went, and it was fine. It was actually kind of fun, and I enjoyed myself. But I also felt proud of myself for feeling the fear, and doing it anyway.
As academics, I think a lot of us tend to want to stay in our caves. Our work is solitary much of the time, and this suits us. But we’re also part of a community, and it’s important to come out into the sunlight once in a while. To chat, laugh, eat some food, and get to know one another as people.
Sometimes we’re graded for “participation,” and I think this was one of those times. And it didn’t kill me.