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Integrate into your research group

Tips for success and common issues during the transition to a new work environment.

Why integrating into the group is important

It takes time to fully integrate into a new research group and there will be frustrations that you will need to deal with and address. To help you successfully integrate into your group, remember these key principles.

Tips for success

Manage your stress

If we don’t manage our stress,  and tend to our health and well-being, we cannot tend to details, deal with the inevitable frustrations, and focus on getting to know our new colleagues. Explore OITE well-being offerings and make a plan for managing your stress.

Be a keen observer

The culture of research groups differ. While it is optimal that the group is clear about their norms and expectations, sometimes they are not. Observe and ask questions if you need clarification. Use OITE well-being resources as you work through the integration process. Join drop-in and on-going support groups to talk about your observations and interpretations from a calm and questioning perspective. The more you understand the culture of your research group, the easier it will be to make a plan for thriving there.

Tend to both task and relationship

There are two facets to every interaction with another person:

  • In task-focused interactions communication centers on meeting specific needs, making decisions, or getting information
  • In relationship-focused interactions communication centers on getting to know people, tending to personal needs, and making connections

Integrating into a new group requires focus on both types of behaviors, but some of us tend to disregard relationship-focused behaviors, especially when we are busy. Make time to talk with people and try to accommodate their schedule at the outset. This is especially important with your PI and other research supervisors, but good to keep in mind in general.

Find the “helpers”

Some people in your group are likely the go-to people who focus on helping others feel comfortable and/or get work done. Ask who you can go to with questions and cultivate relationships with these individuals. Appreciate they may be busy and their communication style may differ from yours, so do not make quick judgements about their willingness to help.

There are also "helpers" outside of your research group, including your IC training director and staff in your training office. You can also consult with OITE staff, career counselors and well-being advisors. OITE hosts a virtual resilience group for new trainees and fellows; join us to reflect on your experience and learn from the experience of your peers.

Find communities outside of your research group

We all need a support network, and it is best to build that network within and outside of the research group. Make this a priority from the outset, as isolation is a risk factor for a poor research experience. Information here can help you find community and belonging at NIH.

Appreciate it is a process and disappointment is inevitable

Developing the confidence and ability to set boundaries and address differences of opinion takes time, especially in hierarchical environments. Furthermore, we all have to develop our ability to face frustration and to prioritize our wants and needs when we are busy with many competing needs. We strongly encourage you to participate in the Becoming a Resilient Scientist series and the Workplace Dynamics series as you learn to advocate for yourself in complex, high knowledge work environments. We also encourage you to seek guidance early rather than trying to address issues on your own. 

Common issues

Feeling that you do not have the right level of supervision or input

Some trainees and fellows feel that they have too much oversight and are being micro-managed, while others feel they have little oversight and are being ignored. In either case, it is important to talk about this with your PI or daily supervisor so that adjustments can be made.

Not having enough to do when you first join the group, leading you to worry about productivity over the long-term

Integrating into a research group can be a slow process. While you are waiting for more research work, maximize your time reading papers, talking with others in the group, and making your career development plan. Also, talk with your supervisors and ask what you can do to be more productive in the group. If they do not have enough work to keep you busy at the outset, ask if it would be okay to focus on career and professional development activities.

Not being able to focus on non-research priorities that are important to you

Appreciate that these are full-time research positions. There will be times when you have to prioritize your research responsibilities and compromise is a part of the process. However, if you consistently accommodate the requests of your supervisors without setting healthy boundaries that allow you to meet your career development goals, you risk burn-out and missing out on important NIH training opportunities. Seek guidance from your IC training office and OITE before you find yourself feeling resentful and losing interest in your work. We will help you explore options and prepare to talk with your supervisor about your needs.

Explore more resources

Read these tips on how to expand your community of support

Develop a network of mentors