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Career Tips

How to fit in when you’re in a new environment

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
May 6, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 19


Whether it’s a new laboratory, a new city, or an entirely new country, moving to a different environment is exciting, scary, and educational. Getting past the culture shock and learning to survive, and even thrive, in an unfamiliar situation can be easier if you know what to expect and prepare yourself in advance.

Preparation. Before you go, seek out a few people who live in the place you’re moving to, and ask them what you should expect. But remember that everyone experiences a place a little differently and generalities may not apply. You’ll also want to use online tools and social networks, look at pictures, and read articles and books about your destination.

Immersion. At first, you will probably be excited about everything that is different in your new location. You will figure out how things work and be intrigued or amused by the differences from your previous environment. It is important to be open minded and not to judge. In most cases, there isn’t right or wrong, just different.

In the workplace, don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure you understand your responsibilities. For example, in some companies, a 5 PM Friday deadline really means first thing Monday morning. In other companies, you’d better have it finished by noon on Friday, or you are late.

Negotiation. At some point, your constant vigilance and uncertainty in a new place can turn into frustration, or even exhaustion. What was interesting is now annoying, and you just want to go back to your comfortable way of doing things.

This is when you need to find a way to get your needs met in the new culture, probably by adjusting your expectations and actions to fit with the cultural norms. For example, if you’re a night owl, but everyone in the new lab is an early bird, try adjusting your schedule 30 minutes or an hour earlier to overlap with them more.

Resist the urge to isolate yourself or to hang out only with people who have a similar background. While this may be more comfortable in the short run, it will keep you an outsider and in the long run will rob you of the benefits of experiencing another culture.

Adaptation. Over time, you will learn to be comfortable in the space between where you came from and where you are now. You can start sharing more from your previous experiences and how things were done there. Maybe you can discuss how in your previous lab a rotating schedule for cleaning the rotovaps led to a cleaner workplace with less aggravation for all. Or maybe you can bring in a special dish from your home region for everyone to share, and explain its significance.

Finally, in any new situation, a positive attitude goes a long way toward building friendly relationships. Use this new adventure to learn, share, and grow in your personal and professional life.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (



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