It's time to admit that being the new person just isn't pleasant. It's hard when you enter a new workplace, where your co-workers are in already-established groups, and it's hard for a new hobby as well. It can take a lot of courage for people to put themselves out there. We’ve seen it done, and we’ve done it ourselves.
But newcomers will be pleased to know that astronomy is a hobby that's incredibly welcoming, and clubs and societies do their best to recruit new members. Newbie/Open Nights, Family Nights, speaking events, star parties - even trips to the USA to see the eclipse this August (our local club has organised this, and we’re Australian. It’s a pretty long way to go!).
Joining a club is quite easy so we won’t go into that (but you can check out this WikiHow if you're really lost). We’re going to talk about how you actually start participating in your club or society. Below are 3 different ways you can start out in a club as a newbie:
Many clubs will host member gatherings once a week, and these can include things like hosting speakers, a quiet evening of socialising, a lecture, or using the club’s telescope (if they have one). It can be hard to start up a conversation, but there are several situations that can ease you into it.
If you’re attending a speaking event or a lecture, consider engaging your seatmate in a conversation. Ask if they’ve been a member for long, how they’re liking, why they’re interested in the lecture subject. Your seatmate may even end up introducing you to THEIR friends.
If you’re at an observing night, asking a telescope owner about their scope or whether you can look into their scope is a great way to start a conversation. Most astronomers will be happy to share the great views through and can even explain to you what you’re looking at.
Clubs usually host star parties once a month in a more remote location (if the club HQ is located within city limits or a light-polluted area). Some of these star parties are quite small, and some are a huge event (anyone heard of the Texas Star Party? Massive numbers attend this one).
The bigger star parties are held once a year by more prominent clubs, but local clubs hold their own, more intimate gatherings. They can also organise larger trips out to rural areas for their members, usually once a year.
If you don’t have your own scope yet, that’s totally okay. Many newbies start out with a pair of binoculars and upgrade to a telescope after doing some research or testing. Star parties are a great place to get advice on scopes and equipment, with many astronomers bringing lots of cool gear with them, such as computerised telescopes, digital setting circles, or fancy eyepieces.
Again, most astronomers are happy to give you a tour of the sky using their scope or helping you out with your queries.
If you’re interested in learning as much as you can about astronomy but don’t know where to start (it’s an absolutely enormous field, and can be overwhelming for beginners), you can attend a course run by your local club. Many offer courses for beginners, and this is a great way to learn new things AND meet new people.
It can be easier to befriend people when you’re in the same situation and can empathise with them. Starting out together is the perfect ice-breaker!
Still feeling nervous? We can’t tell you not to be, but just know that the first step is always the hardest, and you can reap the rewards soon after. The worst thing you can do is let your fear stop you from joining a hobby that you find interesting.
Want to find a club? Sky and Telescope have a very handy guide for ALL countries.
Long-time club members tend to group together and it can be very intimidating for new people to enter the circle - we've seen this happen at many star parties and we understand that you may not see your friends often and want to catch up, but this is also the perfect time to meet new people and expand your circle.
We urge you to a have bit of empathy for those who look lost or are new. You were that person however many years ago (we know some of you aren’t fond of counting just how many…) and we're betting that someone engaged you in conversation and invited you in. Why don’t you now become that someone to the next generation?
The smallest gesture of friendliness can ensure that your club gains a lifelong member and strong advocate of your favourite hobby.