Wimminz in academia, sans babeeeez

The time has come. Hermie has collected questions for her Wimminz in academia – now with 100% fewer babies carnival, and I’m very excited to provide some feedback! Below are my answers to some of your brilliant questions, assembled by our lovely panelist. Links to answers from other panelists can be found here.

1. Are there any suggestions about how to look professorial as a young (and young looking and smallish) TT faculty?

It’s almost always preferable to wear what you feel most comfortable in. I say almost always, because wearing ripped-up blue jeans or using glitter to dress up your eye makeup may not be the best idea for looking *professorial*. TBH, I’m not really sure what professorial looks like, as it varies by field, geography, and type of institution. My advice – look at how others in your department and your general field are dressed. Are they wearing shorts, jeans, t-shirts, and sandals? Or are they more often seen in slacks, skirts, and heals? This can provide a starting point for what looks *professorial* in your field, but don’t try to fit into a mold. Your science will (eventually) speak for itself, even if you have to work a little harder for the recognition. Earn respect from your students by setting an example, not by being their buddy. Earn respect from your peers by talking about your science while listening to advice from the sages. Don’t gossip, get your shit done, and be a colleague. THESE are the things that will ultimately make you look professorial – not the clothes on your back.

2. For those of us who like things like pink, skirts, baking, sewing, knitting, heels, makeup, and other things girlie, how important is it to not do / wear / talk about these things lest we be seen as fluffy girls who can’t do Science?

I have a friend on the tenure track who wears heels, quilts, and brings baked goods to lab meeting once every few weeks. She’s just landed her first R01, and her lab is on the move. And the week after she brings in baked goods, data production in the lab skyrockets. Some of her elder colleagues rib her about her wardrobe budget from time to time, but nobody views her as a fluffy girl. It may take a little longer for some people to get it, but, as with question #1, productivity speaks much louder than a bright pink blouse.

3. What can we do when other women deny there are problems being a woman in science?

Ugh, this is a difficult one for me. Unfortunately this exists, and if it’s a female greyhair, there’s not much anyone can do about it. Just stay out of her way, get your shit done, and look for allies elsewhere. If it’s someone younger, I also don’t think YOU can do much about it, at least not from a junior faculty position. Hopefully this isn’t the norm in your department/field, and hopefully you have some supportive female mentors to look up to. If you trust those mentors, having a conversation with them about specific issues that come up (don’t just gossip about the bitch down the hall) is my best advice. Male colleagues can also provide good ears, and they may be able to lay the foundation more effectively than a female, especially from a junior position. The most important thing you can do is identify your supporters – those that understand you will likely have to work harder as a woman in science – and keep them close.

4. It seems to me that often women don’t have as strong professional networks as men – the kind that gets built over shared interests (sports or drinking). People seem to gravitate towards others like them. What specific advice do you have for establishing and maintaining network with men as well as other women?

I don’t usually have problems with this, since I tend to jump in and make friends with whomever, male or female, fairly easily. But I think it’s important to remember that you already have a HUGE shared interest with those whom you want to network: SCIENCE!!!1!1!!eleventy11!!!1!!!! And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a professional network built around your profession. Not only that, science can be fun. How many museums are out there based on science? How many movies? TV shows? So you’re not a sports nut, but you might know something about basic anatomy and physiology. Maybe you can’t spit out stats on last weeks #1 rusher in the NFL, but you know science, and you SHOULD learn to talk about science outside of the direct realm of your immediate research interests. Need help with that? Start a blog. Talk to your friends and family members – the ones that aren’t scientists. Being able to have a conversation about science will help you do more than just set up a professional network.

As an added note, you don’t have to be a drinker to hang out with others that drink – in fact, drinkers often like having someone sober around to get them home. A nice glass of tonic water or a spritzer works fine at a bar if you’re not into alcohol (oh, and go ahead check out this recent post from GertyZ for more great advice on networking).

So there they are – my secrets to being a woman in academia, pretty much all developed before the baby showed up. Keep in mind I’ve taken a fairly nontraditional route to faculty-dom, and my answers may change after I end up on the tenure track this next year (knocks on wood). But this is how I roll right now, and it hasn’t hurt my trajectory…at least not yet.

Be sure to check out the other panelists answering these same questions: Geek Mommy Prof, Professor in Training, Dr. Sneetch, KJHaxton (I’ll activate the hyperlinks as I see the posts go up!)

13 thoughts on “Wimminz in academia, sans babeeeez

  1. Great post, Dr. O! I’ll have to disagree with the first point though. Dressing to the level of everyone else in your department isn’t always the best idea. My mantra is just because everyone else looks like a slob, doesn’t mean I have too.

    I work with people who wear conference T-shirts, cargo shorts, and sandals to work every day. I don’t feel good about myself when I wear clothes like that, and the way you feel about yourself is so important for how you want to portray/sell yourself to others. So, I wear professional clothes (dress pants, blouses, cardigans, jackets, high heels, accessories, etc.). I may be “dressed up” compared to the people I work with, but I feel more comfortable and confident, which is how I want to feel and what I want to portray.

    Also, you never know who is looking — and giving a good first impression DOES involve the clothes you’re wearing. I’m not saying everyone needs to wear business suits to work. BUT, I think everyone should wear clothes that makes them feel good about themselves.

  2. I agree that what you wear matters, but being comfortable in what you’re wearing is much more important than a dress code. I would *never* recommend dressing like a slob if you’re trying to impress, but a quick glance at your faculty peers can help you determine if you need to freshen up your own dress code a bit.

    If you’re uncomfortable in heels and skirts (and I am), and those in your field rarely wear them, then I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and pull them off. But if you normally wear jeans, printed t-shirts, and flip-flops, you might try swapping in some slacks and a few tailored cotton shirts. Don’t feel like you need to go buy a whole new wardrobe unless you really, really want to and absolutely love shopping for new clothes (as yours truly plans to do!!!) And don’t feel like there’s a once-size-fits-all wardrobe for being (and looking like) a professor.

    Using others to determine the formality level you should be at is merely a stop-gap until you figure out what your own style will be. In the long run however, at least in academia, your science will determine how people view you a lot more than your clothes.

  3. She’s going to post her links to the responses on the 22nd – I went ahead and posted mine well ahead of time in case I forgot…

  4. Excellent post!
    When I started my TT-job, I needed a little wardrobe updating. I wanted to be taken seriously and not seen as a student. Now I did not radically change my wardrobe by any stretch-as you wrote-that would be weird all around. If you do anything to adversely affect your confidence, cue the sharks. I did change normal jeans for dress jeans, keens for clarks, sloppy hoodies for lovely cardigans. Until I am older and significantly more haggard looking**, I will likely be confused for a student. At least I can be nicely dressed student-and perhaps be confused as a student with a healthy trust fund 🙂

    **read by the time I earn tenure

  5. I am at a public research university. My research has biomed component but I am in a basic department and part of my research is more NSF.

    The year I got hired was 2008 and though things were much better, I competed against many asst profs, who had some funding. At 2 different universities, everyone else who interviewed was already an asst prof somewhere else. I was a postdoc with only postdoc fellowships, nothing I’d be bringing. (I did not get those jobs, though one search failed).

    I hear you need at least a K to get a job these days in my area. I don’t have an R01 and am not worried too about getting tenure even without an R01, but I don’t think I could get another job in today’s market. But it could also be that people are making everything sound really worse than it is, which does tend to happen.

  6. Pingback: Wimminz in Academia, now with 100% Fewer Babies Q&A HUB | The Hermitage

  7. Dudette, you were like all on the ball and shit XD. Don’t you know posting your things on time makes me look bad? When was the last time I’ve done anything punctually!1? *stern face*


  8. Heh, I only did it early because I knew I’d forget otherwise. And I also screw up when I use the scheduling bizness with the blogging…

  9. Pingback: Round 2: Childfree women’s posts answered « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured

  10. Pingback: What Function Does Denial Serve? | Thus Spake Zuska

What say you...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s