really just another day. I don’t feel older than I did yesterday. I don’t look
older than I did yesterday. Sometimes, though, I wonder how work would feel if
I visibly aged – just a little – overnight. For the most part, I consider
myself lucky in the aging process. On a good day, I can still pass for a 21-year-old,
even though that’s more than a decade behind me. And, as a woman, it still
feels good to get carded at dinner when I order wine.
however, I don’t feel that (my) youthful appearance is such an asset. Maybe I’m
just getting more sensitive as I get older, but the last few meetings I’ve attended,
folks look at me and automatically assume I’m a graduate student. That was fine
when I was a freshly minted PhD, although it’s getting a little tiresome. When
contractors are visibly skeptical of my role as a scientist, however, it’s more
than a little annoying.
that even bother me? Perhaps it’s because I’ve worked really hard to get
through a PhD program, whiz through a post-doc, and capture a stable job. Part
of me feels as though my hard work over the years should be evident, even in a first
meeting. The years of struggle through graduate school should be etched on my
face in wrinkles (they’re not) and along my brow in white (I’ve got a few). My
position as a scientist shouldn’t be a question – it should be obvious! I
shouldn’t have to prove or explain it!
is, I’m still relatively young and the line of reasoning above is pretty
juvenile. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how you look. Respect is earned
and built over time, not instantly given.
It got me
thinking, though: what does a scientist look like?
I was in grad school, I believed you had to look like you were working yourself
ragged in the lab: frizzy hair, chemical-stained clothes, “hole-y” sweaters.
That’s what any respectable grad student worth his/her salt should look like. I
secretly looked down on other grad students who put effort into looking good on
a daily basis. I imagined they weren’t concentrating hard enough on getting
their PhD if they were concentrating on clothes (I admit I was a pretty
uptight grad student).
and meetings were another matter, however. I also thought you had to look very
professional for those events, as though being outside the lab required a different
dress code than the one at the bench.
worked at a biotech start-up, PhD-level scientists regularly came into work
looking like the ragged grad students described above. That was definitely a
function of being at a small start-up. Once the company got bigger, a business-casual
dress code was applied to both management and research personnel.
I work at
a government lab now, and the dress code here falls somewhere between casual
and business casual. That applies to folks who work at the bench, like me. My
wardrobe has definitely moved a step up from the raggedy sweatshirt I wore in
grad school. It’s pretty silly, but these days I consciously try to evoke an
aura of maturity and “trustworthiness” by wearing nicer clothes and applying
cosmetics. I don’t know if it works, or why I think it should work, but
I imagine it can’t hurt.
So, what “should” a scientist look like? Beats me. I’m
still trying to figure that out, but I’m comforted in knowing I can look in the
mirror and find one.