Friday, September 28, 2007

Image Analysis

For Friday, a lighter topic than usual:

Yesterday I was talking with some of the undergraduate women in the language class I am taking. One of them asked me if all the men in my department walk around with pens in their shirt pockets, wear white athletic socks, and have 'weird hair'. I laughed, assuming she was joking. She said "No, really, aren't science profs like that?". Well, in fact that does describe one or two of my colleagues, but I said no anyway. And I certainly didn't want to get into a debate about who has weirder hair -- professors or students. Come to think of it, I didn't want to talk about the pens either. I am not a pen-carrying (P-C) person, but some of my best friends are P-C.

I was once walking on a beach with my husband (who is totally P-C, though not of the shirt pocket subspecies), and a man ran up to us and said, rather desperately, "I know this is going to sound strange but I REALLY need a pen right now. Do you have one?" My husband presented the desperate beach-guy with a choice of pens: black, blue, red, or green. It would be hard to imagine a happier person than the pen-seeking beach guy at that moment.

In the conversation this morning, my student-friend had just moved on to the observation that many science guys wear shirts that look like graph paper, a fact I cannot deny, when fortunately class started and the conversation had to end.

I suppose it doesn't surprise me that students are so aware of what we professors wear. A few years ago a colleague showed me an angry letter an undergraduate had written to the department chair requesting that professors in the department wear suits and ties (even the women? alas, he did not specify). I have a hard time believing that most students are longing for suited professors or that students care more about what the professor looks like than how he/she teaches.

Even so, I do hope that the P-C/white sock/graph-paper shirt guy not be the first-order image that students have of science professors.

Maybe I will wear a lab coat to class today, and see if anyone notices.

22 comments:

mobilebitter said...

Well in my experience cloth seem to be just as important for a first impression as the rest of the person ist.
I once had a professor, a mathematician, that came to his first lecture as a professor in some kind of black suit. He was a stick thin kind of guy with a weird look and the first impression I got from him was something like "Did he borrow this from his father or what?" The entire suit was by far too large for him.
As it turned out he was really good in his field, but he wasn't really capable of teaching.
I also hat a professor who was forced to wear a tie, so he came in shorts, shirt and tie, just for the fun of it. I loved him for this.

Mr. B. said...

Hmmm...

Well I TRY to wear a jacket and tie on the first day of class, just to show that I own them and take this business very seriously. After that, the lecture generally takes care of that question and I dress like my usual bum self, complete with bad hair and a shirt pocket full of pens/pencils/thumbdrives. Geek? I take that as a compliment.

Also try to wear jacket and tie for various graduate exams. The students always dress up and so it is a matter of respect.

But otherwise, I have been wearing jeans and such to teach for more than 35 years. Doesn't seem to have been detrimental.

Ciao,

Bonzo

lost academic said...

They will notice, but many of them will not dare comment!

Anonymous said...

The shirts that look like graph paper is a hilarious observation....my adviser wears those all the time!

plam said...

I hate it when I have nothing to write with and I need to write. To avoid the need for a pocket protector, though, I usually make sure that I have pens in my backpack.

Also: sandals with socks.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is strange, but students definitely notice and take an interest in what the professor is wearing. Students see professors 2-3 times a week while learning about sometimes dry and boring Science or Engineering topics. They find other sources of amusement. A professor's clothing is kind of like the 'artwork of the day'.

As an undergraduate, my classmates and I would often remark about prof clothes (not necessarily in a negative way)- we really enjoyed the occasional female professor because there was a wider variety of outfits to look at. With a particular male professor who seemed extremely repetitive in his outfit choice, we actually kept a log in our notebook to chart his shirt and pant selection du jour. It was our hope that a pattern would emerge by the end of the semester, but, alas, we never picked one up.

I've been reading this blog for sometime, but this is my first post. Thanks, Female Science Professor, for your perspective. I am a female engineer considering a job in academia, and I would rather be made aware of these situations now than later. Plus, your blog is amusing and well-written. Cheers!

Patricia in TO said...

my brother-in-law is the stereotypical P-C guy, down to the pocket protectors..
But in my chem dept no one fits that description - not even the oldest profs (although some of them have been known to wear suits)!! Our Chair is usually in a t-shirt and jeans so I guess he sets the tone.

Sean Carroll said...

I suspect it's worse than you think:

http://cosmicvariance.com/2006/01/21/you-would-constantly-be-depressed-and-tired/

LJG said...

Sweet! Graph paper shirts - I never thought of it like that. That's fantastic!

Emily said...

I only noticed the wardrobe outliers, such as the prof who wore a different and fabulous outfit every lecture with only one repeat the whole semester and the TA who wore the same clothes every class for the whole semester. Well, I know he wore the same thing for the whole second half of the semester, because it took me that long to notice the lack of variation and start making more careful observations. The snappy-dressing prof had such a great sense of style that I started paying attention from day 1.

As for my other professors, I could tell you about their general clothing trends but not the specifics.

flyingwalrus said...

I love it - graph paper shirts!! Truly hilarious, that had never occurred to me before :) I've always wondered about profs. who apparently know only one colour - mostly blue, but I also know a prof. whose color is pale yellow. Do they not know every single one of the clothes they own is exactly the same colour???

usagibrian said...

If you've never done it, you don't appreciate how much it throws you to wear your Wednesday shirt on Tuesday (but with the Tuesday tie). Just makes the whole week feel... off. Haven't had any comments on my weekly rotation yet, but I have had two students comment on the fact I'm wearing a tie day-to-day.

Anonymous said...

i have no complaints (as the student)...

profs at my university are always best dressed,

the men, in the latest-fashionable shirts tight enough to see their six-packs...

the women, in high-heels and what not...

if they never speak, you'd never know they are profs...which can be a problem...

Anonymous said...

Err... what is a graph paper shirt?

Could someone please give a link to one, so I know what to avoid?

Anonymous said...

here's an example :)

http://shop.nordstrom.com/S/2927478?cm_cat=datafeed&cm_pla=tops:men:dress-shirt&cm_ite=nordstrom_smartcare(tm)_'mitchell'_classic_dress_shirt:182175&cm_ven=msn&mr:referralID=851b7a75-495e-437f-90b0-b90aca6125c0

Ms.PhD said...

This post, and some of the comments, made me laugh.

thanks!

The Woman of Science said...

I really, really wish that I could see a copy of said angry letter regarding professorial attire.

Anonymous said...

the entire Nordstrom link didn't show up, try this instead to see a graph paper shirt :)

http://tinyurl.com/2364oq

Anonymous said...

hmmm... why is that "graph paper shirt" unfashionable?

I see many investment bankers/management consultants/corporate lawyers/other fashionable "City" workers also wearing checkered shirts... It doesn't seem to be a science professor stereotype here (in England)

EcoGeoFemme said...

In my subfield it's Hawaiian shirts.

Whenever I get bored of a speaker, I start to carefully notice what they're wearing. That was most unpleasant the semester I had the male instructor who wore way-too-tight pants. ALL of the students noticed.

Shay said...

After I retired from the military I entered graduate school. My classmates were...22, 23? I was almost 40. I arrived for class every day looking like the adult that I was/am: skirt, blazer, nice slacks, tailored blouses or good sweaters.

One morning I was standing outside the classroom door when a girl came rushing up from the departmental office with one of those pink message slips in her hand. Upon seeing me she blurted out "Are you Professor So and So?"

Why did I get such a kick out of being able to answer: "No. He's a much younger person."?

dropout said...

Most of my favorite science profs wore jeans and t-shirts/sweatshirts. They seemed particularly fond of shirts from their alma mater. Their casualness made them very approachable.

The only real wardrobe complaint I have is one of my chemistry profs was fond of wearing shear white dress shirts with no undershirt. 50 minutes of his nipples was a little too much. Especially since he taught spectroscopy and was fond of demonstrating, with his whole body, molecular vibrations and IR induced bending and stretching.