I think I need to start buying pleated Land's End khakis and wrinkle-free dress shirts. It may be the only way that I can start to look professorial enough to stop people from assuming I'm a student.
In only the latest example, I was asked to give a 5 minute
dog and pony show research explanation to a political candidate for some district somethingorother. She brought along a contingent of people, including two interns who appeared to think their job of making sure the schedule was adhered to was a life or death posting, and toured the lab. I talked about what we do, including how our science is both good for the state from a job and application perspective. She took this all in as I described the cool equipment we use and how state infrastructure is blah blah blah. A few questions were asked, suggesting the candidate had at least listened. And then... "So, are you a student here?"
I'm not sure why this flusters me every time, I should be used to it. All I could work out of my suddenly-frozen brain was, "Uh, no I'm the PI in the lab." Of course, this meant nothing to them, and the Dean had to pipe in "Principal Investigator" in the awkward seconds of blank stares following the communication logjam. Being a politician, the candidate quickly managed a backtracking two-step, claiming to be impressed by someone with my youthful appearance being in such a position and all I could do was make an awkward joke about growing up wanting to be a Magnum PI and having to settle for this instead. They laughed politely, an intern glanced at their watch while writing something down and I changed the subject.
I need a better way to deal with this question. At the age of 33, until the ravages of the job and parenthood prematurely age me, I think I'm going to be dealing with this question for a bit unless I start wearing the professor uniform. Unfortunately, pleats are my mortal enemy.
I do have the advantage of age being the single factor keeping me from fitting the prof mold in people's mind, so I am sure that many readers have had to deal with this for far longer than I. Perhaps there are effective strategies to head this shit off?