Can I get a Land's End catalog, STAT?

Jun 21 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

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?

43 responses so far

  • Dr Becca, PhD says:

    Pleated pants are NEVER OK. A nice tweed jacket, however, might help your cause.

  • GMP says:

    I'm saying enjoy it while it lasts. I visibly aged sometime midway through my tenure track (about the age you are now, hehe); I am not sure what happened -- I think it was a perfect storm of baby No 2, one too many grant proposals, general stress, and the natural progress of time. When I look at my pics from years 1 and 2 on TT and near the end, there's definitely a difference. So enjoy the youthful appearance and all the confusion that comes with it. And death to pleats. I managed to get more "respect" (or I imagine I did, maybe it was just aging) by simply dropping sneakers and wearing (not fancy) shoes with jeans instead. I suppose discrete make-up is not an option for you :), so how about some salt'n'pepper highlights to make you look more distinguished?

  • ScientistMother says:

    No No No to pleated pants. Flat front khaki's are fine but not pleats. Why not just go for a salt and pepper hair dye? :))

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    It's going to take more than some hair color to get me in the neighborhood of "distinguished" looking. GMP, you're scaring me with your perfect storm description and how closely it matches with my life right now. Maybe this won't be a long-term issue after all.

  • Ambivalent Academic says:

    Dude, step AWAY from the pleats. No. No, never. They are never OK.

  • Gerty-Z says:

    I will echo the big NO for the pleats. When folks ask me "are you a student here?" (which has happened) I usually counter with "Oh no, I finished being a student years ago." Then I move on. Not elegant, but efficient.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    do I have to let you in on it? really? tweed jacket, preferably with suede elbow patches. on the back of your door. as long as you stick to jeans and t-shirts (no logos, god, no logos) you can slip on that badge of professordom and, bada bing, instant prof.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I'll have to head over to Dr. No's for a fitting.

  • Casey says:

    I'd grow a big, bushy beard

  • Micro Dr. O says:

    I used to be concerned about this, but the past year's antics (pregnancy, bashing of my career development grant, job search in a crappy market, and trying to sell our condo) have begun to take their toll. I'm not even dealing with the TT job or actual baby yet, and I see my youthful appearance sliding away in the mirror before me. I'm still coloring my hair to hide the grays, but I'm sure this little indulgence will soon disappear as well. Agreed with GMP - enjoy it while it'll miss it more than you realize once it's gone. And, please, no pleats.

  • Requin says:

    Absolute veto on the pleats.

  • Alyssa says:

    I echo the "no pleats" plea!

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    If you buy pleats, you are dead to me.

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm fully-bearded but I get the same question all the time. I once even had a university HR person assume I was under 25--at an orientation session for new professors!I hate saying "no, I'm a professor" because it makes me feel douchey. Maybe "not anymore" is the best reply.

  • tideliar says:

    You've the same curse as me: eternal good looks and a fountain of youth. I manage to get by with a scowl, and two-days of stubble. And a fine pair of pleated khakis to clash with my corduroy jacket + leather elbow patches.

  • prodigal academic says:

    I have the same problem, although now that I have 2 kids and am starting to look a little older, I am sometimes mistaken for an administrative assistant. Sometimes you can't win.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    So... yes on the pleats?The problem is I already have the beard, so the only way to go is backwards. If I shave it off I look roughly 12.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    I'm pro-pleats. Khakis and a collared shirt should separate you and give you the distinction of at least trying to look older so you don't get confused with students.

  • Arlenna says:

    I just dyed my hair purple and got another tattoo, and I am just waiting for the next level of this problem that is bound to commence. I already got mistaken for a student or TA constantly. I guess I should know better than to express myself.

  • BikeMonkey says:

    I already have the beard, so the only way to go is backwards. If I shave it off I look roughly 12. Dye your beard gray, then.

  • Scicurious says:

    NO PLEATS. NO PLEATS EVER.Tweed jackets with leather elbows patches are the coolness, though.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Is there an anti-Just For Men hair product? Like Just For Under-Aged Kids, or Just For Junior Profs? Something that puts in the gray that the original kit takes out?

  • Dr Becca, PhD says:

    Well, if you're anywhere near the DC area, apparently that's a thing there.

  • Anonymous says:

    I get mistaken for a student all the time and my standard response is, "Actually I am 33 and post-doc here, but thank you for the compliment". That way the person is clearly corrected but by pretending to take it as a compliment I leave them a graceful way out of an awkward situation. I think honestly some of the problem is that only definition of a scientist anyone has in there in head is of an old socially awkward white dude with crazy hair. Anything other then that doesn't seem to constitute a scientist to most people. I blame Einstein.

  • Willy says:

    Pleats don't do anyone ANY favors. Khakis could be ok, but go for the flat fronted variety. They mix well with tweed...{keyword}&kw={keyword}

  • Professor in Training says:

    I get mistaken for a student even when I'm in MY office with MY name on the door. And then as soon as I start to talk, it's as though the visitor has emerged into a strange bizarro world in which everything is backwards. Glasses don't help me look more like a PI but there is more and more grey hair appearing by the day so that might do the trick ... although I'll look like a skunk before too much longer and that might just make me look like a weird student.Socks and sandals with pleated khakis might do the trick for you.

  • tideliar says:

    PiT, seriously, go for the beard too...

  • Ambivalent Academic says:

    Well, if you want to head them off at the pass, you could just make this t-shirt your uniform: that doesn't work, I vote for throwing the ol' tweed over the top. Nah, you won't look at all like a hipster.

  • Anonymous says:

    You called yourself a PI? What's with all these biomedical people referring to a professor as a PI? In some fields a professor is a professor. An academic title is more dignified than an administrative acronym.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Meh. I write it so fucking much in all the proposals I guess it's stuck in my brain. I don't care what they call me, as long as they let me do what I want.

  • Anonymous says:

    Tweed will work if you don't mind looking like a dork.Khaki pants: Do you work in an electronics store?You are a man. Dress like a man. As Barney says 'Suit up'.-antipodean

  • Dr. Science Daddy says:

    Pardon my ignorance, but what's wrong with pleats?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    An academic title is more dignified than an administrative acronym. Ping!

  • Dr. Science Daddy says:

    "You are a man. Dress like a man."I do, but whenever I go out in my kilt, people look askance at me.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I have two suits that get dusted off for weddings and funerals... maybe.

  • tideliar says:

    Science Daddy, LMFAO. Thanks for a good ROFL

  • Anonymous says:

    Dr SciDaddyPeople are not looking askance, they are looking in envious admiration.-antipodean

  • Dr Becca, PhD says:

    This post is so getting submitted to Open Laboratory 2010.

  • Cherish says:

    My husband has some nice Columbia golf pants for occasions when big wigs come to tour his lab. No pleats. And I wouldn't be too offended if a politician had no clue about 'ranking'. They're just looking for the cool equipment so they can have their photo op. Oh, but don't wear white - it draws people's eyes toward you rather than the politician when on film...and they don't like being grandstanded like that.

  • Anonymous says:

    10 years since I graduated, I'm now kind of flattered to be mistaken for a student (I just assume it is because I look young enough - not because of what I wear). It did bug me when someone in the area assumed I was the grad student of one of my colleagues after he saw my talk at a conference (mind you, my colleague wasn't even a co-author). It was pretty funny seeing his reaction when my colleague told him I was a colleague and it was also the first time he had seen the work.

  • tideliar says:

    Cherish: Grandstanded, or grandstood?

  • mba says:

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  • condos in jaco says:

    You called yourself a PI? What's with all these biomedical people referring to a professor as a PI? In some fields a professor is a professor. An academic title is more dignified than an administrative acronym..

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