Breaking the news

Apr 04 2011 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

As much as I really like my department and those in it, one thing I find somewhat awkward is breaking news to people. For instance, when we knew we were going to have another baby I wasn't sure how to let people know. One couple who recently went through the same thing made an announcement in faculty meeting, but that didn't feel right to me, so I just went about it on an individual level. As a consequence, some people still are not aware, but it seems to me that if I haven't gotten around to telling them yet it is mostly because I don't interact with them much. This probably means that the fact we are having a baby means little to them.

However, today I'm in a slightly different situation. Over the weekend I got a new tattoo that, while certainly in a place that I can cover, likely will not be at all times. If you've ever gotten a tattoo, you may have found that there is almost always a line of questions that people pose on first seeing it, and frankly, I don't need to go through that with all my colleagues. So now I'm trying to figure out easiest way to just get the initial phase over with in a way that won't seem like I'm flaunting it, and I'm not so sure there is one.

On the flip side, of course, is the perceptions of others. While I'm largely indifferent, I am also aware that some of these folks will be making important decisions about my future. I realize that if it comes down to whether or not I have a tattoo, I'm surely screwed, but I am at least somewhat sensitive to the fact that some people will have a negative reaction.

So, I'm busting out two questions I posted some time ago when I first started thinking about this tattoo.

A) If a colleague in your department had a visible tattoo (which would be covered for classes, etc.) would you think of them differently?

B) If YOU got a visible tattoo, how do you think it would be perceived in your department?

NOTE ADDED IN PROOF: The tattoo is an inoffensive design, and not something that would inherently upset anyone.

20 responses so far

  • Alyssa says:

    I find tattoos are so commonplace these days that it's not as big of an issue as it used to be. Although, I can see how extremely large tattoos or strange designs would set people off a bit.

    I get all sorts of reactions to mine (I have 4, 3 of which are visible a lot of the time, especially in the summer). I've had people tell me how cool they are, and I've also had the strange looks. Sometimes I forget I have them or that they're showing and I wonder why people are looking at me.

    I remember when I had one done, I came to work later that day with the bandage still on (it was on the top of my foot, so very noticeable) and one of the professors asked what happened to my foot. I told her it was just a tattoo and she looked like I told her I was having an affair with the department head or something! LOL!

    I wouldn't make a big deal about it in the department. Some people will notice it and ask about it, others won't. I don't think you need to send around a department email or anything!

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I wasn't planning on a public announcement, just wondering whether I should leave it uncovered for a few days and get it all over with.

  • Jen says:

    When I was younger, I had a teacher with a tattoo, and it definitely changed my perception of that person - but I was a naive teenager, with a very narrow view of the world. Now, it doesn't faze me at all. One of my colleagues came to work one day with a cute rose tattoo'd on her ankle, and since she didn't strike me as the type to get a tattoo, we had a great conversation about it. But it certainly didn't alter how I view her as a scientist/person. Tattoos are just another form of self-expression, much as hair color/style or wardrobe.

  • hematophage says:

    I got one last year, also simple and inoffensive and somewhere easily covered (but often not, in the summer). I'm a student, so I don't think anybody much cares, but my favorite reaction was from my (totally awesome) advisor: "Does your mother know about this?!"

    But as it was warm out, I did just wear tank tops for a few days until everyone had seen it. I'm not overly concerned about the future, just because I figure that if a tattoo can change someone's perception of my ability to do science, I wouldn't want to work with them anyway.

  • Gecko says:

    I don't think anyone will notice or, if they do, care, unless they are a friend of yours anyway. I once failed to notice someone's new tattoo and they were annoyed with me, but really, who cares? If you get a tattoo for yourself, that's great. If you get it to make a special statement about yourself and you want people to notice it, you'll probably be disappointed by some of the reactions, especially indifference.

    Re. the family announcement thing: A female professor in my department only told some colleague-friends that she was pregnant, and left it to the rest to figure out or hear indirectly. After 6-7 months, one of the old guys in the department said to another male colleague "Have you noticed that Jane is getting a bit chunky? She really should exercise more."

  • Bashir says:

    Small tattoos are common enough that I'd bet a decently large percentage of the grad students and even junior profs have one. I've spotted at least one prof with a small one. Mine is hidden enough that half the time I forget its there. I don't think anyone here even knows of it.

    I'm sure a few folks would clutch their pearls, but I think the majority wouldn't care.
    That's assuming a neutral, smallish tattoo. If I got "Thug Life" put on my forehead it might be different.

  • GMP says:

    About pregnancy, I only told a couple of people. The rest will notice or they won't (likely not; I am tall and wear a lot of black; last time I was pregnant, most male colleagues likely just thought I was getting fat, 'cause they were giving me weird looks but no one dared ask anything even as I was getting ready to pop).

    Anyway, in my department it's common for the new parents to send a note of birth to the chair, and then the chair shares the news with the deparment (e.g. "On Monday, Prof X and spouse welcomed their second child, Petri Dish X, 21 in, 8 lb. Mom and baby are doing well.") Maybe it's cheesy, but it's effective (he announces deaths and weddings (not many of those) and all sorts of awards by email too). Chair's email is how I found out that some of my male colleagues, with whom I rarely interact, become dads (although in hindsight, some of them were "showing" -- sympathy pounds I guess 🙂

  • Ink says:

    I missed the "another baby" revelation, I guess: CONGRATS!!!!!!

  • chall says:

    I'd probably wait until the reddishness goes down and then behave as usual and see if anyone notice or not. It depends a bit on where it is I guess... underarms are usually harder to "not cover" for example.

    That said, I've covered mine up in all my work places (not hard since the placing is not a part I flaunt at work too often 😉 ) since i've been too aware on certain people's opinions. One senior PI let know what he felt about tattoos (and especially on women) when I was a grad student, although it was partly saved by another senior PI stating he had four - the faces in the coffee room were amazing 🙂 That was like 10 years ago though, and I've found that many people do have 'em now - althought they tend to cover them up in work space (esp. while working in a hospital as an MD/PhD), maybe more there since it's not part of "office clothing". In Academia I wouldn't think it's as fussy, or shouldn't be anyway imho.

  • grrlscientist says:

    tattoos seem to be everyone's business, as i learned after i got mine. in retrospect, i think writing a press release about the tattoo, including a picture of the new ink, and a detailed explanation would suffice. be sure to place the press release into all staff and faculty members' mailboxes.

    that way, if anyone asks you about it, you can tell them to RTFM.

    (keep in mind that NO ONE reads press releases anyway!)

  • For the tattoo, I would just wear what you like and not worry about it. Lots of people won't even notice, and most of those who do won't care. Each time my sister got a new tattoo, she would show it to the important people in her life, and then let everyone else notice or not. It works for her, and she is in a more uptight work environment than academia.

    As for the baby, I told my chair after the first trimester. I then told colleagues I was close to and people who would be impacted (like the people I was co-teaching with and my lab group). Everyone else heard through the grapevine. We sent a photo and stats to be distributed to the department via email after the birth, since that is the norm here.

  • Dr. O says:

    I don't have any tattoos, but this made me chuckle a bit. We had several people in our department that had babies this past year, but I was the only female. The guys could keep it to themselves as long as they wanted - say they were taking leave when the baby was born and keep it between them and their mentor/boss if they wanted - while the evidence of my situation was out there for everyone to see. When I was *ready* for people to know, I made it obvious, wearing tighter tops that showed my baby belly. I got questions from people I knew a little better, while most people just took notice then moved on about their business.

    Maybe you can use the same method with your tattoo - like you said, make it obvious and get it over with. I doubt many people will care, except for the same peeps that you shared the baby news with. I haven't seen many faculty in our dept with tattoos, at least none that are obvious, but most of them wear more formal-like clothing so they wouldn't be easy to see. Lots of postdocs and grad students with obvious ones, though, and I've never noticed an adverse reaction to them from any of the faculty.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm not worried about the baby (thanks, Ink!), most the people who would care know by now. Nor am I really worried about the tattoo, per se, but I do want to set the initial hoopla over with without making it a big deal. I would prefer if no one noticed, but I know for sure that won't be the case. I don't tend to wear anything formal and as the weather warms there won't be much I can do about hiding it anyway. Meh.

  • Namnezia says:

    So - can we se a picture?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    hahaha, sorry dude.

  • brooksphd says:

    I reckon let the redness heal a bit first so it isn't obviously new-new (even though, of course, it is), and then just dress to whatever standard/temp/weather you have. Depending where it is, eventually it'll get seen, but I'm not really one for rubbing it in peoples faces with mine. I wouldn't go round showing it off, cos that could just look dickish.

    unless of course you got a full tribal sleeve or flames up your neck, or the spiderweb half-face. Then you might wanna just get it over and done with...

  • I think you should just stand up and announce it at the next faculty meeting and be done with it. Or better still show it off at a department seminar and take questions.

    Seriously though, I don’t mind questions – even stupid ones like ‘does it hurt’ (of course it bloody does) – but I can’t abide rudeness. I would never go up to someone and tell them their new hairdo was ugly or that I did felt their mullet made them look stupid, yet some people feel the need to offer unasked for opinions on tattoos and piercings. People can be so rude!

  • Barn Owl says:

    Personal ornamentation choices are exactly that. Personal. Ornamentation. Choices. I've said as much to colleagues who felt compelled to comment on my tattoo, which is on the inside of my ankle, and clearly visible when I wear a skirt (or when the university-issue scrubs pull up above my shoes, which is whenever I sit down, because they're always too short for my long legs).

    I'd guesstimate that at least 40% of the medical and dental students I teach have a tattoo that's not usually covered. It is none of my business where or why they have tattoos, but sometimes they will initiate a conversation about tattoos in general, or ask about mine. Some of my colleagues are pretty judgmental about students' tattoos. One dental student in particular was the subject of a lot of judgment and commentary - both of his forearms are completely covered in tattoos, and he has more tattoos elsewhere. None of his easily visible tattoos is offensive in any way, and in fact most are quite beautiful and artistic, in a traditional Japanese style. I've had several conversations about tattoos and tattooing methods/history with him, and in one case a colleague kind of hung around and sneered at us, and interjected snide comments. The student tells me that he has to cover his forearms completely while working in the clinic, by wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt under his scrubs. The tattoos might freak out the patients, or whatever. ::rolls eyes::

  • antipodean says:

    Just move to my 'burb where you need to explain why you don't have visible tattoos, body piercings and an asymetrically shaved head and/or other body parts.

  • brooksphd says:

    I don't explain or justify mine anymore because of a response like that once. Someone asked me what a certain one meant and as I was explaining its significance to me s/he said, "That's just stupid. Only an idiot would do that!"

    I was so fucking offended I haven't spoke to that person since. You asked me you fuckknuckle, so don't stand in judgement on my reply!

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