It was a great workshop, in a wonderful location, and it left me with a whole bunch of thoughts I could write about – the perks and considerations in academic travel, communication & networking, imposter syndrome, the assumptions we make about countries before we visit them and how wrong they can be (there's a lot of awesome work going on in the Caribbean!) But what I’m actually going to talk about is clothing.
Now, if you know me at all, this sounds like a weird topic to discuss. After all, I’ve always been someone who hates fashion, clothes shopping, shoes and all that, and I love that doing a PhD allows me to wear whatever I want (usually jeans and a t-shirt). But over the last year, I’ve realized I need to start thinking more about what I wear, and what it says about me.
Karl Braganza from the BoM has spoken a few times recently about how the image you create influences how people perceive you – for instance, wearing a suit when discussing climate with executives will make them take you more seriously, while it might make farmers ignore you. And at the Greenhouse conference I attended last year, I took note of the fact that on the first day, when politicians were around, all the senior scientists were wearing suits. You could spot the PhD students very easily. I’ve also started to pay a bit more attention to what the up-and-coming postdocs around me do, and while they have a vast range of personal styles, a lot of them seem to have thought about it (especially the women, as we’re more likely to be judged for that sort of thing). Others, of course, wear jeans and a t-shirt for their entire academic careers - one of the perks of academia is there is no real dress code, at least in Australia.
So, with both AMOS and the Barbados workshop coming up this month, I decided I should go shopping for more professional clothing, to give myself more options. It was HARD, as I find the process of clothes shopping incredibly boring, I hate spending money on things I don’t see as important, I’m really fussy about what styles I like, and I haven’t worn these sorts of clothes in the past so every outfit felt weird to me. But in the end I bought several more professional-looking dresses, as well as a cheap suit jacket and a couple of other things (luckily I already had a few collared shirts).
Carrying the suit jacket across three flights each way to Barbados was a nightmare! But, when we arrived, I was so glad I had done so, because the vast majority of the workshop attendees were wearing collared shirts and professional dresses, with several wearing jackets or ties. And as I was already feeling imposter syndrome anyway (as I was acting at the workshop in place of someone rather more experienced than me), if I had felt underdressed as well it would have been a lot worse. Turns out, even if other people don’t care, I DO care about feeling like I’m dressed appropriately, and I really appreciated when people commented about how nice my dresses are. While my PhD supervisor holds the equally valid opinion that you should dress as you want and worry less about people judging you, for me it helps to know I’m making an informed choice who I want to be.
So, now I have a few more options in my wardrobe, to help me better choose the right clothing for purpose. And, as I start to search for my post-PhD job and network overseas, it’s a good time to “dress for the job you want to have”. I suppose now I should also learn a bit more about work-shoes and different ways to do my hair… I draw the line at make up though!