I have a confession to make. I would wear a pair of jeans any day over something more formal. I just find it more comfortable, and I maintain that you can look just as good in the right pair of jeans as in a pair of, for example, black slacks. As a result, I often try to justify the wearing of jeans in times that, if really pressed, I would probably admit it wasn’t entirely appropriate or proper. But then again, jeans can be nice. Jeans can be professional-looking. Obviously I wouldn’t wear jeans during the days of a conference in which I’m presenting my work – but what about the other days?
Yesterday afternoon, while beginning to pack for APS, I asked goddess Isis what were her thoughts on the matter. Is the right pair of jeans okay, at least for non-presenting days?
So I will take this moment, enjoying the wifi on my flight to APS while cruising somewhere above Utah at 35,084 feet, to share a rule about academic and scientific meetings.
Dr. Isis responded: “no, you can’t.”
Ever the educator, she didn’t give me any justification or reasoning. This is what we call a “teachable moment.” (Though now, I wonder, if I just caught her while she was, er, otherwise engaged). I was left to my own devices to figure this one out.
And then I went to the gym. Where my sadistic trainer decided that yesterday would be the day to go muscle group by muscle group, and DESTROY each one. I am not happy.
And while I was at the gym, I looked around. And I noticed that some people LOOKED like they belonged there. They dressed the part. They looked like they knew what they were doing. Others, well, didn’t. And then I realized: I could wear the same clothes and put an iPod on an armband and show up to the gym, and then maybe *I* would look like I knew what I was doing too, even though I don’t. This is why I have the sadistic trainer (who is actually fantastic). When I go to the gym, and I can’t figure out how a certain weight machine works, I look to see how other people are doing it, and the people who are dressed like they know what they are doing are the ones I pay attention to.
This was my eureka moment.
At a scientific meeting, you are not only presenting your awesome, awesome data. You are also presenting yourself as a scientific god or goddess to be reckoned with. And you need to look like it. Like it or not, people judge others based at least partially on appearances.
It reminds me of the 1960 Presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy:
The key turning point of the campaign were the four Kennedy-Nixon debates; they were the first presidential debates held on television, and thus attracted enormous publicity. Nixon insisted on campaigning until just a few hours before the first debate started; he had not completely recovered from his hospital stay and thus looked pale, sickly, underweight, and tired. He also refused makeup for the first debate, and as a result his beard stubble showed prominently on the era’s black-and-white TV screens. Nixon’s poor appearance on television in the first debate is reflected by the fact that his mother called him immediately following the debate to ask if he was sick. Kennedy, by contrast, rested before the first debate and appeared tanned, confident, and relaxed during the debate. An estimated 80 million viewers watched the first debate. Most people who watched the debate on TV believed Kennedy had won while radio listeners (a smaller audience) believed Nixon had won. After it had ended polls showed Kennedy moving from a slight deficit into a slight lead over Nixon.
So it is that we have Rule #2: No jeans at scientific conferences.