Justin Kiggins

Stereotyped Makeover! Graduate Student Edition

February 08, 2011 | 2 Minute Read

With yet another indicator of how ill equipped this university is to help graduate students prepare for non-academic careers, I got an email inviting me to a workshop to help grad students learn how to dress themselves.

Here is the description of an upcoming workshop titled “Professional Attire for Your Professional Life!” (note the exclamation mark, indicating that this is going to be a very fun and exciting seminar)

Transitioning from a graduate research assistant (GSR) to the professional world is often** bewildering endeavor** for many graduate students.  Along with your knowledge and skills an individual’s demeanor and appearance are also qualities that companies and institutions consider when hiring—especially in careers beyond academia.  Graduate students thinking about, or ready, to make this transition can greatly benefit from knowing the basics regarding professional attire and self-presentation.  During this gathering you will learn how and why first impression count, how to “stand out “ by your demeanor and attire,  the critical elements of a “professional” look, including what “formal,” “professional,” and “business casual” attire really mean?

Never mind the fact that there was no reason to make an acronym out of  “graduate research assistant.” Based on the summary, the questions that this workshop proposes to answer can be easily addressed with a quick Google search for “business casual.” For more advanced studies, all I need to do is pick up a copy of GQ or watch a few episodes of TLC’s “What Not To Wear.”

Perhaps the “Lizzie” episode from Season 8? You know, the one that found a PhD student that gets a makeover? Oh wait, that’s the one where they highlight every stereotypically nerdy thing about her and her clothing, then make her look “sexy” with a new wardrobe.

I have a hard time believing that this workshop will be any less trite and condescending. Information presented in workshop form that can be easily found with a Google search? That would be a waste of my time, but not offensive. The offensive part is that the very office that is supposed to be helping grad students find careers seems to have taken very seriously the joke that grad students have poor personal hygiene and are ignorant of standards of attire.

The thing is, grad students dress like slobs because that is the culture of academia. It is a choice. Walk around a poster session at an academic conference and pay attention to what people are wearing… the formality of one’s attire is inversely proportional to their expertise. The ones in suits? Those are the undergrads attending their first conference. The ones with torn jeans and flip flops? PIs. The grad students make up a gradient between these two extremes.

If you break too far out of this mold, people think that you are hiding something. It’s as risky as giving a research presentation where you actually pay attention to font selection, color schemes, and composition.

An inability to properly dress is not the greatest hurdle to grad students securing jobs in industry.

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