Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Women in science and engineering

There's an interesting article in the NY Times about women in engineering and science. As a women in engineering, I must say that I sadly know first hand some of the issues they bring up (especially with regard to staying in academia).

The one that particularly annoys me because it's so stupid is the whole double standard in dress code. I want to wear jeans too. gosh darn it! and I hate wearing heels all day... (although I think I can get away without them because I'm tall.) But now that I'm going to be Prof. Finou (I signed my offer letter last week. Yay!), I will need to "suit up!" now all the time and not just for teaching class... Sigh... I'll miss my jeans...

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha! Professor Raffi still wears jeans when he lectures :P I get strange looks (not even) from the head of the department, but "what ev" is all I have to say.

12/19/2006 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Ignorant guy question coming...

I don't seem to recall there being a significant difference in how male and female TAs/ professors/ students dressed at MIT. Admittedly, the sample size of female TAs/ professors was relatively small and clothing choices are probably not at the forefront of my mind, but is this just an interview/ colloquia thing? Or was there a double-standard I wasn't aware of.

12/19/2006 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger finou said...

I figure for interviews/colloquia/lecturing though everyone tends to suit up.

Most of the female profs I know at MIT where suits all the time (not just when they are teaching class) whereas the men tend to dress up for class and then on their off days they wear jeans. Basically, except for occasionally running into female faculty not on campus or at the gym, I have never seen female faculty wear anything casual.

I guess I hadn't thought about too much but after I read the article in the NY Times, I realized that I had already been told by several people (both in and out of my department and institution) that I'll probably want to wear a suit and heels when I start my faculty position. I mean it's not like I dress like a slob. I tend to wear nice jeans/slacks and a button down shirt. I guess the reasoning I was given is that as a women in academia you are supposed to radiate power and confidence all the time and without a suit no one takes you seriously.

Since I'm not a guy, I guess I'll turn the question around then: Do they ever tell new male faculty what they should wear at all? Has it ever come up for anyone here? They certainly never mentioned anything to Brian (and I know the male faculty around campus definitely don't wear suits)

12/20/2006 08:06:00 AM  
Blogger finou said...

I meant wear not where suits... gah... bad spelling/grammar, well I'm an engineer right!

12/20/2006 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

So, what's the difference between a women's suit and a pair of slacks and a button-down shirt? For a guy, the major difference is the presence of a tie. I'm not sure most guys could tell the difference between the two.

I wonder if this is related to the fact that women tend to perceive a lot more "levels" of dressiness. Most guys recognize about 5 levels of dressing up-- presentable (i.e. not wearing sweats or PJs, nothing with a gaping hole in it), casual, business casual (no jeans), suit & tie, wearing a tux to their wedding. Women tend to recognize many more levels. For the company Christmas party last night, for example, we went to a nice dinner and a show. The guys all wore exactly the same thing to work, to dinner, and to the show. The women all changed out of their work clothes into more formal clothes for the evening and generally changed accessories between dinner and the show (no idea whether this was a comfort/ practicality thing or a fashion thing, I just know that things like purses and wraps had to change).

12/20/2006 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Qian said...

Congrats, Prof. Finou!

I think while men are allowed to dress more casually in general, it perhaps varies from school to school and also depends on the department. My parents, who were both humanities professors at Syracuse, wore jackets/suits nearly all the time, as did their colleagues. And I seem to recall MIT profs outside of course 6 being more dressed up in general. I remember male course 6 profs tended to look like working engineers, i.e. button down shirts (often with jacket) and slacks for lectures and maybe jeans for recitations. The female profs seemed to be a bit more dressed up more of the time. But I think the most casual dresser of all was Shaffi Goldwasser. I still remember being in Algorithms lecture with Raffi, Aidan, and jrb when she walked in dressed in sweats, which then became covered with more and more chalk dust during the course of the lecture as she wiped her hands on her clothes. I don't know if that would fly at most other places, but I think Shaffi had no trouble getting tenure at MIT.

12/20/2006 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Congraduations!!! That's great.

(For those that don't know, there are horor stories of how some universities have taken advantage of the trailing partner in a couple of two academics.) Christina and I may ask you two for some strategy tips...

12/20/2006 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Can we refer to the collective as Prof. BDelphine now? Prof. Finou and Prof. BDean seems so formal :-)

12/20/2006 06:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have four levels of dress:
1) "Casual": It's clean (but possibly has ink stains and small holes), covers what needs to be covered, appropriate level of warmth, comfortable. I wear this on weekends, travel days, and days when that's what is clean/I can find quickly before running to an appointment.
2) "Business casual": A cotton/polo shirt, white, tan, or navy cotton/kacky/nylon shorts/pants, thorlo socks, tennis shoes/light hiking boots. I wear this most days to work.
3) "Dressed up": a button up collored shirt with a collar, tan/dark kacky/nylon pants, dark socks, brown light hiking boots/black dress shoes
This is what I wear when I am giving a colloquia/conference, for talk/interview. I shave for the first day of a job interview or the day that I'm speaking (at a conference).
4) "Weddings dress": a white collar shirt, a navy shorts coat, kacky pants, dark socks, black dress shoes, and I'll shave. I'll wear a tie if the invitation or my wife says so. Otherwise, I'll bring a zipper tie in my pocket, hoping I can get out of it. And I'll shave

12/20/2006 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

- I never noticed a difference in how men and women faculty dressed in any of the departments I've been in. Of course, that could very well just reflect the fact that I'm pretty oblivious to such things.

- The one appearance-related thing I do remember noticing is when an associate prof at MIT put a streak of grey in her hair. That seemed a bit strange to me, but I still think highly of that prof.

- Finou, I thought you dressed just fine as an undergrad and shouldn't have to dress up any futher to "play prof".

- Yes, people do tell males how to dress and more (at least for faculty interviews), whether they ask ask for advice or not. I had well meaning people suggest that I wear a suit, tie, shave, and even that I go to a conference that wouldn't be particularly useful for my research (but would be good to "network").

- Personally, I ignored all such advice. When interviewing for faculty jobs, I dressed at the top end of what I would be willing to wear on a day-to-day basis. My logic was that if I have to dress up so much that I was uncomfortable to get the job, then it wouldn't bode well for the future.

12/20/2006 06:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are there legitimate reasons for faculty to be told to dress up?

I think so... I think dress should be effective for doing your job. If you're doing research in a lab, that might mean full length lab coats, doing something with long hair, etc. If you're reading papers, then I think that means something comfortable for curling up in a good chair.

Unfortunately, there are other less good reasons why we might feel pressured to dress up. If you're testifying before congress or trying to impress potential donors, then those audiences may expect business atire.

Slightly more tricky is teaching... For graduate students, I don't think it matters much. But for large introductory lectures, then there can be discipline issues, in which case establishing authority and control can be important. At that point, it comes down to guesing the (likely subconcious) stereotypes of entering undergraduates. While I think we shouldn't have to dress up for teaching, I can beleive that these stereotypes might make a difference in how our students respond to us.

If establishing authority while remaining comfortable were to become an issue for me, then I think I'll try putting on a lab coat over whatever I'm wearing.

12/20/2006 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

Who's our anonymous commenter who testifies before Congress?

I agree with Eric on most points, except that I don't remember any MIT professor adding a streak of grey in her hair. As for attending conferences for networking rather than scientific purposes, isn't that the whole point of AAS meetings?

12/20/2006 11:03:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

With a title like "Women in science and engineering", I'm suprised we haven't gotten more anonymous people expressing extreme views. Look at how many comments were posted to the NYT article.

There's a difference between going primariliy for the purpose of networking to get a job and primarily for having meetings with your current and potential collaborators. Consider someone who is a member of three collaborations, all of which would like to have a short face to face meeting to make some quick progress on one project or another. Each of these collaborations could arrange for a one day meeting and fly people all over the country for 10 hours of work time. But it would be easiest for everyone to go to AAS for a week and and each collaboration to meet for two half days.

Going primarily to network seems like trying too hard. What would I say... "Hello, I'd like to network with you?" I think it's far more effective if you have work to get done, so you go, meet, and do your work. Hopefully, in the process other people will realize your role in a project, that you've done a good job, how you could contribute to another project, etc. That seems like a much more effective way of networking than just standing by your poster, talking to whoever comes by.

12/21/2006 06:03:00 PM  

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