Because it's almost winter and the Ross Dress for Less ads are on all the time...
A former research assistant recently sent me this photo, mentioning that she had deliberated in the store for 10 minutes (!) about whether or not she should get this amazing squirrel-covered sweater for me. When I saw the photo, I have to admit a longing to own and wear this sweater... and I considered rushing to the store to try to find it.
This led me to thinking about my life as an animal-obsessed person. As a researcher and consultant, I have worked with pigeons, squirrels, and cats. And in my lifetime, I have received numerous gifts and tchotchkes with the aforementioned animals emblazoned on them, and they are always much appreciated.
When I worked at an animal shelter, there were many lovely older volunteers with the most amazing shirts with cats ALL OVER them. I found this very sweet but also acknowledged that this was perhaps a look to stay away from lest I be identified as a “crazy cat lady.” Fast forward a few years. Mental note to myself: CRAP! I have worn a shirt with a cat on it every day for the past week if not longer. Actually, I only noticed because a fellow graduate student made a comment to me about my cat shirts. I was just a slightly younger, possibly “more hip” version of the crazy cat lady! Even worse, I had no self-awareness of the problem. At least now that I have been studying squirrels I can balance out the cat shirts with squirrel-themed clothing.
Time to take inventory (click on any image to enlarge):
It is a little tempting to exploit the cuteness of my research interests. My advisor has instructed me many times not to refer to squirrels as cute when I’m giving a talk; let the pictures do the work. But I feel a little like I’m cheating; just put a picture of a squirrel or cat on my PowerPoint slides or poster, and you’re already at least a little bit interested...right?
So, is it bad to wear a shirt with your subject species or research interest on it? I think one possible problem is the effect it could have on one’s credibility and on being taken seriously as a scientist. This can be especially difficult for women, who already have to work hard to get respect as scientists. Add studying a cute species to that and you may struggle to get people to pay attention to the science, and not the cute squirrel face.
Can this be remedied by wearing nice clothes? I have to admit to being a bit of a slob, and my fashion style has been described as somewhere between “hobo” and “teenage boy.” Although I can dress at least somewhat professionally when I have to, on my days off or when I’m working in the lab, the squirrel shirt is going on.
So what do you think? Does wearing an animal shirt reduce your credibility or is it good for finding other like-minded individuals? Does it depend on how cute the species is? Or how silly the t-shirt is?
If I studied genetics would I have lots of DNA sweaters? Do neuroscientists wear clothing with embroidered brains on them? Can you even find a t-shirt with a naked mole rat on it (turns out the answer is YES)? Do people buy you gifts related to your research interests?
Do YOU wear your research subject on your sleeve????