|Camila Damásio | Unsplash.com|
For many people (the two of us included), fashion can be used to showcase personality, and help feel more confident and better placed to accomplish the task at hand. Think of the old adage “look good, feel good”. I (Jessica) have applied this notion in many aspects of my professional life – job interviews, psychological practice, and university teaching. For the latter, my fashion choices were particularly helpful when I first started tutoring undergraduate classes. I was nervous about public speaking and doing a good job and was only a few years older than many of my students. Dressing smart helped me feel more confident, competent and visually set me apart. So why not apply this principle to conferences?
You can never be overdressed or overeducated – Oscar WildePresenting and networking at conferences can be daunting for many early career researchers. Worries about public speaking, contributing to discussions, talking to your science heroes, and maybe even a touch of imposter syndrome (see also Kate Carruthers Thomas’ post). Many conference attendees are often so busy communicating study findings that it can be easy to forget that personality and individuality can also make an impact. After all, academic conferences are more about research and less about who we are as individuals or what we wear. Or are they...?
What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language. —Miuccia Prada
|Deena Ebaid presenting at the ACNS Conference 2018|
Although this post has, to this point, focused on positively utilising fashion to enhance academic identity, it is also important to acknowledge that conference attire choices can (unfortunately) have negative implications. Many readers will probably agree that there is often an implicit expectation to dress professionally at conferences. Researchers may feel a need to adhere to this code or risk feeling that they may not be taken seriously or that they do not belong. This may be stronger for certain conferences and disciplines and likely varies widely in terms of what ‘professional dress’ means, making it all the more difficult to grasp an already subjective concept. If there is an implicit expectation for a certain dress code at these events, then anything that strays from these norms may stand out – and this is not always a comfortable experience. Have you ever walked into a room and felt like you were under- or over-dressed and all eyes were on you? Also, consider how individuals of different cultures, religions or identities may feel perceived by their peers. If attire does in fact say things about you, it may also be the case that fashion may be used by others to inadvertently objectify or infantilize the wearer. Despite careful selection of ‘appropriate’ attire, this is sometimes unavoidable because other people’s perceptions and judgements about attire is subjective (The pink pantsuit probably raised a few eyebrows). As women in STEM, we feel fortunate to be able to express ourselves through our fashion and maybe even help challenge expectations of what neuroscientists look like. So this begs the question, what can science tell us about how fashion can be used to help us to be perceived positively, and how can we apply this to conferences?
Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak. —Rachel ZoeProactive clothing choices have been shown to significantly improve the wearer’s mood, confidence, self-esteem, sociability and occupational competency (for a review, see Kwon 1994). Those who dress to boost confidence are also more likely to be at ease with themselves, with their clothing choices used as an opportunity to make a positive statement about who they are. Clothing preferences are also used by others to infer a wearer’s personality. Others perceive those who make deliberate, but subtle fashion choices that do not conform to the setting, as having higher status, competence and autonomy (Bellezza, Gino, & Keinan, 2014). For example, a professor who wears red Converse sneakers during a lecture, or someone who deliberately chooses to wear a red tie at a black-tie affair. Moreover, it only takes others a split second (100ms to be exact) to form a first impression of you (See Willis & Todorov, 2006). This means that even before you’ve had a chance to dazzle them with your research prowess, your clothing has already spoken volumes.
|Jessica Peters presenting in her #pinkpantsuit at the ACNS Conference 2018|
Jessica Peters (@Jessica Peters) and Deena Ebaid (@Deena_Ebaid) are both completing their PhD research in the field of cognitive neuroscience under Professor Sheila Crewther, and teach in the psychology department at La Trobe University, Australia. Jessica is a registered psychologist (Clinical Neuropsychology) and her research focuses on the role of visual attention in reading. In particular she is interested in how visual attention interventions can improve reading in children with dyslexia. You can find out more about Jessica’s research here and here. Deena’s research focuses on how the healthy brain processes information across different stages of the lifespan. Specifically, she is interested in how best to measure cognitive processing in healthy aging, and how these findings may apply to clinical populations with neurological insults. Deena is concurrently completing a Master of Occupational Therapy at La Trobe University. Follow Deena’s updates here and here.