Young Looking Assistant Professors Are Trying to Fit In

Jun 21 2010 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Humor

With grant success rates dipping ever below 10% in the NIH and somewhere south of gawdawful in NSF programs people are understandably nervous.


BikeMonkey Guest Post
We all know about the struggles young and even not-so-young women professors go through to gain the respect of their students and peers. A youthful appearance can in some cases be a bit of a handicap. Men are not immune as has been described by Prof-like Substance.

I was asked to give a 5 minute dog and pony show research explanation to a political candidate for some district somethingorother. She brought along a contingent of people, including two interns who appeared to think their job of making sure the schedule was adhered to was a life or death posting, and toured the lab. I talked about what we do, including how our science is both good for the state from a job and application perspective. She took this all in as I described the cool equipment we use and how state infrastructure is blah blah blah. A few questions were asked, suggesting the candidate had at least listened. And then... "So, are you a student here?"

Well, some of Prof-like's peers have been adopting a little protective camouflage to fit in.

Young assistant professors in Ivy League towns have stormed the salons with an interesting request: to add a little gray to their perfectly-colored heads of hair.
P. Nus-Whimple of the Crimson Locks, a men's salon and spa in Cambridge, MA explained that grayness adds gravitas.
"We've had that request quite a bit," Nus-Whimple said. "Assistant professors are under tenure stress and need be taken more seriously in their field. At a conference they look around the audience at all the gray manes and wonder how they are being perceived. Twenty years ago, only 2 percent of our business was hair colour, now it's 22-23 per cent. And of the colouring we do, 80 percent is gray blending."


This is by no means limited to the NYC-Boston-New Haven axis area either.

A continent away, in Palo Alto, Tre Fishrax has started to offer a process called Full Professor, which tints most of the temple hair gray, but leaves some as is for the natural look. Beards can be either salt-and-pepper or full raincloud.
"I even had a guy say, 'Can I have a little on the eyebrows?'" Fishrax remarked.

Don't take it too far folks. Subtle is best.
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Apologies to Hilary Moss at Huffington Post...it was too good to pass up. Also, a hattip to Dr. Becca who dropped the link at P-l S's place.

11 responses so far

  • antipodean says:

    If you're at Berkeley then don't go for the full raincloud beard, go for the full rainbow instead.
    Seriously though if you are an Ass[t sorry but I can't look at that abbreviation without the 't'-Ed] Prof and people think you're a student then it's time to start dressing like a grown-up. Makes a world of difference. I look like I'm 22 so I wear a suit when I speak.
    Until I get old enough to grow a full Santa Claus white beard that I can thoughtfully stroke whilst pretending to smoke a pipe...

  • This is the stupidest fucking nonsense I've ever heard in my entire fucking life.

  • And I thought I was joking about the hair coloring. I think I'll put up with being asked if I'm a student, TYVM.

  • You laugh, but it is difficult when you look young. A friend my age, who is also an asst. prof, has on the side of her facebook profile, "Yes, I am old enough to teach your kids." I get the "are you a student" thing all the time, and I've been here over 5 years. (Probably a reasonable question, as only now are a majority of my students finally older than me). Even letting my gray shine through doesn't help unless people are up close. I'm sure I'll appreciate looking young down the road, but for now it's not so helpful.

  • antipodean says:

    Ass was supposed to cover Asst. and Assoc.
    The correct spelling is of course, arse.
    Edit away.

  • pinus says:

    When I first started, last year, I was taking a rotating student over to some office to get some administrative task done. We walked in, he introduced himself to the admin person and started taking care of things...and then the admin turned to me and asked what my name was so she could start 'processing' me. I smiled and politely said 'oh, no thanks, I actually did all this fun stuff a while ago, now I run a lab'. It was more funny than not. I don't actually look that young at all. The best way to deal with this (of course IMO) is to dress like a professional on those days where you have important meetings. I know many say that the best part of academia is being able to wear shorts and a tee-shirt...but I have always err on the side of dressing too nicely at work.

  • I've experienced the young thing in a different way. Through some bizarre quirk of the universe, I scored my first faculty position at 28. Like Professor Smith above, many students asked me what year I was and, indeed, I was the mean age of our incoming pharmacy school classes.
    On the other hand, when I was doing dog-and-pony shows I would more often get comments from politicians and potential/actual donors that I must be something to be such a young professor (I assure the reader: I am most certainly not).
    The caveat is that this was in Colorado, not the Northeast. Perhaps the western spirit is more tolerant of pheomelanin and eumelanin non-conformity.

  • newprof says:

    I am also a new professor. I am 34 but look 25. Over the last year I have been asked repeatedly what lab I was rotating in and if I was interested in working in their lab. It usually works in my favor but recently when dealing with the higher end people in the school it has worked against me. They see some kid come in and badger them to do their jobs and fix things and they look at me like I have no idea what I am doing. I do dress like an adult but it doesn't seem to help with the old school guys and girls. Oh well.

  • bikemonkey says:

    newprof- yeah. back in the day I had some run ins with the institutional assbags. It was of the "why are you not doing your job" variety. There was an unusual amount of pushback, very likely in part because of my relative youth at the time. yet another problem associated with the aging of the first-appointment population.

  • I have always err on the side of dressing too nicely at work.

    Same here.

  • newprof says:

    bikemonkey-haha, "why are you not doing your job?" I think you were in the same meetings I was when I said that to them. They didn't take to kindly to me calling them out on it in from of their Dean level bosses. Oops. Slowly learning how to get something done here.

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