Sunday, December 9, 2012

Women's attire at the AGU Fall Meeting

by Kim Cobb

Every year before the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, there is a flurry of conversation in my mostly female lab about what to wear. I understand that this was also discussed on the Earth Science Women’s Network listserv. For someone who has never been, it is impossible to know what to expect. This is science after all, and geology at that, so much of the online guidance about corporate conference attire is off-base. As women in earth science, it is especially difficult to balance several competing aims when packing for AGU. First and foremost, AGU presents a unique opportunity for professional development– one that is particularly important for younger scientists. Getting a job after graduation requires making a name for yourself outside of your lab. Presenting a polished, put-together appearance reflects a seriousness of purpose, self-confidence, and shows respect for the collective scientific efforts on display at AGU. Add to this the intuitive understanding that attractive people are at a distinct advantage in our society (see supporting research here and especially here), and these drivers would in isolation push women towards the coordinated, tailored suits that are so common in corporate settings. It is important to remember that science is an arena where individual intellectual accomplishment is highly valued, so there is more latitude for personal style than in corporate America.
However, several important factors push AGU women’s attire in the other direction, closer to the average AGU men’s outfit of jeans paired with a pullover sweater. Most obviously, attractive young female students are likely wary of distinguishing themselves from the sea of male colleagues by calling attention to their femininity. And then there’s the whole “geology” subculture:  rock hammer-toting, North Face-wearing, “I’m-so-busy-solving-earth’s-mysteries-that-I-hardly-have-time-to-shave”. In this world, a Mac laptop is a fashion statement. Finally, some recent research (summarized here) has uncovered a distinct bias against the hiring of attractive women in male-dominated fields. If young women are subconsciously aware of such a bias, it will also push them towards a more androgenous look.  

What follows is my attempt to provide some guidance for young women beginning their careers in geoscience, especially as they consider conference attire. It was also really fun to collect these images from well-dressed women scientists, as a fashion aficionado myself. I didn’t know most of them, so you can imagine the reaction I got when I asked to take their picture for an AGU fashion blog! They turned three shades of red and giggled nervously. Some preferred to remain anonymous, while some, like my esteemed colleague Adina Paytan, reveled in the spotlight. I owe a big thank-you to these ladies, who were great sports.
Below I present several looks and discuss why I believe they make successful AGU outfits. [Update:  Many readers have bemoaned the lack of pants featured here. I love wearing pants to AGU myself, and I in no way meant to suggest that one must wear a skirt and/or boots to AGU to look "acceptable" or fashionable.]
Lynn Soreghan, Prof. Univ. of Oklahoma. I love the
effortless-ness of the outfit, impeccably accessorized,
with matching coat and boots. It's "earthy" but modern,
 and the vest adds a touch of academic elegance.
Jen (awake) and Annie (asleep) Pierce, Boise State
University. What can I say, there is nothing that says "I'm a fearless female scientist" like a baby in a sling paired with some incredible red boots! Great wool skirt too.

Yours truly, sporting my new, ridiculous(ly cute)
Italian shoes. Matching bag is a coincidence. I do like
to wear skirts at AGU, most often with a plain,
unmemorable, but well-conceived (and warm!) top.
Here, it's all about the accessories.
Anonymous. I think this outfit hits all the right notes. She
looks nerdy and interesting, but attractive, in a Euro-styled aesthetic that is made particularly memorable by, once more, great red boots. I like her hair worn down here, which softens the look. 

Anonymous. I saw meters and meters of scarves at AGU,
whose gifts are on display here. The long skirt is flattering
yet nondescript, while the scarf and coordinated sweater
add interest and draw the eye to her face - a good thing.
Betsy Madden, an all-but-PhD'd grad student at Stanford. I love the ease that this outfit conveys, and the pairing of neutrals with the colorful textured skirt. She certainly seems ready to be at the front of a class.

Sylvia Dee, grad student USC. She is making
a bold statement with the all-black look, which
is very effective against her striking red hair and
blue eyes. The metal-studded flats are a good
choice, adding some playfulness to the ensemble. 
Adina Paytan, UCSC. Sporting a killer blue dress at the
AGU Honor's Banquet. She wears her sunglasses at night.
A brilliant scientist, close friend and colleague, and one
of my role models.