Summertime has arrived (stay cool west coast)! And with it, conference season…at least in my corner of the world. For this blog post, I’ll focus on a decidedly, non-microbial subject—conference fashion*! More specifically, what should (female) researchers pack for a conference**? I don’t think there is one right answer, although there are a lot of ill-advised ones (no, please don’t pack your prom dress)! The following suggestions are based on my own experiences attending STEM-focused conferences. What are your thoughts?
Choosing what to wear…
Season and location: Is an umbrella necessary? Should you pack an extra layer or swimsuit—for me, the answer is usually yes to both! Will talks be hosted in a college amphitheater or an upscale hotel ballroom?
Advice and Investigation: Has anyone else in your lab been to this conference/or a similar type of conference? What are their suggestions? Are there photos of attendees from previous years on the conference website or social media pages? Do the conference planners provide any suggestions?
Participation and Networking: Are you attending for free food? Do you plan to personally meet with an eminent researcher or potential future boss? Will you be presenting a talk/poster?
So let’s pack….
Shoes: In the lab I wear close-toed, fully-covered shoes—mostly loafers or ankle boots. I appreciate the chance to wear different footwear: colorful ballet flats, wedges, or a trusty pair of heels. I suggest not packing anything new or potentially uncomfortable. Conferences include a surprising amount of walking—traveling from the hotel to venue, networking, poster session perusal, and spontaneous photo sessions.
Clothes: I had a female professor offer the following advice. Pack what you consider appropriate, but also include an outfit/items for a more formal and a more casual look (e.g. a black blazer/heels or your favorite science-themed shirt, respectively). These items will allow you the flexibility to dress up or relax your look. I typically wear a combination of jeans+blouse+blazer at most conferences I attend. If I’m presenting a poster or talk I’ll typically swap jeans for a more formal trouser. If I do wear a dress or pencil skirt (rarely!), I’ll keep the shoes and accessories more casual. For the most part, I prefer a “polished casual” look with a splash of elegance! I like to pack athletic wear, as well. A morning jog or outdoor excursion gets blood pumping to the brain!
Always a great outdoor excursion with these amazing brains! Finlayians at X3/X4 Kesytone Symposia 2018
Hair: Hair grooming can definitely elevate my look. When plating bugs in the lab, my hair is usually tied into a messy bun or side braid. I spend more time styling my hair at conferences (hello hair straightener, curls, or chignon). Whether you’re rocking a shaved design, beachy waves, neon locks, elegant braids, or modern updo—present a polished version of your unique style.
Remember, more important than outward aesthetic is your inner confidence. What makes you feel elegant, capable, and confident? Whether you choose a little black dress or hiking pants, present your polished self.
hmm…don’t take all your conference fashion advice from me 🙂
*Unfortunately, women still experience sexist ideologies (ahem…Dr. Tim Hunt) and often face more scrutiny for sartorial choices than male colleagues. Addressing and changing these toxic behaviors deserves an entirely separate post (or blog). For more on challenges and ways to address workplace equality, see:
**Note: Your field/discipline may have a different dress code and style. For example, my friends in the arts and humanities typically wear more formal attire.
Thanks to Dr. CP, KH, and SW for photo sharing 🙂