From Cleavage to Kitty Emoticons: Students Behaving Too Casually..

– things the Birds talk about (**VERY informally**) during their morning walks together for coffee/tea-


Nucleus:  “I just checked myself out in the mirror in the ladies bathroom and noticed I’m showing a little too much cleavage today. And I thought lovely – I should have worn one of those things.. those things – what are they called?”

Synapse: “A dickie?”

Nucleus: “A what?”

Synape: “You know – a dickie!”

Dendrite: “An ascot?”

Synapse: “No, a dickie! You know, like a fake undershirt thing.”

Dendrite: “Those fake turtle necks?”

Synapse: “NO! Come on you guys! A dickie!”

(heated conversation ensues debating the difference between a dickie and an ascot…concluding with Nucleus telling Dendrite she promises to wear an ascot to the lab one of these days just for her.)

Dendrite: “Ok seriously, what do you do when one of your undergraduates you’re working with in the lab walks into work with a see-through shirt and lacey pink bra underneath?”

Nucleus: “Oh, I remember her..”

Axon:  “Ha!”

Dendrite: “Do you say, hey, what you’re wearing is inappropriate? Or do you not say anything?”

Nucleus: “That’s tricky – because you want to support her right to express herself and be herself..”

Synapse: “Through her boobs?”

Dendrite: “Or should we have a talk about professionalism, and maybe – unfortunately –how  perceptions of us can be based on how we look. So showing your boobs may not be the perception you want to give..”

Axon: “Synapse – what’s going on with your situation? The one you told me about. Did you say something?”

Golgi: “What situation?”

Synapse: “Oh, my undergrad doesn’t have a boob issue – this was different. She sends me these emails and is SUPER casual in them. I guess I would consider myself her boss of sorts – the person she has to report to at least, but when she writes me, her email is chock full of language and emoticons that I don’t even understand..”

Nucleus: “Does she make the kitty face?”

Synapse: “The kitty face? Is that what that is?? I don’t even know..”

Dendrite: “Well in our university – or really our lab for that matter – a hierarchy isn’t really that well pronounced. We sometimes get trained by undergrads and vice versa, and post-docs, PIs, grad students, etc. go out and have meals, drinks and hang out. It’s pretty relaxed.  But either way, I think she should be sending more professional emails in general, regardless if you’re her boss.”

Nucleus: “Always err on the side of caution..”

Dendrite: “Yup. And you know my students for the class I’m – when they email me, there’s no Hi, Dendrite, would you mind answering this question. It’s very, BAM here’s my question. No salutation, no signature. Just rude. Email is not a text.”

Nucleus: “But really, what you have to ask yourself is, is this the way they conduct themselves outside of this place, when they’re looking for actual jobs..”

Synapse: “So then is it our responsibility to step in and say, hey – when you email a PI, your professor, teaching assistant, etc., …”

Dendrite: “No kitty faces! Or any emoticons for that matter! And don’t wear a see-through top when you go to interview.”

Synapse: “You know, for the longest time, I thought the caret with the 3 was a garden gnome mooning..”

Nucleus: “It’s supposed to be a heart, right?”

Synapse: “Yes!”

Nucleus: “Oh. Well, I think the mooning gnome is much cooler.”

Axon: “Ha! Well, I do think the relationships we make in the lab are special and hard to define. When you have been working there for a while, it’s a different relationship. You’re chatting while you’re doing stuff at the bench and share more about what’s going on in each others’ lives, and they start to look at you less as a boss. I mean, they still know that you’re a mentor, but you become really familiar. And when those walls get broken down, they communicate in a way that’s more like that of their generation..”

Synapse: “Kitty faces?”

Axon: “I guess!”

Synapse: “So I’m not sure if I should say something or not then. What did you guys do about the girl with the bra?”

Axon: “We didn’t say anything to her.”

Synapse: “You didn’t?”

Axon: “No..”

Nucleus: “Ahhhh wait a sec. (Professor)X did (the male PI of the lab)..”

Dendrite: “Which was totally inappropriate!”

Nucleus: “Well it puts him at risk for all sorts of sexual harassment stuff, I’m sure. I mean, he’s a male, and the boss, and he’s commenting on being able to see a hot pink bra through a purposefully see-through crop top. Because remember what she responded with? ‘Oh, do you like what you see?’ ”

Synapse: “What! Creepy…”

Nucleus: “I know. So sometimes, because of the legalities, I feel like it’s up to us women to help look out and advise other women.”

Everyone expresses their agreement with this…

Nucleus: “Something else to consider is this – I’ve worked in other countries, mostly in Latin America, where in many places women are much more free with their bodies and choice of style than here in the conservative U.S..  Legs, boobs, butts – they’re all beautiful and why hide them in any situation? Maybe our culture is just too damn conservative?!”

Synapse: “Sing it, Nucleus!”

Nucleus: “So should we hold everyone we work with to the more conservative dress standard we find in the states? I mean, relative to places less conservative?”

Synapse: “Yeah but ok, a full on bra showing – is that culturally accepted in any lab?”

A few dirty jokes follow….

Synapse: “Golgi, you’re of the younger generation – well, younger than us, having just graduated from college. What do you think about my email issue? Because when I was an undergraduate, we didn’t actively communicate via email really, especially with the PI. But you did. Do you think that if you were ever bridging the gap of being too familiar…or if there was something off-putting about the way you dressed, would you want someone in the lab to tell you?”

Golgi: “I think I would have appreciated someone coming to me in a non-judgmental way. You know, being really kind and somehow letting me know that what I’m doing or how I’m doing it isn’t very professional. Well, concerning the email thing, I can’t relate because I always spend an hour or more writing my emails to more senior people..”

Nucleus: “Haha! I don’t think that’s a bad characteristic to have at an early stage. Have you guys ever seen that PhD comic about this? Where the student or post-doc – I can’t remember- spends forever writing an email to the PI, only to get a one word response? You get! as you gain experience..”

Golgi: “But, Synapse, I think I know who you’re talking about, and that seems to be her personality. Extremely casual. That’s just how she is, so I think she has no clue. I think it would be really beneficial to inform her in a very nice way.”

Dendrite: “This reminds me of one of my students a had a while ago. He came across as the most uninterested, surly, don’t give a shit person ever. So I sat him down and said, Hey. I know you’re interested in this subject, and you’re smart. I know you want to do well and are interested in grad school, but how you’re coming across – your presentation – is that you really don’t care. Here’s why – and I gave him all the specifics, from what he said to even his posture. And he seemed to respond well and change up his act. As for emails and 5 billion emoticons…”


Dendrite: “Yeah! But pointing out that the way students act or the way they present themselves is important if they want to work in a lab. If they want to get any job, really. Most jobs, at least.”

Nucleus: “In my experience, a good way to talk to them is just to say I really care about you and your career, and if you continue this way you will receive, by more judgmental people, less mentoring and less opportunities. So let me help you by showing you, telling you, how you can fix this and increase your options in the future…”

Synapse: “My sister works in journalism, and she always is telling me how shocked she is when she receives super casual emails. She’s like, you’re applying for a writing job. No LOLs or shortening in any way..”

Nucleus: “Emoacronyms? Is that even a word?”

Synapse: “Exactly. No Emoto..whatever you said..”

Nucleus: “Look, I think there is a big difference between an advisor and a mentor. Not all advisors are good mentors, and not all mentors are advisors. An advisor talks to you about the science. We, as mentors to our students in the lab, yes, discuss science of course, but we have to go beyond the science. Because all these other things – visible pink bras and gnome butt hearts – can affect our work, and our students’ chances of getting into grad school, med school, and jobs later on.”

Axon: “Looking back, I think someone should have definitely said something to that other undergraduate who was here – see-through shirt girl. Another woman.  Another  woman mentor should have said, you know, you should just grab a sweater and put it on right now for these reasons…”

Synapse: “You should have just said, You need to wear a lab coat to have a protective layer, which is a required safety precaution here in the lab..”

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This entry was posted in Biology, Coffee Cart Chat, Diversity, Graduate School, Mentorship, Women in Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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