All in all, the research and thesis conference presentation went well. On Friday I told my advisor that I was glad he told me to do it, and I meant it then, but I really believed it after I finished my presentation. The good: People asked really good questions, the faculty respondents said that I obviously was very knowledgable in my field, and I got a lot of compliments on my body language and eye contact. The bad: I went about 30 seconds over the allotted time, which meant I had a few points deducted from my evaluation. The ugly: I need to stop talking like I’m 20 years old. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous during my presentation, and I unknowingly slipped into a few vocal tics (“you know”), which made me sound young in a bad way. I’m now working very hard to eliminate those sorts of things from my speech so that I won’t slip into those habits during a moment of nervousness (as in a job talk). I couldn’t help but be nervous, since I was presenting in front of not only my advisor, but also the spouse, who was kind enough to come watch me instead of staying home to watch a basketball game on TV. Despite everything, I’m proud of myself.
However, I’m really struggling with this whole idea of appearance. I look very, very young for my age, and I’m already intending to enter the academic job market a good 3-5 years earlier than most people do. While we’d all like to think that job candidates are judged only on their scholarship and individual merits, it’s no secret that academics are just as shallow as anyone else in making personnel decisions. Attractive people get jobs more often than plain-looking people. Both older and younger candidates are judged as “too stodgy” or “too flaky” (respectively), which means basically anyone younger than 30 or older than 50 is kind of screwed. Even if I waltz in to a job talk with a kick-ass resume and a god-like job talk, more than a few people will likely question my abilities simply because I’m barely 5’2″ and baby-faced. Recently, we had a candidate come in for an interview who is exactly my age. Her talk was great, and she seemed to be a good fit for the department. But then I heard some faculty members say, “Oh, she makes me feel old.” Ultimately, she did not get the job, and we hired a slightly older (but equally qualified) candidate. Things like this worry me, but I really have no idea how to get around this. I can’t change who I am or make up for the fact that I’m a relatively inexperienced person, but I don’t think that it makes me any less qualified or able. I have to console myself with the thought that a department that would dismiss me based on appearances is not a place I want to work, but in this economy, it makes me nervous.