TooPretty

It may come as a surprise to some, but it is completely by coincidence that I ended up working a few years in a row with several very pretty female students. And three to five pretty women together seldom go unnoticed, whether in a lab or in a conference. So after a few years, some had apparently decided that it might not have been entirely accidental.

Funnily enough, I’ve also had a few quite handsome male students during these years, but I’ve never had a single remark about that (apart from the women in my group, who where always rather quick to notice that).

Of course, I could have been offended by the insinuation that I select my students on criteria as irrelevant as beauty or charisma. You can imagine that it wouldn’t be a wise choice to succeed in research anyway. But if I was irritated, it was for my students. Because it implied that they were not here for their intellectual capacities and research skills, but because they had pretty smiles. And if they are going to be judged during their entire professional life by their peers (that’s how it works folks, there’s no job under as much peer scrutiny and criticism as researchers), it’s not fair that people start to think they are less competent and got their position because of their looks.

This shows two things. First, there are still strong biases in science, despite what we would all wish. We still do not treat men and women equally. Physical appearance is more easily noticed in a female student than in a male student. Second, we tend to think that very pretty women a priori can’t be brilliant as well. Look deeply into yourself, and you’ll see that even you can be victim to these preconceptions. That may seem a frivolous topic, but in this era of ultra competitiveness for research positions, imagine when an entire jury doesn’t even wait for you to start your presentation before cataloging you as “can’t be that bright” just because you’re stunning.

The message of this post is for professors, juries, referees and all other colleagues in position to provide assessments to be extra careful not to judge too quickly a pretty female student as possibly less intelligent or able than any other student. I know that may be paradoxical, but that happens often. For female students I have two specific messages. First, if you are really pretty, know it won’t be neutral on your carrier; it may come handy to be agreeable, but realize that people will have as many preconceptions about your mind or personality as they will, unfortunately, with ugly people. Second, it you are really, really pretty, then contact me, I may have a job for you…

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