Notes from the Road 7

** Oh, jet lag. You are such an a$$hole.

** Since I can’t sleep like a normal person, I have cleared my “to review” folder. I feel very virtuous. Accepted one paper after they had done an excellent job revising; recommended major revisions for the second paper in a first review; rejected the third, where I was referee No 4 brought in to see what’s what (the paper is steaming pile of crapola, and the first three referees said as much, I have no idea why it wasn’t rejected after that first round of review, as no one had a good thing to say about it; the authors went though the revision, which revealed some clearly nonsensical statements and possibly even made it worse).

** Why can’t we have awesome pastry in the US? Why?! The wonderful flaky-layer pastries that I am buying here at a local supermarket for pennies is better than I can get even at the fancy overpriced specialized bakeries in my neck of the woods.

Oh, pastry, how I love thee. How I miss thee. You might even be worthy of the horrible jet lag.

** Again, there is shit people work on here that they would never, ever be able to work on where I am. They would never get money for it. I feel a combination of self-righteousness, envy, and relief that at least somewhere someone gets to do the fun esoteric stuff that has been beaten out of me long ago by grant reviews.

** Sometimes (all the time) I think European colleagues think of me, and the few other Americans at this conference, as freakin’ baboons, prancing around, trying to animate the audience, having pretty figures and movies, trying to educate and entertain, not being serious scientists. Then you have a typical European presentation in my field, with slide after slide of a freakin’ derivation.

** In the interest of science, I have been (discreetly) oogling men in the streets and at the conference in order to answer the following two burning questions:

Burning Question 1:  What does it mean to be a casually well-dressed European man and why is it that a casually well-dressed European man sticks out in the US like a, well, not a sore thumb but more like a glorious shining beacon of style?

According to my observations, there are several elements to being a well-dressed European man.

a) First, physical fitness. It’s important, because some of what follows cannot be pulled off with a beer gut.

b) Good quality shoes and belt. Really, really nice shoes. Like these:

You know, shoes that are purchased for fun and whimsy and not just to be a workhorse. I rarely see American men wear anything other than black leather shoes even when they are dressed up. Why? Maybe because a pair of goddamned Guccis costs $950, that’s why.

c) Well-fitting pants. American men wear jeans or the “relaxed fit” slacks with a crease, that annoying staple of business attire. European men know to wear non-denim slim-fit pants, that look like the best of jeans, but are not jeans; rather, they are grey, or dark blue, or black, and in a soft fabric whose name I don’t know.

d) Button-down shirt, fitted and tucked in (that’s where the fitness comes into play), belt, and no tie.

The tucking-in seems to be a lost art in the US, unless one is going to the office or a wedding/funeral, and then the tucking in is applied to a button-down shirt and topped off with the inevitable tie. Apparently, no tie — no button down shirt or tucking anything into pants in the US. Which is a shame.

e) The really dressy dressers seem to be into having fancy watches (in case you miss he’s wearing the expensive Guccis, you can’t miss the 2-lb wrist watch that could pass for Thor’s hammer). I don’t care for the watches, but I understand it’s patriarchy-approved male jewelry that doubles as a status symbol.

Burning Question 2: Are US male geeks more or less or differently geeky than European geeks?

I would say European geeks are fitter on average, especially northern European and not-quite-middle-aged geeks. There are some very good looking colleagues aged 30-40 that I don’t think I have seen many counterparts of in the US; even those who are unmistakably geeky are still of normal weight. And everyone seems well rested, much better rested than the US counterparts. Maybe I am just catching everyone as they have returned from vacation; maybe they eat better; maybe they work less than US folks (perhaps, in part, because they have more administrative support).

Graduate students are on average also fitter, wear less facial hair, but for some reason more pony tails (!) than what I see in the US.

[I am really not a fashion snob (more like a fashion slob). I know Americans praise functionality and comfort over all else, and that’s a  thing I really like and embrace because I honestly hate shopping for clothes.]

**  Scalzi’s “The End of All Things” was enjoyable. For the fans of “The Old Man’s War” universe, it won’t disappoint. It features 4 novellas and unfolds via Scalzi’s recognizable push-plot-through-dialogue technique (I am sure there’s a name for said technique in literary theory, I just don’t know it). I loved all the political machinations.

I am currently reading “Robogenesis,” a sequel to the “Robopocalypse” that I quite liked. So far, I think “Robogenesis” will be even better, I am almost crapping myself with horror and anticipation.

Although it might just be all the pastry…


  1. Ah pastry. Yum.

    My husband mostly dresses this way but he is an anomaly in his office. Well, he wears nice shoes but they aren’t Gucci!

    I love your observations – you are very astute!

  2. This is certainly something I’ve noticed in my travels to conferences in Europe too, although I haven’t really considered changing anything about the way I dress as a result. (I’m a fairly standard technical science postdoc: white, male, BMI ~ 27.)

    I’m still on my way down in losing weight, which I initially began because I couldn’t get a girlfriend after 6 years of trying during my PhD. On the way down, I realized that this is probably also a good idea professionally: I noticed that all the new professors at my institution that I am aware of are slim, but only a small subset of graduate students are slim. It’s a small sample size (N ~ 10), but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence. In the real world, fatism is definitely a thing, so it’s believable that a milder version is in effect in academia. (I believe this topic has been covered here or on AcademicJungle too.)

    So, now that I’m making an effort to get in better shape, I suppose I’d might as well get better style. But this is arguably trickier. (Losing weight is simple: just eat less. Much, much less.) I am not a man of means—I’m a postdoc, after all. So $950 shoes are not an option, especially not if they’re going to look like $20 shoes after I’ve ridden my bike to work with them a few times.

    My plea to you: can you (or the other friendly commenters!) suggest some realistic options for a style-impaired postdoc who needs to wear clothing that is robust to biking and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? Links to specific products would be greatly appreciated, since just telling me “get something from XYZVendor that looks good” will likely result in my picking something that looks ordinary or worse!


  3. On the one hand, we Americans need better pastry.

    We also need smaller bellies.



  4. Alex, touche!

    In all seriousness, I think good quality pastry (or any other food) is very satisfying in small amounts. For instance, I have been eating these small buttery criossants. One is half the size of a Panera Bread croissant or similar, but is just as filling, if not more. ‘Tis the fat. Fat is delish.

  5. You did say you were in a Nordic country? The ones with the amazingly civilised workplace conventions, such as NEARLY EVERYONE taking 4-6 weeks off in the summer, and most of them going to remote, country places? They better be looking more relaxed than the rest of us (UK has bad habit of drifting towards American norms – whilst time away from campus in the summer is common, actually taking more than 2 weeks at a time of Actual Holiday is really unusual – and logistically hard, around all the darn meetings/urgent administrative issues/summer students and classes.

    Also pastry. US “pastry” is just calories with most of the pleasure taken out, but just enough left that you keep eating in the hope of actually finding…

  6. I’m a longtime (woman, scientist, PhD student) lurker. I very much enjoy reading your blog for the frank and unvarnished view of academic life. I have to say, though, that I’m a bit uncomfortable with this post judging the bodies of professional men around you. If this were a post written by a male professor about the female PhDs and professors at a conference, I think people would be justifiably at arms over it. I don’t think the observations you made are wrong, but the presentation seems objectifying. I KNOW you feel strongly about the hidden biases women face in the sciences (because, again, longtime lurker), so I imagine you probably don’t see your comments as mirroring some of that behavior. I’m not sure where the line between scientific observation and objectification lies, and perhaps I’m just an Oversensitive American (TM), but this post felt a little too far on the wrong side of that line to me. Though I value the fact that you bring up physical health (including weight and rest) as an important area American academics often (intentionally?) disregard.

  7. To add to the observations of casual attire. There is also a vast difference between East and West Coast in the US.

    The West Coast has a much more laid back clothing attitude. Most of my colleagues there wear shorts and t-shirts. Only those in manager/faculty positions feel the need for long jeans/pants (those horrible chinos !!!! Whoever invented them, never had the intention of making a man look good and why can’t we woman get away with such horrible attire?) and a polo t-shirt.

    On the East Coast, where I live now, even the students are wearing more dressed up clothes. It is not strange to see students walk around campus in nice non-jeans, non-chino and non-sweat like clothes. Lots of dress shirts (not always tucked in, they are still students after all :)). Also the faculty don’t show up in jeans and t-shirts (whereas on the West coast there were still some that did this). This doesn’t mean they have a sense of style mind you :).

    At my last conference, in Europe, I did notice that more people wear casual clothing to conferences, but they are well dressed. Just not the traditional suit and tie. The US colleagues that were there, also were more in casual clothing (versus full suit), but most of them were West Coast colleagues.

    At larger international conferences, I can tell from the clothes which continent they are from:
    – Full good fitting business suit with ties at all times: Asia. Also, the suits are very traditional and often black/dark grey.
    – Business suit, but often to bulky a fit (baggy chino style pants and to broad shoulders in jacket), tie only the day they are giving a talk: US
    – Casual business attire (older generation will put on a suit for a talk, but it will be a more modern fit): Europe

  8. Joe: I think a science professor giving advice on fashion probably violates some law of nature. So I am responding to your question at the risk of opening a chasm in the space-time continuum. 🙂

    Okay, here’s what I know. (This advice is fairly conservative, once you have established a wardrobe you can experiment if so inclined.) You need to start with a few good quality (somewhat expensive) items that you can mix and match and they need to fit you very well.

    1. Do you wear glasses? Start with getting a very good frame. That’s probably on the order of $300. My eldest son wears glasses and I got him a pair of Oakley at the local LensCrafters at the mall; they really flatter his face. At the Lens Crafters, they take your picture in up to 4 pairs and you can look at youself, it really helped. It makes a real difference to have a modern and flattering style (Eldest looks really cool, which helped convince him to wear the glasses all the time).

    2. Your color palette. This depends on the color of your skin, hair, and eyes. For instance, people with dark skin can usually pull off bright colors that many pale people cannot.You say you are white, so are you more towards the colder colors (e.g. if you have blue eyes and blond hair) or towards warmer colors (e.g. brown hair and green or brown eyes). Maybe you already know what colors look good on you. For instance, I wear black, grey, navy blue, dark purple and certain greens and dark reds. Those I combine with black or gray or navy pants and generally black shoes. If you want to wear more brown, green, maroon, tan, you may consider pairing them with brown or tan pants and brown shoes.
    Many people can pull off both a cold and a warm palette, so if you are one of them, think about eventually having one line of clothes with a cold palette (black, blue, grey, purple, some greens and some reds) and another with a warm palette [brown, tan, some greens, orange (tricky), some reds]. Each palette needs shoes as an anchor (black and brown, respectively) and a matching belt.

    3. Be prepared to pay $150 for a good pair of shoes, dress or sneakers. If you want sneakers, something like this seems popular among the bike riding colleagues here (I am picking similar styles from Zappos’)

    So get a pair of quality sneakers and, if flush, also a pair of dress shoes, like these under $150:

    4. Get 1-2 pairs of well-fitting pants. For every day, blue jeans and another pair in a color other than blue. It’s important to get pants that fit well. Try Gap slim fit (find slim fit shop)

    5. Get 2-3 button-down shirts. There are fun, casual shirts (not your dad’s shirt to be worn with a suit). Your BMI of 27 means you are just a little overweight, so get some nice fitted shirts. A nice non-crazy pattern can be very cool.

    Start building your wardrobe slowly. I would get a pair of good sneakers, two pairs of pants, and 3 shirts, and go from there. You can buy T-shirts, but try to go for a good fit and solid color (too many young men wear T-shirts that are just too damn large; buy a few in your actual size as opposed to baggy).

    If you have friends, siblings, or parents who have a good sense of style, take them shopping . Also, many stores have personal shoppers. I bought a bunch of stuff for my 15-year-old son at Express
    at the local mall, and they have good people who will work with you (go say “I want a fitted shirt, what do you have?”)

    You can always apply the scientific method to try and deconstruct why someone looks well put-together and someone else does not — observe, compare, contrast! 🙂

    Good luck and have fun shopping!

  9. Mmm. pastry.
    I think the US (I’m including myself) has lost the art of eating reasonable quantities of delicious food. We’ve been taught/socialized in recent generations to want HUGE amounts, so when we want to lose weight, we continue to eat HUGE amounts of lower calorie food and feel unsatisfied and then eat more…etc…
    Re: Joe’s question and your answer. Glasses: cheaper to get them online. My husband gets really cool hip frames from Warby Parker. You can order a whole bunch to try on at home and send back the ones you don’t want. Way less than $300 (around $100?). we use our health FSA for those.
    YES to fitting. Baggy shirts & pants are just not flattering on anyone. The “slim fit” look for men just looks way more modern.

  10. I agree about fashion and fitness. I thought I was fat when I went to European country (my BMI 22.5 :P).

    I also agree about European scientist looking down upon me. I felt they were thinking “What is this Buffoon doing here in our prestigious awesome research university who is clearly not white”. I have not witnessed this any where in the US.

  11. Pastries are good in Europe, but the rest of the food in Europe was pork or a potato that tasted like salt and cigarettes.

  12. My husband wears nice shoes (you don’t have to go up to $950 but $300 is common, though they also last forever). Anyway, he will get stopped in Europe by locals asking for directions because they think he is local too. This also happened to me in St. Petersburg twice. I decided that it was because I was the only tourist a) walking alone and b) not dressed in those convertable shorts/pants and fanny packs.

  13. I chuckled reading the post, as both pastry and European men looking more stylish have been the topic of conversation this week with my brother.

    For the pastry…we miss it miserably as we just came back from our European home country. We have swore to learn how to do it at home…update: just burnt two tries in the oven 😦

    For the style thing, my brother just went through his orientation week as he just joined as new faculty member at my same univ. He told me that he got checked out during the week, and no wonder, as he was not following the hunting themed clothing fever. He wore a correctly fit pant (not jeans or formal business pants), a buttoned down white shirt that fit correctly and was tucked in, a sports light blue jacket and nice summer shoes.

  14. Thanks for the tips, everyone!

    Astra: what brand are those shoes that your husband has that last forever?

  15. He has a couple pairs of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes that are about 15 years old. They were ~$350 when he bought them but I can’t verify that they still are: European-made shoes seem to have gone up lately. He just bought a pair of Bruno Mail shoes for relatively cheap on, which is a pretty good site for getting clothes and accessories on discount.

  16. A little late here, but you can climb Mount Everest in a $950 pair of “shoes”!! Dress shoes above a few hundred dollars look like they are trying too hard to be fancy; save that for when you go to a Nobel ceremony. My brand recommendation for reasonably priced business casual shoes is Ecco. They hold up very well and are comfortable and I’m particularly sensitive to shoes that aren’t as supportive as an athletic shoe. Mine are something very similar to this under-$200 model:
    (I wear black “dress” shoes because I don’t think brown shoes look very good in general, and certainly not with anything I would wear at work.)

    For button down shirts and pants, Target and Sears work surprisingly well, but there are very few options for decent men’s clothing where I live.

  17. I also have a pair of Ecco “business casual” shoes. I don’t wear them much (I wear bike shoes for the commute and switch to sandals at work), so the uppers have lasted a long time, but the soles (which I believe were advertised as made of recycled rubber) disintegrated. I had originally selected them because of the wider than usual toe box, which Ecco seems to have moved away from, based on the pictures on their website. I don’t have pointy feet, which seems to be the fashion for men’s shoes.

  18. European dudes look like fucken azzholes in their stupid taught pants and shiny shoes. Fucke those fucken fuckebagges and fucke their haberdasherys. You only think that shit looks good because you’re a fucken European azzhole yourself.

  19. Yeah, damn Europeans! I hate those people! I’ll bet that Xykademiqz is actually French!

    You tell ‘er, CPP.

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