27 and a PhD

Home » Grad school » Prada shoes, lab attire or why do I dress like a soccer mom

Prada shoes, lab attire or why do I dress like a soccer mom

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.


September 2010
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I do not dress like this ... always ... but I do

The BF and I have been going to bed SUPER late. But it’s not because of that … you and that filthy mind of yours. Well, we’ve had some really awesome conversations regarding us, our future and my job frustrations. I’ve mentioned before that I am overweight. That isn’t changing any time soon due to money, and some issues with my feet. The BF now understands  my frustrations better. My frustrations with the lab, the research and what goes on in this little pretty head of mine.

But this entry is not about that. Well, not exactly. Part of the reason I am depressed is that due to the overweight, and that fact that I work with acid (ie. I made a buffer every 2-3 days, and not just 1L, but tons of it) I dress like a slob.  I do not want to damage whatever amount of decent, “brand name” clothes I have by spilling HCl, or bacteria, or gel stain on me (which I’ve done, trust me, especially the stain). I am a responsible lab member, and I wear goggles and a filthy lab coat whenever I’m making buffers or dealing with cell cultures. Most of the time, at least.

With that said, I cannot begin to understand why is it that some of my fellow lab members, and department mates wear nice clothes, shoes or jewelery to their lab. I would not wear my 2-carat diamond and platinum ring. Nor would I wear a nice pair of Guess jeans, or a gorgeous 180$ Club Monaco blazer.

I cannot begin to wrap my head around why guys and girls at my school (and apparently other schools too) wear stuff that is fresh off the runway. Really. I mean, it’s good to take pride in your appearance. It helps to boost self-esteem, helps you look cute and overall looks better than tapered pants and pair of kicks from the Zach Morris’ era.

But, why is it that Abercrombie it not enough? Why is it that my labmates seem to manage to wear Guess Jeans, and a pair of 120$ flats, and a 70$ Banana Republic “basic” top to grow 12L of E. coli, or prepare 2x 6L of Tris HCl + glutathione pH 7.8? It baffles me.

Then you have me. I’ve been dressing like a slob for work since … oh I don’t know? 2003? When I was an undergrad I used to wear your average jeans, kicks and top to learn about titrations and basic microbiology. I wanted to look cute, not overly cute, and above all, comfy. And I didn’t want to worry about getting the formaldehyde odour out of my favourite top. When I joined my first undergrad lab I still wore some of the same things, but if I knew I needed to work with radioisotopes, or stay in until really, really late, then I’d opt for comfort.

During my grad school years I kept the same kinda groove. I bought new jeans every 3-6 months (depending on when Target had good jeans for sale and how long they would last until the constant movement of my legs would inevitably cause the inner thigh area to break open). Still, they weren’t you know, 100$ pair of jeans. They didn’t last way too long. The tops were cute, but simple. Like I said, I opted for comfort, rather than fashion. I would occasionally wear a cute sweater, or even a dress or a skirt, but that only happened when I was full on analyzing data or when I was delivering a talk and knew I wouldn’t touch a single lab instrument that day.

I’m not very sloppy, except if it’s Friday at 6:30pm and my stomach is growling. Or if I have another person using a column immediately after me. I think that it’s perfectly fine to wear something nice to school, especially if you are careful. But some of my coworkers seem to like to show off their nice stuff, no matter the kind of experiment or amount of discomfort their shoes or clothes cause.

I’m more laid back, but I sometimes get a bit frustrated when I look like a 40-year-old soccer mom, than a 29 yr old awesome scientist. I try to look at trends, find basics that  suit me. But I will more than likely succumb to Threadless’ last sale, or the sale rack at Joe’s to find something that a)fits me, b) fits my postdoctoral budget, and c) is comfy. I choose comfort above everything. Which does not bode well with my sex appeal towards the BF. I mean, seriously, I dress like a soccer mom on a really bad day, and we don’t even have kids!

I guess I envy my coworkers, especially the female coworkers, who look put together (though in clothes I cannot afford), in an effortless sort of manner. I never pay too much attention to my hair, and puhleeeze, don’t even get me started on makeup. Seriously. I have not worn make up to school, on a regular basis, since the summer of 2004. Part of it is due to my not wanting to leave mascara residue on a microscope’s eye-piece, and especially to not wanting to deal with the cakey-pasty feeling I get a few hours into wearing makeup. Yes, above all I choose comfort. Maybe I really need to spend some money on some seriously good makeup. I bit the bullet and bought some Clinique lipstick duo or something, and OMG it is dreamy. It feels natural and lasts forever. Maybe I need to try the rest of their makeup. Mascara and lipstick don’t bother me, but a cakey face, ugh, that, I cannot handle. The same way that I won’t reapply makeup or touch it up without washing my whole face, moisturizer, and applying a fresh, new layer of makeup from scratch. I guess I have some OCD tendencies, especially towards textures and the feeling of being overstuffed, overcrowded. I don’t know.

But the main point of my entry is that I want to do something to look nice. I need to stop buying clothes for only two occasions: a) the lab or b) the never-to-materialize date or dinner party. I need to learn to choose my clothes with more thought. I want to look put together, effortlessly, but nicely. I want to look better and stop looking like a slob. Yet at the same time I know that I am not Ok wearing brand name this, and that, and showing others my expensive taste. Especially in an environment that will more than likely ruin a nice piece of clothing or a pair of shoes in a matter of seconds.

Now I ask: have you had this happen? You know, the other people in the lab dress nicely and you feel like you don’t? Do you have any tips to help me look better and feel better, especially makeup tips? Any advice on products I could use to help my face feel nice and fresh and not cakey? Do you have any comments regarding how to dress or not to the lab? Comment away 🙂 .


  1. Alexandra says:

    I worked in a lab in the UK before and the girls seemed a bit more fashionable there. But generally speaking, I’ve yet to see a fashionable scientist. [other than myself of course 😛 ]
    I try to dress fashionably, not designer shoes since I don’t own any except the ones I wore at my wedding, and I’m saving those for special occasions, but girly, chic and comfortable.
    I wear dresses and skirts, sometimes heels (mostly when I do computer work and don’t have to run up&down between the floors), I try to reveal my feminine side.
    My friend from the lab usually wears jeans but she pairs them with floral T-shirts, Guess shirts, cute vests, etc.
    One of the reasons I love fall is that I get to wear layers – I’m always wearing a cardigan over a t-shirt or blouse these days and it adds a bit more femininity.
    I guess my point is you can dress fashionably even if you work in a lab. You just have to prepare a couple of mental outfits with the items you have in your closet, color coordinate them, buy the right pair of shoes and a few accessories and you’re set!
    As for makeup, I wear a bit of foundation, I use a red Chanel lipstick as blush and also a bit of lipgloss. That’s it. I don’t bother with mascara as I don’t think it adds anything to my lashes…
    I usually bring some moisturizer, wet wipes, foundation, gloss, etc. with me, and I freshen up before lunch. It takes <10 min.

  2. Dr. 29 says:

    Alexandra! Thank you SO much for your super thoughtful ideas :-). Somehow I think that female scientists all over the globe dress better than me :-P. Thank you for reading, and commenting and I hope to update sometime soon about how I can become a lab goddess and still manage to do science without spraying or making a mess all over my clothes. I especially like the idea about the towelettes and moisturizer and all the other products to keep one pretty all day long without being all pasty and yucky! Thanks again for visiting.

  3. EIP says:

    Hi Dr. 29! I’ve just reading your blog, and it’s funny everytime I discover that we have something in common. I’m also 29, and into the 2nd year of my postdoc. I guess I could also name my blog Dr. 29! =p (Just joking!). However, I do have a couple of tips for you. First of all, that $180 Club Monaco blazer goes on sale, usually a couple of months after it hits stores. Of course, you gotta check different locations and you’ll be limited in terms of size and color, but with enough patience, you’ll be able to get it for about $49+tax. And if you bring a friend who still has a valid student card, you’ll be able to get their 20% student discount =) Dressing fashionable does not have to be expensive, I think Joe’s is a good place to start, but you can also try Winners, H&M, etc. (Email me if you want more details suggestions!). If you don’t wanna look like a soccer mom, you should try to wear items which are more form fitting. I know you are not comfortable with your weight right now, but you can have something that is form fitting at the right parts and loose in the area that you don’t feel comfortable in showing. Basically, you don’t wanna look shapeless. As for make-up, I don’t use foundation, bc it comes off too easily and in general, there is too much of it. I use a tinted moisturizer which can even out your skin (covering the bumps, if you have any, but I certainly do) and that has SPF (you have to try and keep those skin cells undamaged as much as possible!). I would not use a lipstick, but rather a lip-gloss. If you want brand suggestions, email me. I would not go with a cheap brand to save money, bc the quality isn’t the same and it’ll take you quite a bit of time to consume each “make-up” item anyway. Oh, and one thing that is often ignored is hair. Whether you keep your hair in a pony-tail, a bun or you leave it down, make sure that it’s not frizzy and that it’s orderly. The out-of-the-bed look or the oily I-was-too-lazy-to-wash-my-hair look are definite no-nos! And you will be surprised how much tidy hair would contribute making your look appear as effortlessly put together. =) I hope this helps a bit. Keep us posted on your progress.

    • Dr. 29 says:

      Thanks for all the tips EIP! I hope to put some of them in practice real soon. Congrats on your engagement!! I checked out your blog and it’s so lovely :-).

  4. Linda says:

    I came across your blog entry because I was looking for “grad student” fashion ideas LOL! I am also in the biological/medical sciences so I can relate to your lab experiences.

    A little about myself… I’ve been a perpetual student. Went to grad school immediately after undergrad, was in a PhD program but quit after 3 years with a Masters, and a few years later, just went back to school for a PhD again. I am a 28-year old second year student who will be spending most of her life in a lab — no, not the most fashionable environment. In fact, kind of depressing…

    I envy my 28-30 year old friends who have jobs in industry (particularly the more “fashionable” fields like social media, business, etc) and dress like runway models. They don’t necessarily look like runway models but they look so put together and clean. Whether it took them effort or not, whether they consider themselves fashionistas or inner-tomboys, they do exude good impressions on others. I admire them.

    However, I can never wear their outfits in grad school or in the lab. I also don’t feel like looking like a college student (I am Asian…which means, I tend to look younger anyway) and I find myself feeling “yucky” when I dress sloppy and messy. But that is how a person dresses for lab, right? … …. eh .. what if I spend my life in a lab?? How will I feel….???

    Scared, tired, I have decided to revamp my wardrobe. Get rid of old clothes, sweatshirts, clothes that don’t flatter me, old collegewear, and get “professional student” pieces. Sure I will have to keep it on the conservative side but I can still show off some femininity and cleaniness. Some soft slimming button up shirts, cartigans, plain but cute sweaters, and they even have some fitted sweatshirts for women. I don’t have money so sometimes I scope out consignment shops that sell very new pieces for …$5-$20. I don’t want to feel old already when 20s-30s is the time to feel young AND accomplished!!!

    So during my google searches, check out this website. These women are professors in academia… they look so cute!!!!!

    I probably won’t be dressing as well as them but they gave me a lot of ideas!!!! Good luck!!!!

    PS. Oh yeah the makeup hair thing… start with clothes first, then keep your hair clean. If you don’t wear makeup, no need to — you can let your fresh-face inner beauty shine!!

  5. Natalie K. says:

    Hi, Dr. 27 (31 now?)! I just found your blog and it’s super-interesting. I’m a fourth-year Ph.D. student in structural biology, twenty-eight years old, and clueless about what I want to do when this is all over. I’ll be following your blog!

    Okay, the topic of clothes: I’m someone who dresses nicely for lab, though it varies from day to day. I love shopping and don’t want to push all my “nice” clothes to the side of my closet to wear the few “practical” pieces I did manage to snag (the “nice” clothes are so much easier to find in stores!) day after day after day. I’ll get bored if I have to wear the same thing all the time, and I really love fashion so I try to wear something different (and interesting) each day of the week and recycle outfits only the next week. As you said, it makes one feel good and confident and cute to wear nice things. If they happen to have a big brand name attached, no biggie. I’ll still wear it, as long as it’s pretty. And I never, ever wear anything uncomfortable. I wouldn’t even buy anything uncomfortable in the first place. A lab coat will protect the clothes, so I’m not worried about that.

    So here’s why we prettily-dressed lab denizens do what we do: because as you know, the never-to-materialize dinner date or party just doesn’t materialize! I work all the time. So, if I am ever going to wear pretty clothes (sitting in the closet), it’s probably going to be to work or, well, never. And since it’s a pleasure for me to dress this way, I just do it.

    Jewelry, too. I have plenty of jewelry, and where am I going to wear it? I usually wear three rings and a necklace to work. I just like it. I wish I could wear bracelets, too, but they make work difficult, bump into the gloves, etc. So they sit in my closet. I miss them.

    The topic of makeup: oh, man. It’s very, very, very time-consuming. I don’t bother with makeup, it probably does feel cakey and uncomfortable after a long day, and my mom says that the longer I stay fresh-faced, the longer my face will stay fresh. Apparently, if you start wearing makeup, you shouldn’t stop, because it, or maybe the process of having to wash it off, exfoliate, moisturize, etc., over and over again BECAUSE of the makeup, drains away at your natural colors. So, the best thing if you really want to start wearing makeup is to stick to lipstick or lip gloss and some mascara. I’m a glasses-wearer, so I don’t see the point of mascara. But I do wear lip gloss. I actually layer on different moisturizers and chapsticks and glosses as much as I can, not for the aesthetique, but because I have chapped lips. I’m a dry-skin, chapped-lips, perpetually dehydrated type–I know there’s this type, because I am it. Plus, I live in dry, dry Los Angeles. Plus, lab is even drier than outdoors, mainly because of the exaggerated air-conditioning.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thanks for your comment and insight Natalie! This is super helpful. And cheers on being a fellow structural biologist! I hope to follow some of your pointers so I look more like a mature, confident 31-year old and not a soccer mom (and I don’t even have kids!).

  6. […] mentioned before that I do feel bad for dressing like a soccer mom, but at the same time, I feel like I can because […]

  7. Catherine Murari says:


    So I was like the rest you know in the same 2 pair of jeans, sweatshirts, hair tied in a bun and just going on…
    And then I looked in my closet and I realized I have more “nice” (NOT EXPENSIVE) clothes in my closet than the ragged clothes that I have been wearing over and over for nothing. So I decided to start wearing the good clothes. I dont buy designer anything and I shop only thrift or consignment stores. So I get a pair of jeans that could be orignally $50-100 for about $10 and I dont mind wearing it because I know how much I invested in it. I love jewelry and I have a ton of it so I pair it up with my outfit. As far as my make up goes, I just use a basic compact powder, liner and mascara. Makes the face look good as I grow older (Gosh I am going to be 30).
    So looking good has nothing to do with money. If you look around a little bit you can get many stylish outfits for much much less!!
    I hope this helps!!


    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thanks CMK! Indeed, your comments and ideas helped a lot. I’m trying to go with that strategy on days I don’t anticipate getting any dirt/grease on my clothes. It’s slow, but it’s going. It’s good to know I’m not alone. Phew!

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