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The "What Scientists Wear" project was conducted during the Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology held in Montpellier, France, 19-22. August 2018. We set up a stand in the conference center where we told the participants about the projects, took their photos, and asked them to fill out an online survey. 

During 5 days, more than 200 people visited our stand. This represents more than 10% of the people attending the conference. We collected exactly 200 survey responses and took over 150 photos

Initial analysis of the survey results is presented in the graphs below. 

People who responded to the survey have the mean age of 32.7 years. 

Over 2/3 are female, with one person identifying as female - non-gender conforming

Conference attendants from 38 countries responded to our survey. Top 5 countries were France, USA, Germany, UK, and Switzerland, and they represented over 60% of total responses. 

Majority of people participating were young, early career scientists, with over 70% master/PhD students or postdocs. 

Survey respondents also included science communicators, administrators, research staff, and retired faculty.  

On average, people do pay attention to the way they dress for a conference, being well dressed makes them feel more confident, and believe the clothes are important for being taken seriously.

 

They dress more carefully for more important events and they do not think paying attention to what one wears is just a way to attract attention.

 

In contrast, people did not think that being well dressed gives more value to people’s words and believed that how you look is irrelevant for what you say. There are also indications that people do interpret clothes as a signal for status even if they believe that what you wear should not matter.

 

Combined, the answers point to a possible cognitive dissonance about the way to dress at conferences: in principal people think it should not matter, but they do behave as if does and judge themselves as well as others based on it.  

Bar graphs on the left show all responses to the questions, with red line represents the mean value of the response (1 being completely disagree and 6 being completely agree with the statement on the right of the graph). Horizontal bar graphs on the right represent the mean value and the standard error of the mean for the responses to the questions, grouped by gender. 

 

We observed some difference between genders in terms of their responses to the survey. Compared to male respondents, female ones consider spending time on clothes less of a time waste, disagree that it focusing on clothes is just attention seeking more strongly, feel more confident when well dressed, are less likely to dress like any other day or wear the first thing they pull out of the closet, and dress more carefully for important events. While the magnitude of these differences is not large, they all followed the same trend: female conference participants put more significance on attire. Simultaneously, there are few differences in general attitudes towards clothes, indicated by comparable responses to questions about how judgmental people are and the relevance of appearance versus what people say. 

While interesting and generally suggestive, we wish to warn against over-interpreting this correlational data, especially since it is based on a relatively small and non-random sample.