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As a male Ph.D. student in engineering, I have not had a problem with long hair at any of the reviews I've attended with funding agencies, conferences, etc. However, I wonder if search committees will view long hair in a negative light.

I would particularly like to know if anyone has known of any instance in which a male candidate's long hair worked against their chances of obtaining an academic position, but I've edited this question title to be more general with respect to a candidate's outward appearance attributes which are under their control.

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I think this should be generalized to "Are search committees biased in terms of candidate looks?". –  xLeitix Feb 24 at 17:02
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And I hope the answer is "no", but I expect it will be "yes, to some extend". –  xLeitix Feb 24 at 17:03
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I don't really agree that the question should be generalised. It's completely fine to ask a specific focussed question, as the body of the question still does. To me, 'looks' sounds like it's referring to someone's general physical appearance including the things they have no control over. And I think hair length is also quite a separate issue from what to wear/carry one's things in, etc., since cutting hair short isn't something you can just do for a day and then go back to normal. –  Tara B Feb 24 at 17:28
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@xLeitix: But long hair specifically is exactly what the OP wants to know about. I feel like we already have questions covering most other things that the generalised question would include, so I don't particularly see the point in generalising this one beyond the OP's specific point of interest. If I were to generalise it, I would only go as far as talking about hairstyles in general. –  Tara B Feb 24 at 17:38
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I would be remiss if I didn't point you to the Luxuriant Hair Club for Scientists: improb.com/projects/hair/hair-club-top.html –  Suresh Feb 24 at 21:36
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4 Answers 4

up vote 29 down vote accepted

First, let me place my answer in the context of American academia. I'm sure that in some other parts of the world social conventions are different.

Contemporary American academia is one of the more formally progressive and tolerant subsets of western society. There are American schools which recognize a student's right not to have any gender! Although this is an extreme point, academic culture places a premium on toleration of personal differences, to the extent that most hiring committees are instructed not to take such "irrelevant things" as personal appearance into account.

But do they? I think all human beings do, in some ways. I do believe that people who are more physically attractive make more attractive job candidates, all other things being equal (and there are lots of studies to back this up). Recently for health reasons I lost a substantial amount of weight, and I think that my relations with undergraduate students are noticeably better, e.g. resulting in higher evaluations. Of course this probably has at least as much to do with the way I (nonverbally) communicate that I perceive myself: being more comfortable in your own skin shows.

As a result, if long hair feels natural and good to you, then I would recommend that you keep it. Like Samson, it may somehow be a source of strength for you. I was going to say that even the fact that you're asking about it seems slightly strange, but then I remembered that as a graduate student I would shave my goatee every fall (when I was teaching) and let it grow every spring (when I wasn't). I have now had a goatee continuously since getting a PhD in 2003! I also used to dress more nicely for class than I otherwise would. While I still think that one should not wear clothing which is especially ratty in any professional context, I have long since learned that nobody cares whether I wear sneakers or a jacket or anything like that.

The other thing is that it is not 1964 anymore: the men who were long-haired youths in the 1970s are now some of the senior people around, and many are still proudly growing long what remains of their hair. Both of the men who have been department heads in my time at my present job grow their hair longer than what conservative mores would recommend, and the current chair has hair halfway down his back. It is really no big deal.

Let me say finally that the odd faculty member who mutters something sour about your hair probably had other reasons not to like you. And if not, do you really want colleagues who are so superficial and intolerant? Times are tough, but I think one needs to make feeling comfortable in one's own skin a high priority.

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there's a big difference to claiming in your press releases to be tolerant and really being tolerant. Case in point, read yesterday that several universities are calling for an end to all research and discussion that doesn't match with their political ideology. –  jwenting Feb 25 at 8:15
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@jwenting: I agree with that and think that it is indicated already in my answer: the word "formally" was meant to convey that nuance. However, for better or for worse, most American university professor I know place a much higher amount of scrutiny on political ideology than personal appearance. –  Pete L. Clark Feb 25 at 15:23
    
which is just as sad, really. They should care about scientific credentials, not which politician you voted for in the last elections or whom you sent campaign donations to. –  jwenting Feb 25 at 15:37
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We all agree that they shouldn't, but the truth is that probably they are, at least some of them. It's difficult to control subconscious feelings.

You can try to play the game in your favour, though: wear an elegant, smart outfit and make sure your hair is well groomed (there is a difference between "long hair" and "hasn't seen a pair of scissors in years"). What people are usually biased against is not long hair per se, but the feeling of untidyness and negligence that they associate with it; you have to disprove this unconscious mental association.

(Disclaimer: I've had long hair for 1/3 of my life, and cut it a couple of years ago).

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'Hasn't seen a pair of scissors in years' isn't necessarily a huge problem, but 'hasn't seen a hairbrush or comb in days' might be. –  Tara B Feb 24 at 19:40
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Gosh, has it come to this? Yes, you should bathe/shower and groom yourself regularly in order to succeed in academia...and elsewhere. :) –  Pete L. Clark Feb 24 at 19:56
    
@PeteL.Clark When writing this, I was thinking more to a formal situation such as an interview, where one should try and go an extra mile to compensate for the bias. But I agree. –  Federico Poloni Feb 25 at 9:28
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I was also thinking about interview situations. And I agree with your answer: long hair should be totally fine. Looking like you just stepped out of the jungle is less universally fine. Still, most academics I know don't care about "scruffy"; it has to get all the way to "slovenly" or "unhygienic" for it to be a problem. –  Pete L. Clark Feb 25 at 15:19
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By request:

The simple answer to your question is the Luxuriant Hair Club for Scientists.

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You are making a mountain out of a molehill. Just cut your hair and grow it back when you get the funding, job or whatever. Just keep it neat. Dress up nicely and conduct yourself well. Unless your hair is like the guy below, you should be fine.

Chris Barnes

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+1 but I have to say this guy in dreadlocks looks awesome. Will hire. –  Penguin_Knight Feb 24 at 20:04
    
@Penguin_Knight - Perhaps not. He is a chris barnes. He sing a death metals and he act very weird and idiot. He probably consume hallucinogen for dinner. He probably is part time hobo and performer. Chenqui. –  Borat Sagdiyev Feb 24 at 20:08
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@BoratSagdiyev Just the kind of person I want my productivity compared to. –  Fomite Feb 24 at 20:26
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@BoratSagdiyev Is his research good? Can he teach? If so, why should I care what he eats for dinner? –  JeffE Feb 25 at 12:17
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@BoratSagdiyev. Academia is a place about freedom of thought. Advising people to cut their hair and belittling artists of music you probably know nothing about shows little respect to people different than you. Chris Barnes a hobo / idiot? And from a guy with the nickname Borat? –  Alexandros Apr 18 at 10:11
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