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I'm attending a humanities conference in Italy in early September. Since the weather is supposed to be good and the venue is close to a beach, some coworkers are already planing to go for a swim together. We generally have a very friendly working atmosphere, a good rapport with each other and hang out together in private, like having a beer from time to time.

I have basically no problems with going to the beach with my colleagues but would indeed find it kind of inappropriate if, for instance, my supervisor would join (I'm female, 28 years old, in case this is relevant). I'm quite insecure how to behave and would like to know:

  1. Is it generally inappropriate to go for a swim with coworkers (as well as other PhD students)?
  2. What to do if a person (like i.e. your supervisor) you wouldn't want to come, joins the group after you already agreed to go the beach?

[EDIT] Since questions came up why I could feel uncomfortable about the situation: I think it is always hard to find a good balance between having a friendly and a professional relationship (with my supervisor, but also with other people who are above me in hierarchy). I also regard the relationship between a PhD student and his/her supervisor as a special one, because it is based on asymmetric dependencies but they also work closely together. While I think having a beer or going out together is completely fine and helpful for a working relationship I consider the beach situation as a tightrope walk since people are (obviously) not fully dressed. It might sound a bit prude but I don't regard is as an uncommon thought. Thanks for your answers so far!

[EDIT] Even though I think some answers are really good and helpful I can’t name one that fully answered the problem and I think the discussion shows that this seems to be nearly impossible. Since many comments did not include answers to my question but concerns about my attitude I want to address some points I have noticed and consider as crucial aspects in this discussion:

Firstly, I was surprised that the initial reactions can be classified into two different categories: Either it was said something like “don’t mind, it’s completely natural” or “there must be some vibes between your supervisor and you”. I think the existence of both parties shows that the situation is a little bit more nuanced than that: The fact that some commenters instantly assumed sexual attraction illustrates that the situation might not be as normal and natural as others state.

I think it's fair to say that sexual objectification of women is also present in academia (like anywhere else), and for me it's hard to comprehend that some claim partial nudity in a professional relationship would not play any role at all (obviously, it affects everyone in a different manner and even though I believe that there might be some men/woman who truly don’t care at all about anyone showing whatever, I’d assume it’s a minority). This might be linked to the idea that – as one of you complained – women “think so low of men” and I indeed understand that this might cause discomfort for some men. Unfortunately, this fear doesn’t come out of thin air and is surely based on the fact that most women made unpleasant experiences in this regard.

However, I think it is interesting that this issue came up even though I didn’t directly address it. The motivation why I asked was a feeling of unease because we could be confronted with a situation of which both of us (or anyone else in the group) could feel weird about simply because we show parts of our body (I’m talking about common swimwear) that usually belong to a private and not to a professional sphere. I consider this part of privacy as even more precarious than, for instance, being tipsy with each other, which might happen after having some beers at an evening event.

I assume most commenters to be male and some might feel offended which requires some steps of interpretations of the situation I didn’t mentioned in my question (which does not mean that I didn’t have some of it in mind, see above). I also think this indicates the complexity of the situation and that it is probably not as easy and harmless as some might want it to be.

closed as primarily opinion-based by aparente001, Coder, user67075, David Richerby, user3209815 Aug 22 '17 at 7:01

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I would regard it as perfectly normal and natural. I was slightly taken aback when a female German colleague went topless, but that's the local culture so you take it in your stride, and hopefully if you do whatever you are comfortable with, people will respect your choices. – Michael Kay Aug 20 '17 at 14:11
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    Sorry if this seems like a daft question but why would your supervisor's presense in particular put you off? Is it their superior status, some power their authority gives them that you are uncomfortable about, is it fear that you might do something embarrassing or something that could be used against you later? – Pharap Aug 20 '17 at 15:16
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    @user78727 As an example for point 1 and for your edit, I usually go to the swimming pool once a week with some coworkers, and there is frequently also a PhD student. Generally, my advice about this kind of situations is... behave normally ;-) – Massimo Ortolano Aug 20 '17 at 16:20
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    I've experienced the gender reverse: A male professor at the beach with ~20 females undergraduates. And I was quite uncomfortable. – Joseph O'Rourke Aug 20 '17 at 22:27
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    @Noldor130884 So because some people are okay with it, it's not okay not to be okay with it? – sgf Aug 21 '17 at 13:02

14 Answers 14

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In my mind the answer to your first question is pretty simple. Yes, of course it is okay to go on a swim with your colleagues. Our colleagues are often our friends and we are allowed to socialize with them. While some universities have rules about dating/sex between faculty/students, there isn't any western university that would prohibit going to the beach.

The answer to your second question is what to do if someone you do not want to show up, shows up. If you think about it in general terms, this can happen at the beach, the bar, or even lunch. A swim at the beach is is in some ways easier to deal with, compared to a bar or lunch, in that it is clearly a social activity and one in which it is likely someone might behave in a non-professional manner (in this case clothing choices).

I suggest you talk to the colleagues you want to go to the beach with and suggest it be post doc only, or whatever rules apply (e.g., student only, non faculty, or assistant professor only) that keeps out the people you want. This has the advantage of not singling anyone out and realistically, there may be a whole "class" of people you would not want to swim with. As long as your rules are not overly discriminatory (e.g., let's keep the blacks out), I doubt you will have much resistance. In fact, my guess is you are not the only one to be concerned. If you do get resistance, then you should assume that it will be a group that you will be uncomfortable with. If you do set rules and someone breaks them, you should call them out even if you are not uncomfortable since someone else in the group might be.

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    and, if it makes you more comfortable, you can pack a sundress to don in case you feel immodest. – Woodrow Barlow Aug 21 '17 at 15:25
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    Suggesting to make is post doc only sounds very rude to me. It is a clear way of saying "the old people are not allowed because they are boring/lame/whatever". On my last conference we went to the beach, and half of the people joined (students + professors, male + female), the other half didn't like going to the beach. – Hans Janssen Aug 21 '17 at 15:29
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    @Geliormth except that is not the reason so they would be wrong. I have never met a faculty member that would be offend by students saying we want to go out without the faculty. – StrongBad Aug 21 '17 at 15:43
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    I'm curious to know how would you "enforce" an X-only outing at the beach, where it's quite easy to bump into each other (especially in September in Italy when beaches are less populated). – Massimo Ortolano Aug 21 '17 at 17:56
  • @MassimoOrtolanomass it depends. You cannot make someone leave, but you can politely make it clear that they are not welcome. If a Y shows up alone, just tell them that it is X only and that maybe we will see you at the pub later. If X_i brings a Y, things are messier, but you could tell X_i to deal with it. The group could also politely split leaving an ever shrinking group with the X_i and Y. Again they are still at the beach, but there is a difference between seeing someone at the beach and socializing at the beach. – StrongBad Aug 21 '17 at 18:10
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It happens all the time, and I see no problem whatsoever. I can understand that you might feel uneasy with your supervisor joining, but nevertheless, I do not think it is inappropriate in any way (we are talking about a normal beach where also families would go, right?).

Besides, a beach is a public place, so even if you somehow wanted to prevent your supervisor from going, you cannot really forbid them to go to the same public place.

Therefore, to address the second part of the question, I think the only option for you would be to refrain from going with the group.

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    @user78727 "the only option for you would be to refrain from going"... I've been in this kind of situations as supervisor myself and, honestly, I would find inappropriate and slightly offensive of my student not having attended or not wanting me to attend for this reason. Since you explicitly mention the "not fully dressed" issue, I would feel as being accused of bad looks/thoughts that are only in the other's mind. – Miguel Aug 20 '17 at 19:58
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    @Miguel: wait, you'd feel offended if your student refrained from going because they would be uncomfortable? People have varying degrees of comfort with partial nudity; surely removing themselves from a situation which doesn't fit within their personal boundaries of acceptable behaviour in a professional relationship is the responsible thing to do? – Liana Aug 21 '17 at 3:57
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    @Liana Sure. In abstract. It is not easy to do a comment that fits the variety of personal experiences and degrees of trust. – Miguel Aug 21 '17 at 5:37
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    @Liana Also note the OP is not uncomfortable with her partial nudity, since there is no problem with her colleagues, but with the supervisor's presence. She is shifting the burden of the proof. – Miguel Aug 21 '17 at 6:22
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    From the other side of the table, I often arrange non-student social outing's with my faculty colleagues to public places. If we run into students we either change venues or sit apart. Suggesting there is no way other than staying home seems harsh. – StrongBad Aug 21 '17 at 13:58
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I'm quite insecure how to behave

I'll skip right past the issue about whether it is appropriate to go to the beach with your colleagues or your supervisor. Obviously some people deem it to be appropriate, and we probably will find other people who would suggest it to be inappropriate.

Your issue is that you are feeling uncomfortable about (aspects of) it, for whatever reasons, which are completely irrelevant. It is for nobody else to judge whether your feelings are appropriate or not, they are what they are.

The proper approach then, is clear:

  1. Don't go swimming to the beach.
  2. Do not, under any circumstance, feel bad about it. Not everybody has to do everything. Not everybody has to like everything. You do not need to be a herd animal.
  3. Do not fall into the trap of explaining to anybody why you don't go. Just don't go. Don't talk it through with your colleagues.

This advice has one specific reasoning: by deciding on one particular action, and sticking with it, you remove your own insecurity. You now can act with confidence.

It does not matter whatsoever that there may be naked skin involved here. I would give the exact same advice if it were about doing a mountain hike (with you being afraid of heights) or a trip to the bowling alley (with you just having no fun whatsoever at bowling), or a Dungeons&Dragons roleplaying session, or whatever else.

It is also a good exercise; it helps to get into the habit of deciding your own likes and dislikes and sticking to them.

Oh, and if you need some objective reasoning of why it may be appropriate to stay away: there always is the concept of separating work and private life. You never need to be ashamed if you want to keep this separation up. Different people have different scales of where that separation has to be. You pick yours, and stick to them. You can still laugh with your colleagues and wish them fun at the beach.

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    I joined the site to upvote your answer and will later award a bounty to it. This is the only answer that deals with the actual problem and doesn't blame OP or the other side for their personal feelings about work and life separation. – Narusan Aug 21 '17 at 19:53
  • I can't award the bounty until the question is 2 days old. Feel free to ping me because of my horrible memory! – Narusan Aug 21 '17 at 20:11
  • Thank you, even in the case you should eventually forget, @Narusan! :-) – AnoE Aug 21 '17 at 22:08
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  1. The usual trick is not to plan such things as a group activity (which might create some peer pressure to attend), but as an informal and optional gathering. Maybe there is a starting time for those who want to meet, but there should be no schedule, and certainly no discussion of any official business (to keep attendance optional). Under this conditions I'd guess it would be perfectly appropriate to attend, if you would like to do so.

  2. After all, the beach is a public place. However, it it's an appointed meeting (as opposed to a random encounter), e.g. a garden party, supervisors are expected by tradition to leave early *. This is to ensure the others can relax and have fun. In a pinch, if a person you wouldn't want to come appears or forgets to leave early, you are always allowed to walk away. Please just do it in a polite and unobtrusive way ("...wow, look at the time!").

*It is a common courtesy for supervisors to leave early in cultures with high power distance. There, where a subordinate must strictly obey their supervisor, they can never relax in their presence. It is common for supervisors to leave early in countries like China or India and other countries that are reddish on power distance scale. You would never have to worry about it in Northern Europe or Anglo American cultures. Even though there are social groups in the West with high power distance where this tradition exists, like military.

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    "supervisors are expected by tradition to leave early": Please don't invent traditions that never existed, or, if it's a local tradition of yours, state so. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 20 '17 at 13:10
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    Dear @MassimoOrtolano, please don't assume things you have never heard of are only inventions. If you do not have this tradition at your location, it would be helpful if you had stated so (but you didn't, btw). But maybe "tradition" is a bit too heavy... maybe the word "customary behaviour" is a better explanation. – jvb Aug 20 '17 at 13:20
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    I totally agree with @MassimoOrtolano in that if a "tradition" is referenced, it needs to backed up by evidence. Personally, I have never heard of such a tradition or "customary behaviour" and supervisors and professors are usually the ones staying late and drinking the most beer in all but one environment I've been working at. – ImportanceOfBeingErnest Aug 20 '17 at 13:42
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    Rather than continuing to argue about it, maybe each party in this discussion would like to state where they are from or how much experience they have so we can establish exactly how 'local' the 'customary behaviour' may or may not be rather than all sides jumping to conclusions. – Pharap Aug 20 '17 at 15:11
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    I've traveled through the Europe and never ever heard of this. Supervisors are really the ones leaving the last and staying until there are others usually. Others can leave and go somewhere else, if they want to, no matter whether supervisor's presence makes them uneasy or not. So, unless it's somewhere specific, Europe does not have this expectation. – Dovydas Navickas Aug 20 '17 at 16:09
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I want to try and be practical rather than judgemental.

Is it generally inappropriate to go for a swim with coworkers (as well as other PhD students)?

Generally it isn't inappropriate, although it depends on which country you're in (more traditionalist or more liberal). In (almost?) all of Europe and in the US I'd say it's inappropriate.

But it's the specific circumstances rather than the general question that is the more delicate issue here.

What to do if a person (like i.e. your supervisor) you wouldn't want to come, joins the group after you already agreed to go the beach?

If I were in your position, I would say this depends to the women-to-men ratio in your group (for simplicity I'll ignore issues like group members' age range and transsexual/gender-queer members).

If you're the only woman - frankly, in your position, I would probably either not go at all (perhaps make arrangements with other people at the conference - a great excuse), or maybe I would join, but just dress in a shirt + beach shorts. That is, unless I wanted to attract some sexual attention.

Now, it's perfectly legitimate in my opinion for a woman to want to attract the attention of men in an out-of-the-office setting, and still expect to be treated professionally in the office; and as a male I would feel better if a female member of my group feels safe enough to do that; but - there is a minor risk of "spill-over" of sexualized perception back into the workplace. And you did mention you're worried about how this would affect your relations with your advisor. So it depends.

If there is a small minority of women - I suggest you coordinate with them. Share your concern with one or two of them, and maybe they can share previous experience and assuage your fear, or verify it. Alternatively, you could come with a bathing suit underneath shorts and a shirt, then evaluate the dynamic on the beach, and if you feel comfortable/safe enough, dress down to your bathing suit. Remember nobody has to know you have that as an option, and you could still make some excuse regarding why you don't even have one.

If there is a large fraction of women, things are easier: If some of them don't go, you can skip it too and not feel awkward about it. And if most of them go, then you'll only be one of a larger contigent of women.And You can basically avoid your supervisor and stick with other women, so you're never in a more intimate one-on-one situation with him. There should be enough people (and enough women particularly) for this to be possible.

Plus, you could still do the "bathing suit under shorts+shirt" combination and delay the final decision until you're actually there.

4

What an interesting question, and when I first read it I had a totally different angle to it. Actually, when I am at a conference I try to get the most out of it scientifically because it is so expensive to send me there. Thus, in most cases, there would not be much time for a swim in the sense of a social event or some other private activity. I personally would not have wanted my supervisor to think that I use a conference for doing something other than, well, going to the conference. Of course, there might be time in the morning for a jog/swimming round, but then it would be "sports" and not a social event. I can just say that I - as a supervisor - appreciate it if my students do the same and also use free time around the conference to make contact to other scientists, search for a post-doc position, read an interesting article to be well prepared for a discussion with the authors on the next day, or just rest to be alert during the talks. A student who decides to have an afternoon on the beach while the conference is ongoing or goes to a party until late in the night, would have to talk to me afterwards. If they want, they are free and I will be happy to support them if they just add another private holiday day to the conference journey to enjoy the surroundings.

So, my suggestion is to separate private holiday activities and business on conferences and to squeeze out everything of the conference itself. I wish you a great time in Italy in any case!

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    You can do networking or reading at the beach ... I don't see why you should establish and maintain contact to scientists only in a conference center. After all, there is a great tradition of continuing discussions in a restaurant. – Roland Aug 21 '17 at 6:16
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    Italy is not in Greece by the way :D – Noldor130884 Aug 21 '17 at 10:48
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    I had a paper came out from an idea initiated while at sauna in a conference venue! – PsySp Aug 21 '17 at 11:07
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    "rest to be alert during the talks" - a social trip to the beach can be very restful for some people. – user2390246 Aug 21 '17 at 12:42
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    I think you vastly underestimate the value of networking and social activity outside the strict confines of the venue itself. – Fomite Aug 21 '17 at 17:14
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While I generally think it can be OK to go swimming/beach with co-workers and I have myself experiences with that in the past with no issues I do see potential for being awkward and I am sure it is not trouble free in all constelations:

It is a personal thing, it might depend on the organization culture and also depends on the actual persons involved (and co-workers not involved!).

There is no clear yes/no as those factors are not known.

You stated it would be fine culture wise, however the fact that you have asked here and think hard about it might be a warning sign. There can be a thing you cant directly point to but you have doubts (the reasons are only important to you). This should guide your decision.

Just two more thoughts:

  • In an academic setting it is less of an issue if you dont expect to work together for a long time (i.e. only till graduation or whatever).
  • The comments here do show that it is not a cool topic as implied (why else would the answers directly go in direction of romance, "want to sexually attract", topless, bikinis and so on). So it can be expected there might as well be equally insensitive co-workers (maybe jealous "at home") - which can use it for gossipping and similar.
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    "I have experiences with that in the past with no issues whatsoever I do see potential for being awkward" - sound like don't step outside your home, because a metor might hit you (and then you complain about all these meteors that hit people nowadays) – Noldor130884 Aug 21 '17 at 7:57
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    I am pretty sure the OP would be totally weirded out if she came to a sauna in Germany or Switzerland. They are mixed sex, and wearing anything is forbidden. – Martin Bonner Aug 21 '17 at 12:20
  • There are also sex seperated saunas (and it was not the point of the question, so I removed that from the basic answer now). – eckes Aug 21 '17 at 17:43
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for me it's hard to comprehend that some claim partial nudity in a professional relationship would not play any role at all

Simple solution to eliminate the concerns about the role that partial nudity would play in a professional relationship: eliminate the partial nudity.

Since you're so concerned about being uncomfortable due to being conscientious about how much skin is shown, why not just show less skin?

Example #1: Dolfin Aquashape Aquatard Unitard Swimsuit

(Check it that picture, and then decide whether that completely takes care of the "partial nudity" concern for you. It would in my culture.)

That was the number one hit on Google images when I searched for "full swimsuit". There are other swimsuits available too. Many of the more "complete" pieces are what I would call a "wetsuit". So, that's another item you could search for.

(Sure, if you look at Google Image Search for wetsuit then some of the images are rather form-fitting/revealing, but scroll down to see more pictures and you'll see lots of suits that aren't.)

I consider this part of privacy as even more precarious than, for instance, being tipsy with each other

And I don't. (I don't view such privacy as being more deserving of concern than tipsiness.)

I don't say that to judge your values, but simply to point out that mine differ. Different people have different attitudes. Some people would say that you should stick up to your values and not bow down to societal pressure about what a woman should be required to wear. However, I say, let those impassioned people win that fight themselves if they like. (Again, I say: Different people have different attitudes.)

Your usage of the word "precarious" demonstrates a bit about your thoughts on this topic. That, and the fact that you created this question, clearly shows that this is an issue that you find (at least a bit) concerning. If you're worried about doing something wrong, or quite concerned of the potential social consequences that could come due to mishandling, then do what will make you comfortable. If a purchase of an article of clothing will put your mind at ease, I think that is money wisely spent. I'm not saying that every woman should wear an outfit just like this. I am saying that this style of swimwear may be a very good option because it may work out quite nicely for you, specifically. (This is based on the very little bit that I've observed from you so far).

Is it generally inappropriate to go for a swim with coworkers (as well as other PhD students)?

No. (Appropriate. Not inappropriate.)

Where I live, it might be a bit of an odd activity to suggest. Swimming isn't frequently super popular here. (There's usually 3 days a year, or less, where the temperature would make that activity generally tolerable.) So if someone asked me about swimming, I'd find that activity a bit of an unusual choice to be inviting people to.

But if I went to a place where there is a nice beach, then such an invitation would be entirely sensible. It's called taking advantage of the opportunity to utilizing the environment where you are. If you're visiting a warm place near water, then enjoy the experience.

What to do if a person (like i.e. your supervisor) you wouldn't want to come, joins the group after you already agreed to go the beach?

Separate, endure, or flee (a.k.a. change your plans). Really, there's nothing beach-specific about that question.

I think it is always hard to find a good balance between having a friendly and a professional relationship (with my supervisor, but also with other people who are above me in hierarchy).

This is unfortunate. Consider the few people who are at the top of the hierarchy. If everyone exhibited such attitudes, those people would be doomed to being lonely. When I've been a supervisor at work (or in a classroom), I've endeavored to have rank gets tossed out the window after hours (or off-site).

2

While doing my PhD in Australia, more than once went for a group (mostly) naked swim with a group of colleagues, some postdocs, sysadmins, some PhD students, some local, some visiting, female, male. We looked at it as a normal activity after a night out (sic!).

Ah, these good old days, almost 25 years ago...

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    Fun anecdote, but not an answer. – Cape Code Aug 24 '17 at 6:35
  • the question is put on hold anyway. – Dima Pasechnik Aug 24 '17 at 6:42
2
  1. Is it generally inappropriate to go for a swim with coworkers (as well as other PhD students)?

This really depends on the culture both of your hosts and that of your lab. In a country like Japan it's not usual for colleagues to go to an onsen (温泉) together, although groups tend to be gender segregated unless modest dress is provided. My understanding is the same tends to be the case for sanua in Scandinavian countries as well. So in those cases you would need to decide if you want to adapt to the host culture for the duration, or continue to operate based upon your home culture. If your home culture tends to dictate a separation between supervisors and subordinates in "relaxed" environments then you are within your rights to want to maintain that as well.

  1. What to do if a person (like i.e. your supervisor) you wouldn't want to come, joins the group after you already agreed to go the beach?

Let's look at this another way. How would you feel if you ran into your supervisor while swimming laps at the pool on campus? Assuming your supervisor is not acting inappropriately, it wouldn't be appropriate to ask them to leave since the pool is a public space and a lot of people enjoy swimming for exercise. The same reasoning tends to apply to public spaces like beaches as well. Explicitly asking your supervisor not to use a public space could cause some friction since you are asking them to restrict their actives. Furthermore, given the size of the beach it might also be a non-issue since there may be enough space for everyone to go without encountering each other.

As such, this question might be one of those that is best resolved if and when the situation actually occurs. There are a lot of ways that this could play out (e.g., your supervisor doesn't intend to go to the beach, they are going a different day, etc.) where you would never encounter your supervisor in the first place. Even if they do show up, they may not bother the group and be on a different part of the beach. In short, I wouldn't put too much effort into worrying about this scenario unless your supervisor states beforehand they want to join the group.

1

Just another point, to exemplify how this can vary from field/country.

I'm Brazilian, and here, going to the beach with everyone from the lab would be pretty commonplace. Even a barbecue with a pool, for instance. But then again, swimwear is almost formal wear (but weirdly enough, topless/nudity is considered offensive/sexual - big no no).

However, in the lab (computer science), we would generally avoid any revealing clothing or physical contact. Rather commonplace for STEM, similar to my experience in France and the US, although the definition of "revealing" is slightly different.

But then I did a stint as a postdoc in a physical education college. The "common" work clothes were actually gym clothes (short shorts, tank tops, team jerseys - if they won the last match), with the exception of a few of the professors. Pants? only if it was really cold, so a week per year tops...

My work there involved motion capture, which was done with markers, precisely placed in anatomically predetermined positions (so you can infer the skeleton from it). Which would mean getting "groped" by the trained lab-mates to position the markers, since we couldn't use athletes to test/debug the system...

Then, I started working with swimming sports. Which would mean a bunch of people from the lab actually working in swimwear, because we had to place the equipment in the pool, then getting the markers in place, and swimming while filming. At every take, the markers would have to be checked/replaced, because the water would move them.

In the analysis part, we would stare in those movies frame by frame, several times, until the reconstruction was just right.

In this context, getting "groped" by lab-mates (undergrads to professors, male and female), while barely clothed and being recorded by several cameras, was totally normal and done on an almost daily basis, without anything inappropriate going on.

tldr: I understand your concern, but it would depend more on the people involved than on the clothing itself.

On the practical side, what I would do: be flexible. The advice of going with "removable" clothing is fantastic, because it gives you freedom/flexibility to adapt to the current situation. I do that when I'm unsure of what to wear, from going to work in a suit and tie to having my trunks under my shorts on the beach/pool.

One more personal opinion: go with an open mind. I'm not saying "let anything happen", far from it, but rather give people the benefit of the doubt, until proven otherwise. Or you might risk turning a fun situation awkward.

The "buddy system" is helpful in this context as well, when you have someone you trust and you watch each other's backs... "If I tug my left ear, it means get me out of here now" kind-of trust :)

  • It is considered desirable to leave a comment when downvoting (the system even asks for it, doesn't it?). My intention was to just highlight that "normal" varies a lot – Fábio Dias Aug 22 '17 at 1:52
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I am very surprised to read that this question even has a gender tag, and I am very sad to understand that sometimes women think so low of men.

There are different angles to see this, but I will cut it very short and write that there should be no problem if you enjoy an evening at the beach (especially being dressed up formally the whole time, therefore probably sweating like a fountain - in September it's still hot in Italy). It's supposed to be fun, nothing else.

I do get the point of peole talking about going topless or not, but I don't think that anyone wrote the following very clearly: not every men will stare/giggle/comment at you when you are "less dressed". Please notice that you are not the only one having to follow an ethical code, and that most people tend to behave correctly, even in front of a topless person.
This is even more true for people who work in a friendly environment and spend time together sometimes (source: I used to work in Italy and from time to time, in summer, we'd finish our work, get into the car, drive to the beach and have a swim + beer + guitar song there - no one ever had any problems and/or found that awkward).
Besides, some men can be shy as well to show their bodies. I had more than a couple of times to choose between "heck, the co-worker from accounting will see my hairy chest and my fatty abdomen" and running for the water because "the last who gets in the water buys everyone a beer" (I didn't buy any beer that evening).

If you don't want to go it's another matter completely, and you can say it plain and simple (you may want to review the conference material, or have a stroll in the city, or whatever), and I don't think that anyone will even raise an eyebrow.

About your supervisor being there, remember that he (apparently he is a "he") is a person like any other, and you may be surprised how much people can have fun / be themselves without trespassing ethical boundaries when they have some "free-time" and be professional during their work. If anyone should be careful about not dropping the authority-facade at all, it should be him.

EDIT:

Firstly, I was surprised that the initial reactions can be classified into two different categories: Either it was said something like “don’t mind, it’s completely natural” or “there must be some vibes between your supervisor and you”.

Maybe because it is normal to simply go to the beach and have fun. What it's not normal is that you assume it isn't. People ask if there is vibes, because in that very case it would be unethical to spend time together.

The fact that some commenters instantly assumed sexual attraction illustrates that the situation might not be as normal and natural as others state.

This fact illustrates that, since people normally spend time together "almost-naked", if you ask, something must be different than the "normality".

It's no secret that sexual objectification of women is also present in academia (like anywhere else), and for me it sounds a bit naïve to neglect that partial nudity in a professional relationship would not play any role at all (obviously, it affects everyone in a different manner > and even though I believe that there might be some men/woman who truly > don’t care at all about anyone showing whatever, I’d assume it’s a minority).

Pardon me, but I find this polarized in so many levels. You want to be a free woman, go out there and be a free woman. Nobody is stopping you. You get a glance you don't like? Speak up. If you don't go to the beach to have fun with people you enjoy, you are already losing as a woman and gaining nothing as a professional. Let me stress it again: if you don't want to, that's another story.

This might be linked to the idea that – as one of you complained – women “think so low of men” and I indeed understand that this might cause discomfort for some men. Unfortunately, this fear doesn’t come out of thin air and is surely based on the fact that most women made unpleasant experiences in this regard.

This should not be a question on gender, so for the sake of ethics let me refrain from answering. I decided not to answer to any general gender related comment, I'd rather stick to ethics.

However, I think it is interesting that this issue came up even though I didn’t directly address it. The motivation why I asked was a feeling of unease because we could be confronted with a situation of which both of us (or anyone else in the group) could feel weird about simply because we show parts of our body (I’m talking about common swimwear) that usually belong to a private and not to a professional sphere. I consider this part of privacy as even more precarious than, for instance, being tipsy with each other, which might happen after having some beers at an evening event.

This is the part that actually makes sense. Being tipsy with each other, in order to avoid problems, you should not get intoxicated. It's as easy as making eye contact with a woman in bikini :)

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    The appropriate venue to discuss tags is the meta site. This being said, the original question has everything to do with gender. – Cape Code Aug 21 '17 at 13:29
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    This seems more like a critque of the question than an answer. – Clumsy cat Aug 21 '17 at 14:33
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    I don't think you should be "very surprised" at the question. On the one hand, looking at someone's body or being flirtatious towards them, up to a point, on a beach outing is not inappropriate behavior - coworkers or not; so there isn't a "correct" behavior, there's a range. And the range is perceived differently by different people in different scenarios. On the other hand, many many people, mostly men, sexually harass women. This is so common it's almost hard to believe - for us as men, who don't experience that. This and other points do make it, IMHO, somewhat of a gender issue. – einpoklum Aug 21 '17 at 15:32
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    -1 and stopped reading after I am very sad to understand that sometimes women think so low of men. Totally uncalled-for. Where did you see anything even remotely suggesting such a comment. The OP does not complain at once, anywhere, and posted a very objective, neutrally formulated question. And yes, of course gender could play a role when naked skin is involved, so it is not outlanding to add the tag. – AnoE Aug 21 '17 at 15:39
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    Your answer and comments seem to deny that sexual misconduct in academia is an existing problem. Well, it exists, and it’s a problem. Or maybe you deny that there’s a potential sexual component to nudity in a supposedly asexual context? Well that is naïve. It’s not a foregone conclusion but the potential definitely exists. – Konrad Rudolph Aug 21 '17 at 17:16
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Are you in any way attracted to your supervisor? Or do you feel that he may be attracted to you? The fact you explicitly say the problem is the fact that you are less dressed, and not the fact you are socialising, would seem to imply that. Otherwise, this is just a standard way to socialise, like drinking a glass of wine together.

But if there is from either side (or both) some interest, then that is the real issue you need to address.

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    1. Should be a comment. 2. Inappropriate as a comment... OP did not suggest this is the case. – einpoklum Aug 20 '17 at 19:31
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    @einpoklum I strongly disagree, there is nothing inappropriate in my reply. – user Aug 20 '17 at 19:49
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I have to go with the 3rd answerer here, seems to me that your problem is specific to your emotional relationship with your super. I see it's been downvoted, which seems an odd, possibly even an emotional, response...
You write that at the beach you're not going to be fully clothed. I guess that means that you'll only have half of your two piece on? Oh, wait - you probably meant that you're not going to have your burqa on...or maybe your winter coat, hood, leggings, boots, mittens, and goggles. Ok. I've beaten that dead horse. My point, and it should have eventually become obvious, I hope!, is that what's "fully clothed" is context sensitive. If you go into the water -and that's not a sure thing, especially on Italian beaches - then I'd say the standard is different than what you might wear literally on the beach (where short sleeved shirt and shorts and sandals would be appropriate - just as appropriate as a swim suit. Of course there are swim suits and swim suits, and I don't want to get into body shaming, but the fact still remains (and in fact, I suspect your post proves it) that people react on an emotional level to others' appearances, and as a very politically incorrect piece of advice, you don't want either to induce disgust nor lust in people you need to work with (and yet maintain a purely professional relationship). My two cents: "fully clothed" for swimming is a non-cleavage displaying (although really this is more fashion than culture,imho) non-buttocks baring one or two piece. If you're uncomfortable with being on the beach so dressed, wear your suit under shorts and a short sleeved shirt (or a wrap-around). OTOH, I never counsel anyone to avoid their gut, (meaning their intuition). If your gut is telling you there may be a problem, there may be a problem. There's no way for us to parse that for you. That is, there's no way for anyone but you to figure out if the problem is you or (I assume) him...or both.

  • A German on an Italian beach could very possibly be topless. – StrongBad Aug 20 '17 at 20:22
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    @StrongBad Because Germans often don't notice when they're behaving inappropriately by other cultural standards (probably because they expect people to tell them, which they usually don't.) – sgf Aug 21 '17 at 13:06
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    @sgf Your remark is totally unsupported. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 21 '17 at 17:10
  • @MassimoOrtolano By the facts or just by evidence on my part? – sgf Aug 21 '17 at 21:56
  • @sgf By both. Moreover, your comment is completely unrelated to StrongBad's comment because topless is accepted virtually everywhere in Italy. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 21 '17 at 22:01

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