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“My message is simple; always be yourself"

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Published on 09 May 2018

Dr Rebecca Owens from the University of Sunderland
Dr Rebecca Owens from the University of Sunderland

Social media has this week been inundated with scientists who are refusing to conform to stereotypes.

 The hashtag #stillascientist has been trending as psychologists, zoologists, geologists and experts from all science backgrounds fight back against conventional opinion of who they are, what they do, and, most importantly, how they appear.

 Here, Dr Rebecca Owens, a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, explains how she deals with judgements, based purely on her physical appearance.

 “I can't count how many tattoos I have, I can't even count the hours spent being tattooed anymore. I also have six piercings.

 “To be honest, I tend not to notice if people are looking at my tattoos, but people I am with notice it.

 “Something I’ve heard so many times over the years is people telling me ‘you’ll regret getting those tattoos’, and the familiar ‘you will never get a proper job’.

 “I think we do all judge on appearances - our brains are lazy and have developed ways of taking in a lot of information very quickly and efficiently. In ancestral times, making snap judgements resulted in more right than wrong conclusions and it was very efficient.

 “But society is very different now, and we have to adapt to new incoming information. Being able to see beyond snap judgements and integrate incoming information as appropriate is needed. Often people can't, or won't, see beyond a snap judgement.

 “My interest in body-art has led me into exploring this as a research topic. I find the literature about body modifications quite limited, probably through lack of familiarity around tattooing and modifications. But I’m making steps towards trying to increase awareness and generate new research findings. 

 “I don’t think my interest in tattoos led me to this career, however. Going to University and progressing this way is something I hadn’t really conceived when I was 18 years old.

 “Being tattooed doesn't change how effective I am as an academic, but working in a supportive department does. Work hard and be yourself - no one should be working hard on being someone that they are not.



“I do think society is becoming more accepting of tattoos, as they become more common. Even in the last 10 years say, their popularity has increased hugely. We see reality TV programmes about tattooing now, we see celebrities parading tattoos, we see professionals with tattoos.

 “Tattooing equipment is becoming more specialist, more advanced, and so are artists. Tattooing is no longer about make-shift equipment, hiding in bedrooms or back alleys playing with ink. It is art.

 “Excellent tattoo work is amazing to see - the skill is incredible. But I also think this normalisation of tattooing will pave the way for more extreme body modifications to be marginalised.

 “My message to young girls – and young boys – is simple; always be yourself.

 “If someone isn't going to like you it can be because of anything - sometimes we just don't like someone based on first impressions. You can be that person who doesn't stick to snap decisions, who looks beyond the surface.

 “If someone dismisses you because of a misjudged first impression, that says more about them than it does about you, and has no bearing on your ability or your worth.

 “I told my mother if I couldn't get a job because of how I look then it was not the type of people I wanted to work with or the type of environment I wanted to work in. I work in a great place with amazing and supportive people, doing something that I love.”

 #stillascientist has been trending around the world as professionals make their feelings known. Comments across Twitter include:

 Dr Sophie Hodgetts: “Whether I've got my mohawk up or I'm dressed "down" for a conference, I am #still a scientist. How you dress is not a comment on your intelligence, or your professionalism. Nobody at work had anything bad to say about me shaving my hair (it's not where I keep my PhD funnily enough).”

 MSC student Olivia Sievert: “Whether I'm dressed up for a wedding or catching hyenas in the bush I'm #still a scientist. And yes, I am sick of people telling me that I look too "delicate" to be "running around after carnivores".

 Zoologist Jess Keating: “Scientists can be glamorous. Lovely. Strong. Feminine. Covered in crocodile poop. And all of the above. Why? Because scientists are people and people can be whatever they want.”

 Structural and hard rock geologist Koen Torremans: “Doesn't matter whether I'm addicted to metal music or a total sci-fi nerd, I'm #stillascientist. I say ‘yes’ to a colourful world.”

 Dr Clara Rodriguez: “Confusing enough? I am a Latina, mother of three girls. I have changed more than 2,000 nappies and cooked more than 5,000 meals. I *love* LatinAmerican soap operas, pole dancing and social media. And yet, I am #stillascientist

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