'Stylish Scientists' is a weekly series that brings you an exclusive peek at women in science and their style.
The motto of the 'Stylish Scientist' is: "Always look chic while making a discovery!"
Where are you right now in your science carrier?
I am finishing the 4th year of my PhD.
What is your topic of research?
In very broad terms, I am trying to understand how cell fates are specified and restricted during development. For instance, how and why a specific cell, lets say a neuron, becomes that particular neuron and not some other cell type; and how it stays that neuron throughout its lifetime.
Your earliest fashion memory?
My earliest fashion memory is one of wanting to make clothes. When we were kids, my best friend and I would try to hand sew clothes for our dolls. They never turned out great and were hardly “wearable” but it was fun to try to create the perfect dress or skirt as we imagined it. Actually, as I’ve grown older I’ve become more and more envious of the ability of designers who are able to execute their ideas. It seems like such a perfect situation to be in: to think of a perfect outfit and not have to go out and find the pieces because you can make them yourself!
Who influenced your style?
It has never been anybody specific - just people I encounter daily and the shapes, colors, and patterns I run into. I am especially taken aback by women who I do not necessarily know, but who nonetheless give me the perception of being strong, confident, and humorous. Feist, for instance - I do not know anything about her personally and do not necessarily try to dress like her, but when I dress I try to recreate the feelings she and her music stimulate in me.
Your favorite brands and places to shop
I’m not sure I have a favorite brand- I will buy almost any brand as long as I like the piece of clothing (except if I know the company has shady practices!) and is within the reach of a graduate student budget. The places I have done most of my shopping lately have been thrift and vintage stores. These places are great because they expose you to a variety of designers, styles, colors, sometimes bizarre patterns and shapes in an atmosphere that is almost always very very congenial. Walking into a vintage shop feels very different from walking into a boutique- it has a sense of adventure. You never know what you’ll find; maybe you’ll find nothing, but maybe you’ll dig out some treasure. And even though it requires some patience, it is easy to find unique, beautiful things in the thrift shops of NYC! It has the additional advantage that you’re using recycled clothing. Throwing away unwanted beautiful clothes seems a shame and a waste - so it’s great that thrift shops allow others to cherish them all over again :)
Favorite thrift/vintage shops: Urban Jungle, all the Buffalo Exchanges, the huge Beacon’s Closet in Williamsburg, East Village Thrift shop, CURE, Monk, various others that are simply called “Thrift Shop” and are spread around the city. Also, when I’m visiting my best friend in D.C we go to all the Goodwills around her place.
How did the places where you lived influence your style choices?
I grew up in India, so, obviously, I love colors! I like very clean lines in outfits (unless some shirt/dress/sweater has just the right slouch), but within that restriction, I love to mix colors and patterns.
Your everyday science uniform
Dresses! Dresses in the summer, dresses with tights/leggings in the winter. And also skinny pants and skirts with patterned colorful shirts. We don’t use too many dangerous or messy reagents in the lab, so I don’t usually need to dress specifically for lab - so my “science uniform” is just whatever I feel like wearing that day.
What do you think about dressing nicely while doing experiments?
It’s great! I know that this is not the case for everybody, but wearing clothes I like makes me feel more confident and some outfits just make me happy no matter what I might be doing that day. I come to lab and do experiments everyday – there’s no reason to not look and feel nice while doing them!
Any thoughts about how the general public perceives scientists and their appearance?
I suppose when thinking of a scientist, famous pictures of Einstein come to mind. This is probably because most people don’t have too many interactions with scientists and the perception of science most television gives us feels so fake - only scientists seems to know what everyday scientists look like. But I am convinced that we look just like everybody else. Some people are well dressed, and some couldn’t care less, which is also the case for a lot of the rest of the population.
How do scientists perceive scientists who dress nicely?
I work in a huge lab and interact daily with both male and female scientists who look great! It’s true that it was difficult for women scientists who started their careers about two or more decades ago to dress nicely and still be taken seriously. But fortunately, I think (and maybe I’m biased because I work in a very progressive city) that the numerous women scientists who came before us have made this mostly a non-issue. In my interactions with other scientists, I get the impression that the clothes you wear do not change anybody’s perception of your scientific abilities or accomplishments. Personally, I do smile a bit wider when I see an accomplished scientist who also looks great. What you wear is the way you choose to present yourself to the world and I think it adds color to your personality and also reinforces your accomplishments when you choose to present yourself in the best way possible.
What are your hobbies outside of science?
I like to ride my bicycle, Mango, around town. I also like to sew and am still chasing my dream of being able to create whatever clothes I can imagine. And I try to paint and do other “crafts” with friends.
Pictures are taken by me; edited by me and Tulsi.