What to wear when you go to the National Science Foundation?

You just got chosen for an NSF panel. You’ve read the proposals, submitted your reviews and are flying into DC tomorrow. But there is one last thing. What do you wear? I suppose no one talks about this because after all we are scientists, interested in ideas, not something so shallow as clothes. Above all we want to be comfortable and to have our clothes not stand out.

Usually the panels I serve on are confidential, so I feel constrained from commenting. This one, the NSF Biology Advisory Council, is public. I suppose I could have anonymously noted clothing before, but didn’t. So yesterday I took the time to tally some aspects of what people view as appropriate attire for serving on this important committee.

There were about 20 people in the room, evenly divided between women and men. Your top is what shows the most around the table, so if you want to fit in, pay attention to the top. Most people had shirts and some kind of informal jacket on, but lots had no jacket. Two men had on ties and two women had scarves. A third had only short sleeves, but there was only one nice t-shirt. Four of ten women wore black, so no need to dig out the NYC black. Besides black, the tops were gray, blue, turquoise, melon, mauve, brown, and khaki. Bottom line is you can where whatever you like on top. The room was not too cold for short sleeves.

I had to wait for a break to look around at what people wore besides their tops. No one had shorts on. Two women wore skirts, while the rest had pants on. Seven had khakis, three had blue jeans, and the rest had some form of dark pants that you would have to be better at clothes than me to classify. Nearly everyone had socks on. The men mostly wore leather shoes and the women mostly wore sandals. There were three pairs of running shoes. One woman only had low heels.

Overall, the people from NSF were more formally dressed than were the people from outside. I suppose they have to be ready at all times to deal with the public or Congress.

I know you are just dying to know what fashion conscious me wore. I was one of the minority in blue jeans and tennis shoes. But on top I had a nice gray silk Eileen Fisher short sleeved shirt. You see, I travel very light and didn’t want to pack a spare pair of shoes.

So now you know what to wear to NSF, get yourself on the list to serve on a panel, even if you haven’t been funded yet. Just let the program officer in your area know!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Business meetings, Grant proposals, NSF, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What to wear when you go to the National Science Foundation?

  1. µ says:

    As someone uncultured who believes that a “silk Eileen Fisher” is some smooth tequila, I have only two question:

    Were the participants wearing flat-bottom shoes, tennis shoes, and jeans less capable of identifying problems and formulating solutions, contribute to discussion, and advise NSF? And were the better-dressed better able to do all that?

    I don’t think so.

    • No one to my mind had anything on that I could remember from one day to the next, and no one was particularly well dressed, at least of those not from NSF. Everyone looked comfortable at least with their clothes. People did not contribute to the conversation equally, but all contributed, irrelevant to their clothes, of course. And yes, the silk Eileen Fisher was to tweak you, and particularly my sister and daughter who are social scientists and despair of how I dress at official meetings. In social science the standards are quite different.

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