Penned with Zen
Professionalism: To dress or not dress the part
Published: Monday, October 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 14, 2013 23:10
“What does it mean to be a professional?” was the question I posed over brunch with friends. We were discussing graduate school and a life beyond a classroom. Jane was talking about the weekly seminars at veterinarian school that told students how to act the part of being professional veterinarians. “Sure, dressing nice is important, but what are they telling you in there in order to be, you know, successful? The whole thing sounds like an etiquette class in finishing school.”
Jane laughed. “According to them, being a professional veterinarian means always wearing a bra, no butt crack showing and no special deals for patients. Everyone needs to dress and act the part, because apparently one veterinarian’s appearance affects all veterinarians.” She turned to Richard, who is a biochemistry graduate student. “What about at your orientation, what did they tell you about being a ‘professional?’”
Richard took a sip of orange juice and thought for a moment. “Pretty sure they just told us the protocols about sleeping with your students.” That got a good laugh. But thinking about it later, it seemed odd that apparently those are the lifestyle changes that need to be taught to up-and-coming professionals.
We’re on the edge of entering adulthood, and it seems pretty surreal that we will soon be certified and in the work force. Do you remember all of those crazy stories about the stuff you did and tell people about? You will be that same person who will be asking companies to hire and pay you. Somehow we make the change of showing up to class late, hungover in sweats and a baseball hat, to being well-dressed and on time every day for work. For that kind of lifestyle at least, I’d imagine some routine habits would have to change. What else changes though?
I think people are tired of hearing the usual stories from adults about how you just learn to ‘deal with’ waking up early to drive to a nine to five job. It’s a tired, worn generalization about how you just fall into the routine that people find hard to relate to. Maybe it’s true that we can’t all have jobs that we love. Or can we? Sure, it’s a daring thought, doing what you love for work at some sacrifice; I probably only know a handful of older people that regularly tell me they have ‘made it’ in their field.
So I thought to ask a different ‘professional’ of sorts: A friend, Hunter, who transferred from UNH to a school in North Carolina to focus on his bike racing. Picking up the sport three years ago, he just got his Category 1 racing license and got recruited by Mars Hill College to race bikes. I asked him about the change from UNH to Mars.
“A heck of a lot of perks and benefits here,” he said. “We are a school-funded sport, and with additional sponsorship we have almost more money than we know what to do with. It’s great, but what do you do with a team-branded hot sauce?”
Hot incentives aside, Mars Hill is heavily investing in giving their students more time and money for their students to train and race bikes. He said it’s a completely different atmosphere than UNH, which is more dedicated to getting people first involved in the sport. Ultimately, Hunter was happy with the change of schools and teams.
“When I started [bike racing], I enjoyed it, but my competitive nature kicked in. I did not have great results, but I just kept training and feeling better about it. I changed schools because I wanted to be a professional racer, and I realized I had to act the part. It means less junk food and a lot of focus, but it pays off, right?” Hunter just placed 20th in a national-level race, so it seems he’s getting there.
There was a reasonable amount to pay for his success, though; he’s a bit behind in school from transferring and changing his major from psychology to business. It’s a lot of resources for no guaranteed payoff. Hunter’s long-term plan is to work the professional bike racing scene if he can get the results. It’s risky, but so are the challenges a lot of us will face pretty soon, with relocating for internships and applying for the Fulbright Program. We don’t know what will happen, but we are willing to prepare for the same things.
Going back to professionalism, the point that Hunter makes is there are some changes involved from just getting by now to making it in the real world. There’s some sacrifice and a lot of hard work: He’s applying that principle to something that he likes to do and can see himself doing for the foreseeable long run. Personally, that sounds like a far nicer definition of being a professional in your field than thinking of it as just a new dress code.