Author: Skylar Bayer
So, there’s this thing in science where a lot of (but not ALL) famous scientists have beards. A quick Google search (Figure 1) will should quote a few folks including Darwin and Galileo, Albert Einstein (I’m not sure he counts, actually) and some other folks, as well as a lady with a beard and some Greek pottery (clearly, famous scientists). Basically, there’s a lot of facial hair in science. It is a symbol of knowledge, wisdom and intelligence across many cultures and traditions. But you know not ALL famous scientists have beards (Figure 2).
A lot of scientists that do field work have beards (well, they tend to have a Y-chromosome, too). My first internship which was doing soil sampling in Alaska made beards seem a pretty normal aspect of field work — you looked a little too fresh as a young man without a beard (clearly you hadn’t been there more than a day or two and clearly weren’t working hard enough, either).
My advisor has a beard. Five out of six of my committee members (I have a big committee) wear a beard frequently. The year-rounder male members of my lab have a beard (technically one of them doesn’t right now, but as soon as it gets cold it will probably reappear). I did TA for a male biologist last fall who did NOT have a beard. He was a real gentleman, too. Actually, in that class a male student commented that I didn’t look a day over 20 unlike his other grad student TAs. I asked him if they had beards, he said yes, and I said it was to hide their baby faces, that’s why I looked young to him and they didn’t. Guys I know that are in the bowels of their thesis or studying for qualifying exams grow beards. It’s as if the weight of all their knowledge, intelligence and hard work has overwhelmed their body and manifested itself as thick, bushy, facial hair. When I have been studying hard and avoid exercise (don’t do that, it doesn’t help whatsoever), eat a lot to feed my brain and spend hours writing flashcards and dreaming about ecology text, all I get is dark circles under my eyes and a muffin top (and not always where you think it’ll pop out).
So, why can’t I grow a beard? To show my knowledge, hard work and ability to pontificate with the best of them? Turns out that whole hormone thing kind of impacts whether or not you can grow a beard. And the hereditary thing (although if you have ever met my dad or brother, you know that the ability to grow hair under the influence of testosterone is not a problem for the Bayers).
I do own a fake beard (well, it’s really a long-term lending situation). It’s original purpose will remain undisclosed (although I will hint that a fishermen knit sweater was another key element of a particular costume for a certain film project). And I do use it for important hobbies, such as lip synching contests where I need to be sure I’m emulating Chris Barron properly while dancing to “Two Princes” (Figure 3).
A couple of folks came up to my stunning performance (I had changed) and asked who that was up there and I told them it was me. They hadn’t a clue (I was that good at imitating Chris Barron, obviously, that’s why). Of course they didn’t really know who that was supposed to be (so, maybe not such a good imitation of Chris Barron…) but that’s because most of them were born after 1980 (so more a cultural shift thingy).
I realized, actually, that anonymity of my real face, underneath all that synthetic hair, was very powerful. It’s hard to see the blush in my cheeks, my eyes and mouth are framed altogether differently and I feel a little bit like a ninja. An emotional ninja. And I really could use those emotional ninja skills at work sometimes when I’m feeling a little vulnerable, or a little judged because I’m being too perky, too bitchy, too nerdy, too annoying, or too something while also being a woman. Why can’t I just hide behind the physical manifestation and evidence of my previous accomplishments before I screwed up that day?
Hey there, reading this, you’ve got a nice beard. No, no I’m not hitting on you, I just have been looking for a while for my own beard that you know, really suits me. Do you know where I could get one?