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Tattoo Concerns


mikeman591
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I'm happy to know I'm officially pursuing my PhD. With that said, I'm strongly considering a tattoo this summer before I go.

 

It would simply be text, ideally located on the inside of my forearm, which would make it fairly visible unless I wear long sleeves. Should I have any concerns being a grad student/TA/teacher with a visible tattoo?

 

It would be completely inoffensive and is more of a personal message to myself than anything else. I don't think it would make a difference in getting an academic job down the line but I'd like some thoughts.

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This is really field dependent. In my field, a lot of people have tattoos (though probably more women than men), some of which are visible and some of which are not. When I think about my coworkers, I think a few of them have visible tattoos (think inside of the forearm) but very few do. It may limit your options for future employment, which is something to consider.

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I'm happy to know I'm officially pursuing my PhD. With that said, I'm strongly considering a tattoo this summer before I go.

 

It would simply be text, ideally located on the inside of my forearm, which would make it fairly visible unless I wear long sleeves. Should I have any concerns being a grad student/TA/teacher with a visible tattoo?

 

It would be completely inoffensive and is more of a personal message to myself than anything else. I don't think it would make a difference in getting an academic job down the line but I'd like some thoughts.

 

I don't think it should matter, but if you feel it might (i.e. for a job interview, etc.) you can just wear long sleeves. Shouldn't be a big deal! Hopefully you'll be wearing long sleeves to important functions like interviews anyway.

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Absolutely! I certainly know when to be professional. For what it's worth, the field is communication, which can have a sort of casual feel on most occasions. Anything requiring business casual or above usually constitutes long sleeves anyways.

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I have three tattoos and they have never caused me any trouble - especially since two are completely hidden, and one is on my ankle. I don't typically wear skirts/dresses/shorts so even the ankle one hasn't really been an issue. If absolutely necessary you can always use skin colored medical tape, for example, to cover it up. I've done that once or twice. One time I was desperate and just used a large band-aid. Doesn't exactly look nice, but gets the job done. 

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Lots of people in my field have tattoos (and piercings, and unconventional hair styles and colors). I think it's field-dependent, but academics do tend to be a quirkier bunch and tattoos usually aren't an issue.

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I have tattoos on both wrists (in addition to elsewhere), and my arms are very long so sleeves are always too short to cover them. It's never been an issue in the least. I hardly ever comments on them, and the few comments I have gotten were merely curious or positive. I'm in a lab science though, and we're pretty strange folk in a wide variety of ways... 

 

For what it's worth, I'm also getting a tattoo removed right now, and it's actually not that bad. Not like you shouldn't consider a tattoo a big decision and try to aim for something you'll like forever, but it isn't truly permanent. You do have options if you decide it's a hindrance later on in your career. 

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My grad director and half the profs in the chem department have tats. I have a full back piece, an arm piece, and a half sleeve (on my forearm so incredibly visible but covers easily in business attire and lab coat cause I had the artist end the tat three inches from my wrist.

I agree it's field dependent. In sciences, even places like Yale, Duke, and Harvard don't care (according to the aforementioned profs who went there while tattooed).

I also double checked employee handbooks at several different types of universities and none had a tattoo policy.

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I have a small tattoo (script with a personal message to myself) on my back shoulder blade, which has never ever been an issue, but that's because it's totally hidden. Only a few people even know I have a tattoo. 

 

If you get a visible one, it might not pose problems directly, but it might distract from you and your other accomplishments. Also, you will never be held back in any way for not having a tattoo, whereas discrimination based on visible tattoos is possible, even in highly open-minded and quirky fields. 

 

In my opinion, it might be a good idea to get it in a place that is more easily hideable, i.e. shoulder, back, hip, upper arm, etc. unless there's a specific reason you want to get it on your forearm. When I was considering where to put mine, being able to hide it was one of the biggest considerations, and I haven't regretted it since. :)

 

Just my $0.02. 

Edited by MastersHoping
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I have a large typographic tattoo on one of my forearms and I work in higher ed right now. It has never been a problem.  More than anything, how you project yourself is what matters most, IMO.  When it comes to the students. remember that this generation has far fewer negative feelings towards tattoos than we do, or perhaps our parents did (I am a bit older than most grad students, I'd say). I expect it to be a nonissue.

 

Just for kicks, and because I've never had the guts to do it while working a traditional job, I want to dye my hair ice blue when I finally quit and move up for grad school.

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I'm with Chiqui, tattoos aren't stigmatized as much now as even five years ago, especially in academia. My tattoos aren't that visible, although when I wear open-toed shoes my foot one is and I've gotten a few comments, but usually tattoos inspire curiosity more so than repugnance.

 

I know there are practical reasons to consider before getting a tat, but at the end of the day it's your body and your life. When I got an office job (which I happily and eagerly quit when I decided to pursue the PhD), I removed my tongue ring and still regret it. I hated working at a place that cared about that kind of stuff.

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Bottom line, it is your body and it is their time and their money and their decision if they're comfortable with your appearance as a reflection of the profession you seek to enter.

Given the overall competitiveness of the Ivory Tower, is an artistic statement of one's individuality a worthy distraction from an intellectual statement?

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I'm visibly tattooed and it may count against me with some people. C'est la vie. Others have given advice on that front.

The advice I want to give is this: if you go for it, research your artist. Look at portfolios, choose a nice shop, get a nice tattoo. As the saying goes, "Good tattoos ain't cheap, and cheap tattoos ain't good." Don't hunt for a bargain on something you'll be keeping forever. Don't assume that because it's a simple idea any artist can do it just as well as another. Not true.

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Unless you get a prison or Mara Salvatrucha-style face tat, you'll be able to cover most of your ink. The stuff that shows you could use makeup that covers tats, I think Kat Von D has a brand that works.

Don't stress :)

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I have a couple of sizable tattoos in places that aren't on show very often (thigh and below ribs) but, like the OP, I am considering getting one done on my forearm.

 

The advice so far has been good, so I'll just add the following:

 

  • When I worked as a high school teacher, there was a policy against visible tattoos. A colleague had a small one on her wrist which no one cared about and she didn't cover, but a colleague with a full sleeve tattoo was made to always wear long sleeves to work, which as a phys. ed. teacher was a source of some annoyance. If you think you might go into school teaching in the future (perhaps not likely with your subject field, but often a popular option for the academically minded), it might be worth considering whether covering your forearm every day would be a nuisance.
  • While I don't often get negative responses to my tattoos, people do often ask me about them, so if you choose to get one which is very visible, I'd be prepared for a lot of "but what does it mean?"-type questions. It amazes me how much people feel they have a right to interrogate you on your modes of self-expression, even if they're well-meaning!
  • I usually draw a sketch of my tattoo idea in waterproof liquid eyeliner on the place I'm considering getting it done, in order to see how it looks from various angles/how clothing falls across it. If you don't scrub it, it'll last a couple of days and you can see whether you like the placement. By doing this, I realised how often I roll up my sleeves to my elbow, and am now considering getting the tattoo just above the elbow, which I apparently reveal a lot less!
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Even if you don't think the particular place where you will be studying or working will care one way or the another, the wise thing would be for you to assume it will have some type of negative implication for you.  If you're okay with that, then proceed. 

 

Remember that supervisors aren't always completely candid about the basis of their decisions.  Distaste for tattoos or negative conclusions drawn from them could be couched in a phrase like, "We think you should get the benefit of a little more time in your current position," or "It's that other person's time."  That's all it takes.

 

As a former supervisor, I have to be honest and say that a tattoo these days says only one thing to me: "Follower."  It's become such a trend/fad that people with no ink are the ones who stand out.  Professors and HR people who value individual identity, personal confidence and innovation might see it the same way.     

 

It's the same sense of irony I get when I see a pack of people on noisy Harleys rumble by, attired in all the requisite Harley leather, doo-rags, and goatees.  They're all being rebels...  together.  That always makes me chuckle... 

Edited by Fred Garvin
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Even if you don't think the particular place where you will be studying or working will care one way or the another, the wise thing would be for you to assume it will have some type of negative implication for you. If you're okay with that, then proceed.

Remember that supervisors aren't always completely candid about the basis of their decisions. Distaste for tattoos or negative conclusions drawn from them could be couched in a phrase like, "We think you should get the benefit of a little more time in your current position," or "It's that other person's time." That's all it takes.

As a former supervisor, I have to be honest and say that a tattoo these days says only one thing to me: "Follower." It's become such a trend/fad that people with no ink are the ones who stand out. Professors and HR people who value individual identity, personal confidence and innovation might see it the same way.

It's the same sense of irony I get when I see a pack of people on noisy Harleys rumble by, attired in all the requisite Harley leather, doo-rags, and goatees. They're all being rebels... together. That always makes me chuckle...

Your thought process regarding tattoos is extremely common among people without tattoos--I really don't get it though. It's a holdover of when tattooing was taboo. People don't get tattoos to be unique and different. They get them for a variety of personal reasons that rarely have anything to do with the desire to stand out.

For example, my forearm tattoo--I attempted suicide 3 times in a two year period, the last time 13 years ago. I have a lot of scarring on my left arm from one attempt that even after they were as light as they'll ever be and obviously old scars led to nonstop questions about my mental health.

I knew from the moment I was mentally healthy I wanted he scars covered and with what--once my first child was born, it's her name and butterflies (her favorite thing on the planet for two years running so they remind me of her)

Anyway, I don't share that with all the strangers who think it's okay to grab my arm and ask about it (usually it's where'd you get your ink done because we live in a military community still and tattoos are part of the culture) and just say, "it's my daughters name" The rare times people ask why I got it so visible I tell them "I have a stunning back piece that's hidden and even I can't see it. After ten years of having it I wanted something I can enjoy looking at whenever I want" also true

Mainly I just wanted to say there are multiple reasons and often very intensely personal reasons behind tattoos. And those of us who do make the choice to get inked usually would prefer to not get hired by supervisors who judge us.

I've never had an issue though--even my corporate cubicle job had no tattoo policy and a multitude of people with visible tats. It's the new norm. I imagine by the time my daughter is old enough to enter the workforce, no one will have to ask "can I get a tat on my wrist and still get a job?"

Edited by BiochemMom
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Thanks for sharing that, BiochemMom. I hope other people who have had similar experiences can draw strength from your story. I wish more people realized that tattoos aren't an act of rebellion most of the time. All of mine have personal meaning, my favorite being a line from a poem I read at my aunt's funeral--she died at 50, and I went into a tailspin after. It took me 4 years before I decided what tattoo to get in her memory. I didn't get it to be unique and make a statement. If anyone sees my tats and thinks that, I want to laugh because that's pretty self-centered of them. I'm not living my life as a performance for others. Everyone is welcome to their opinion and comments, but what I do is not for them.

I think you're right, our kids totally won't have the same issues. Even my old school, immigrant, hyper-religious grandparents have started coming around on stuff I NEVER thought they would, including tattoos.

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I've never had an issue though--even my corporate cubicle job had no tattoo policy and a multitude of people with visible tats. It's the new norm. I imagine by the time my daughter is old enough to enter the workforce, no one will have to ask "can I get a tat on my wrist and still get a job?"

 

I agree. I think we are in a cultural transition that is seeing the slow, but sure acceptance of tattoos in the work force. I'm fairly certain my employers have noticed that I have one, well two visible, but have never asked about them, though I'm sure they are not the type to get tattoos themselves. If they ask, sure, I will respectfully discuss the matter, because I want to be respectful toward them and vice versa. I just hope that this acceptance mindset continues to spread further.

 

Sigaba summed it up pretty well with, "Is an artistic statement of one's individuality a worthy distraction from an intellectual statement?" 

 

I believe that presentation, professionalism and maturity speak greatly about someone, at times more so than the artistic pieces we choose to have. 

Edited by scarvesandcardigans
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...

BiochemMom:

 

Congratulations on overcoming your mental health concerns and surviving, as well as on becoming a successful mother!

 

I myself have a tattoo that I really like as well. It's hidden, the vast majority of people don't know that I have a tattoo, and it's a personal reminder to myself. I've probably never had anything as serious as the issues you had, but still I have had moments of extreme self doubt during undergrad and this tattoo is just a reminder to myself to always move forward in life. 

 

Anyway, I agree that it would be nice to live in a world where people don't get judged for their tattoos. I don't think that most people who judge others for having tattoos think the way Fred Garvin does i.e. that we're just sheepl following the tattoo trend. In fact, most people who judge you for tattoos probably don't even do it consciously. There have been studies done about racism, and even people who were not overtly racist demonstrated adverse reactions to minorities. It could be the same for tattoos. 

 

My best advice for tattoos in academia is, and will always be, get it if you really want it and it means something important to you. But if you do ultimately decide to get it in a highly prominent location, carefully evaluate the pros against the cons of doing so. There will always be those judgmental people out there, people who decide things like fellowships and job offers, who might not even do it purposely. There's also the annoyance of having to explain it each time someone asks (which will happen a lot if you get it in a highly visible area). And you definitely don't want a tattoo to distract from your other accomplishments. 

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I think ScarvesandCardigans put it better than I did.

Things like tattoos, nose rings, studs, etc. can be an unintentional distraction from a real intellectual/professional contribution a person is making. Or they could be a deliberate attempt to distract people from the fact that one doesn't have much to offer.

Even if the latter isn't true, why risk it?

To use an extreme example, Lady GaGa knows how to attract the cameras, but what does she have to say? Bob Dylan is a mumbling hermit who shuns the media, yet people quote his lyrics like scripture.

I'm not saying everyone thinks like me or that anyone else should think like me. And please keep in mind that I'm speaking strictly within a professional context.

Tattoos are tricky because, unlike our favorite pair of sweats, they can't be left at home when it's time to go to work. I just thought there might be some benefit to presenting an alternative point of view given that the general tone of the thread seems to be one of "Go for it, don't sweat it. A lot of people have them these days. No big deal."

In some cases it can be a big deal, thus I think it merits some careful thought. Although not everyone thinks like me, there are some who do, and you likely won't be able to readily identify them. I think the wise thing would be to assume the worst case scenario, then decide if that's a price you're willing to pay for a tattoo.

Edited by Fred Garvin
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Recently (past month) got a tattoo on my forearm, after thinking about getting one for more than a year. Day 1 of getting it, I regretted it and kept staring at it. Day 2 onwards, it started growing on me. Now, I really like it! And sometimes I fret that it should have been more visible. I even forget its there and when ever I happen to glance at it, I break into a big smile. 

I don't think my tattoo is going to have any adverse effect on my profession/career. In fact, I think I will benefit because of it. Also, the thing is, if my work is good, people will not care two hoots that I have a small tattoo on my forearm. Just like no one has ever given a shit that I wear a diamond nose pin (for last 15 years), and I've worked in the corporate consulting sector where days reserved for client meetings had a very strict dress code. Its all about how you carry yourself. And actually if some of these things are 'you', I've noticed that they have a way of blending with your personality, that they almost become invisible. I've noticed that with myself and with quite a few others. And just in case some department somewhere does not hire me because I have a tattoo, and decides to overlook my research because of that, well then, they are sending me a huge signal - that I need to run away from them super fast! This is a good case where self-selection is beneficial to both parties. 

Ofcourse, now, if you go and get a skull or something tattooed on your entire arm.. now, thats a different matter. Subtlety and professionalism is most definitely possible in the tattoo world. 

I wish you good luck with your experience :)

Edited by garibaldi
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