A few science majors and I have been wondering about tattoos in academia. Is any tattoo a taboo for the workplace? Are some fields more accepting than others? Should all tattoos be easily concealable? I asked the Bell lab during lab meeting today and got some interesting answers.
Think about the dress code
Do you want to one day work in a laboratory where everyone wears collared shirts? Do people at conferences wear ties all and dress shoes all five days? Do people sometimes wear their field clothing to lab? You can extend this thinking to predict how people will view a visible tattoo. Ecologists generally don't care. One graduate student mentioned an entomology professor at an eastern university who has both arms completely covered with ink. If you want to do medical research, on the other hand, you might want to think twice about a wrist, forearm, neck, etc. tattoo.
Think about the type of research
If the work you do concerns potentially very ill patients, some of whom may be in serious pain, you want to be as strictly professional as possible. This means no visible tattoos. Also, will the tattoo get in the way of the research you want to do? If you are an anthropologist traveling across the world, will a tattoo interfere with communicating and being trusted by the people you research? If you're a biologist wanting to do fieldwork in a conservative country, will that forearm tattoo be worth having your sleeves always rolled down, regardless of the weather?
Think about where you want to do research
Want to work at a private university? Think carefully: private institutions can discriminate applicants based on criteria they set. A Christian university, for example, can preferentially hire a less-qualified Christian applicant than a more-qualified non-Christian one. Public universities, on the other hand, are obligated to weigh all applicants equally. That means a candidate with a skull tattoo on his face will legally have to be considered as equally as a visually-conservative candidate. Getting a face tattoo, though, should bring up some red flags on these other points, though, so don't get too excited about getting 56 stars tattooed on your face.
Think about the tattoo
While the design you get on yourself is (or should be!) primarily for yourself, you might want to think twice if a skull and crossbones, or a bleeding heart, are the right images to be flaunting in a workplace. Some jobs don't care. A job where you're competing with others for grants and need to be taken seriously at conferences and lectures probably will care. In all contexts, a discrete tattoo is probably better than a bold one, and an easily-concealable tattoo is best.
I've taken care to make sure these guidelines pertain to visible tattoos. If the ink you get won't ever see the fluorescent lighting of the office you work in, go ahead and be bold. The pre-graduate route in undergrad is all about investing in the future. Yet, you could get hit by a car next week. Have you done everything you've wanted? Maybe you're worried that you won't like your tattoo when you're older. If you make sure you choose something that holds meaning to you now and will hold meaning to you later, don't forget that an older you is still you. If something means a lot to you and getting a tattoo commemorates that, you should go for it.
To finish off, I want to share some pictures I found after googling "science tattoo ideas." All photos are taken fromhttp://oddstuffmagazine.com/tattoo-ideas-for-science-lovers.html.
IBH students travel the world, publish research papers, and do all sorts of amazing things