What do I wear for an interview for a (math) postdoc?
January 20, 2010 2:38 PM   Subscribe

What do I wear for an interview for a (math) postdoc?

Basically, this question is what it says on the tin. I have an interview for a postdoctoral position in mathematics coming up. My instinct is telling me to wear a suit, and I don't mind doing that. But I don't want to be so overdressed that it's comical, and whenever I see a mathematician in a suit I laugh a bit.

I'm arriving Sunday, late afternoon/early evening, and departing Tuesday morning. I will be involved in Things On Campus (meeting with various people, giving a talk, being taken out to dinner) on Monday and may be meeting with some people Tuesday morning before I leave. As far as I know I'm not going to see anybody on Sunday. (So there's another mini-question: what do I wear on Tuesday, in case I have to see people?)

I asked about getting there in this question; thanks for your help. I'm probably driving. (And yes, I realize that any way of getting there has flaws. ) In particular this means that I don't need to worry about airlines possibly losing my bags.

Oh, yeah, I'm a man. That makes a difference, doesn't it?
posted by madcaptenor to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (27 answers total)
At a university?

Suit. You'll be meeting with Deans and Vice Presidents and possibly other high muckety mucks like the Provost or Vice Provost. While other faculty may or may not be in a suit, the Deans and Vice Presidents and other high end administrators will definitely be in suits -- they wear them daily. There are plenty of professors that wear suits daily, as well.

</campus staff that works in the math department>

If it's any consolation, a gal interviewing for her postdoc flew in from France and showed up immaculately dressed -- and about eight months pregnant. In stiletto heels. You've got it easy, man.
posted by SpecialK at 2:48 PM on January 20, 2010

I don't think I've ever seen someone in a suit in our math dept. Slacks and a nice fitted tucked in button up shirt would seem appropriate here (a nice jacket, but not a suit coat, would make sense too), maybe a tie if it was a little more formal (this is California). Honestly, I can't picture a single mathematician I've met here caring, or really even noticing...

Bring a couple pairs of slacks, and a couple nice shirts, and maybe a nice polo for a day you're not sure if you'll run into people or not. Make sure they're not wrinkled when you go in. Make sure your hair isn't flopping all over the place. I think "put together" here is much more important than "formally dressed."
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:49 PM on January 20, 2010

SpecialK: Yes, at a university. It seems so obvious to me that that's where it is that I forgot to mention!
posted by madcaptenor at 2:51 PM on January 20, 2010

A suit certainly wouldn't be obligatory in any math department I've ever visited, but neither would it be comically out of place. Lots of people find that dressing up gives them some extra confidence. If you are one of those people, go for it.
posted by em at 2:56 PM on January 20, 2010

I dressed in slacks and button-down shirts for my academic postdoc interviews (I'm female). In science departments, this tends to be overdressing. I don't know about math. In science, you have to look like you are not afraid to get dirty.

I was even told by my interviewer in Madison, "Wear jeans tomorrow!" for my second day of the interview. I hadn't brought any jeans.

That said, I would never really wear jeans. I prefer to err on the side of overdressing, since it's an interview after all. You want to look like you care.

If you wear a suit, try not to look like you're headed for a wedding. How about slacks and sportcoat?
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:59 PM on January 20, 2010

CS post-doc here, but female... I remember one interview where one of the other candidates was a guy wearing a suit that was totally the wrong size (you could barely see his hands). It was clear that he never wore a suit in real life. He got offered the job. I've been the interviewer once, and that time, one out of five candidates wore a suit. He didn't get the job.

That said I guess it depends how you feel in a suit. If you're comfortable then suits are fine. If you only wear them for funerals, you're going to feel wrong (whenever I get proper smarted up for weddings and funerals I feel really awkward, like I'm in fancy dress). For post-doc interviews, I think wearing something smart-ish - one or two smart-scales up from your normal wear - is fine. If you're comfortable in a suit, go for it. If a suit is going to make you feel awkward, its better to be relaxed than it is to be smart. Normally, I'm shabby jeans and a t-shirt; for an interview, I do trousers (or new looking black jeans) and a shirt and proper shoes. One of the things I really like about this work is that unless you look totally outlandish, you're going to be judged on what you say and do rather than how you present yourself.

It's a good idea to wear at least a different shirt to dinner, and as you're driving, you don't have to worry about carrying stuff or creases. Is the dinner at a posh place? That might change things, but probably not much.

But hey, they're maths profs - many of them will simply not notice.
posted by handee at 3:01 PM on January 20, 2010

I only wore suits to fellowship interviews; yes, that was the appropriate attire (I'm a woman, but the men who were also there for interviews wore suits too).

When I give a seminar, even if it was possibly a defacto interview too, I usually just wear a nice pair of jeans and a button down, or maybe slacks. Wearing a suit to give a seminar would seem really weird.
posted by nat at 3:06 PM on January 20, 2010

Wear a suit. At my math department, the post-doc candidates sometimes give a talk the same day as their interview with the post-doc committee, and I've gone to some of these. They all wear a suit. Sometimes if you see them walking around the next day, they wear a nice shirt and nice slacks and nice shoes without a coat or tie. I don't think anyone thinks they don't fit in. Universities are full of people in all stages of dress, and you want to look good.

Do you really think it's funny to see a mathematician in a suit? Some of the middle aged mathematicians in my dept wear suits not infrequently. I've always found it a rather nice look.
posted by bluefly at 3:07 PM on January 20, 2010

bluefly: It might just be that I think it's funny for a grad student in mathematics to wear a suit. But I am not trying to look like a grad student here.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:09 PM on January 20, 2010

Also a postdoc here, though in humanities. (A not terribly well-dressed end of the humanities, however, if that needs saying.)

A suit for an interview will never make you feel bad, especially when you're junior. I've done several where I was more smartly dressed than most if not all of the interviewers; this has never made me feel over-dressed, nor has anyone ever commented on it along those lines. If this is a full campus visit (unusual for postdoc positions, I'd have thought), then something more casual for other parts of it--dinner, meeting students, what have you. Job talk... you decide.

I disagree with forza's husband, though I wouldn't want to be too sniffy about it (and if I was on a search committee and the best candidate for the job was wearing multi-coloured pajama-pant looking things, I'd give them the job--though I might have a quiet word before asking them to present a major funding bid to an external funder, say). Forza's own advice is very sensible, obviously.

Good luck!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:49 PM on January 20, 2010

lapsangsouchong, this sort of visit is unusual for postdoc positions in math. I was surprised when I got the e-mail saying they wanted me to visit. (This unfortunately will mean a hastily prepared job talk, because I didn't think I'd need one.)

And I wouldn't wear pajama pants for an ordinary day at school, either -- obviously I wouldn't dress less formally for an interview than I do for an ordinary day!
posted by madcaptenor at 3:59 PM on January 20, 2010

Suit. Better to overdress, shows professionalism and conveys confidence. Perhaps you could add a little splash of something personal in the accessories category (note: should of course be coordinated/appropriate) for "stickability".
posted by xiaolongbao at 4:10 PM on January 20, 2010

I would wear the suit. Sure, as a professional mathematician you're not going to wear a suit to work on a daily basis, but dressing up shows you take things seriously.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:18 PM on January 20, 2010

Don't worry, madcaptenor, I wasn't assuming that you'd wear clown gear, at the interview or in normal life!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 4:35 PM on January 20, 2010

If my talk were on the mathematics of juggling (which exists! I read a book about it once!), then wearing clown gear might make sense.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:37 PM on January 20, 2010

I vote for the suit. I'm a software person, and we look just as silly in suits as you math folks. The point is to acknowledge that you know this is a potential suit-wearing occasion and are making a good-faith effort in that direction.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:56 PM on January 20, 2010

I'm in academia, albeit in the sciences and not math. If I were you I would wear well-fitted, ironed khakis, a pretty-colored button up shirt, and a sport jacket. With nice brown leather shoes. It shows that you care but not so much that you don't understand that academics just don't really wear suits. And if you end up feeling overdressed you can just take the coat off and you're left in a shirt and khakis.

Something a la this.
posted by sickinthehead at 5:19 PM on January 20, 2010

I wander through the department you're interviewing with on a semi-regular basis and have never seen anyone in a suit, although I haven't peeked into any job talks. Personally, I would base my attire on the sort of things the more important speakers wear at the Joint Meetings, i.e. a few steps up from tossing a coat on over your t-shirt and jeans and calling it good. This is probably living dangerously.

In practice I would probably agree with sickinthehead and go for a happy medium: slacks and jacket, but be prepared to ditch the coat and do your talk in shirtsleeves, and bring non-dressy things too, since you have nontrivial odds of being dragged out to do something outdoorsy in Ithaca. (In February, just being taken out to dinner may qualify as outdoorsy, if they walk you to Collegetown instead of driving you down to the Commons.)
posted by dorque at 5:54 PM on January 20, 2010

Oh, and on the off chance that you mean ORIE and not math per se, err on the dressier side. They're a little more engineer-y and less math-y in that building.
posted by dorque at 5:55 PM on January 20, 2010

I'm in the physical sciences, at a US university, and I say you should not wear a suit. Seriously, we always look at the people in suits like they are very weird or are trying to prove something*. Even if they are there for a jobtalk. As others have mentioned, a suit can make you look like you don't know what science (or math) is about. Not to mention that it could make you uncomfortable!

Also -- you are unlikely to be meeting with very-high-ups for a postdoc interview.

I'd say go with non-jeans and a button-down shirt. You will look nice, but nobody will notice what you're wearing, and that's what you want.

(Note: the cultural rules may vary a lot by country, so be aware!)

*Although for some reason chemists seem to wear suits. I have no idea why.
posted by wyzewoman at 6:41 PM on January 20, 2010

Wear the suit, especially if you are giving a job talk. The worst you come off as is looking like you really want the job and want to impress people. Not dressing up enough, however, can come across as if you don't care. I just did the postdoc interviews myself and wore a suit, even though no one I interviewed with did, and no one in my department ever does (in fact jeans are the norm around the labs here). I also do undergrad admission interviews as well and while I've never been turned off by someone over dressing for the interview, I have been for those who underdressed. First impressions matter.
posted by katers890 at 8:19 PM on January 20, 2010

Consider this:

If you dress casual, what's the worst case scenario?

If you dress in a suit, what's the worst case scenario?

I'm in humanities, so your mileage may vary, but I wouldn't even consider not wearing a suit.

Here's two more ideas. Ask your advisor/mentor at your grad school. Is there a friendly contact in the post-doc department that you could ask?
posted by oddman at 8:46 PM on January 20, 2010

I am a man and did not wear a suit to interview for postdoc in the natural sciences in the US. I got the position. I vote non-jeans, button shirt, decent shoes. Dress like the person interviewing you (a professor, I assume, and not a dean) will probably dress. You want to say, "I'm one of you; I just haven't joined up yet."

If you are working on a job talk last minute, devote orders of magnitude more time and thought to preparing a clear, confident talk rather than your outfit.
posted by Jorus at 4:50 AM on January 21, 2010

I was even told by my interviewer in Madison, "Wear jeans tomorrow!" for my second day of the interview. I hadn't brought any jeans. -Knowyournuts

I see from your last question that you are traveling to Ithaca, so I'm guessing the interview is at Cornell. My impression from friends in Ithaca is that its academic culture is similar to Madison's.
posted by Jorus at 5:03 AM on January 21, 2010

to be on the safe side, wear a suit
posted by WizKid at 8:51 AM on January 21, 2010

I bought a suit. Some of you advised one way, some the other; I figured the risk of being overdressed is less than the risk of being underdressed. Besides, I'm going to be a grownup now, I should have a suit.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:49 PM on January 23, 2010

After buying the suit, as you might expect, I wore it. They made fun of me a bit for this. Apparently the candidate they had up last week wore a suit, and after that they meant to tell me that I didn't need to, but they never got around to it. But I felt a bit more confident wearing a suit, which has to count for something.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:09 PM on February 3, 2010

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