5 ways to cultivate a professional appearance when presenting your research

Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off and you have been asked to present your research in a poster session or symposium at a professional conference. Now what? Beyond getting your presentation prepared, what else should you consider in order to guarantee the best impression on fellow students and faculty?

While the business, organizational behavior, social psychology literature covers professional image issues in depth—most notably in the seminal work by Harvard Business School professor Laura Morgan Roberts—there are a few simple ways to manage your image without sacrificing other aspects of your identity.

“People are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character, and commitment, which are rapidly disseminated throughout your workplace” – Laura Morgan Roberts


Remember: The key is to cultivate an appearance that communicates competence to ensure that your research speaks with the loudest among the collection of messages you convey. Here are my top 5 suggestions to frame your scholarly identity before your peers and future mentors:

1. Clothing

Students are cost conscious and traveling to a conference is likely to stretch your budget. No need to break the bank and invest in clothes to make a fashion statement; instead, utilize simple foundational pieces (e.g., skirts, button down shirts, etc.) in your existing wardrobe and accessorize with items that don’t overshadow. Truth be told, I tow the line here because I love wearing bright colors and embroidered creatures on my pants, but do you really want to be known as “that guy with the dogs on his pants” when you truly desire others to be stunned by your research findings? Yet, adding a splash of color with a unique tie, patterned socks, scarf, or textured shoes and belt is perfectly reasonable. Similarly, that amazing outfit you purchased for a Saturday night may catch attention, but may detract from the excitement of your research. When considering accessories, a timepiece or simple earrings work, but leave larger items (e.g., chunky bracelets, cuffs, and necklaces) at home.

Think: Simple and classic with a graceful nod to your overall identity.

2. Body art

Tattoos and piercings are practically de riguer today and social acceptance is commonplace unlike just a few years ago. That said, the latest addition to your personal canvas may be flawless and speak to who you are, but if people are more interested in what is on you, it may diminish the impact of your scholarly contribution.

Be conservative: Save the story behind that ink sleeve design for when you socialize with others after conference sessions.

3. Grooming and Makeup

Hairstyles are markers of identity and don’t feel that you need to disregard these important cultural representations. As with clothing, ask yourself if the style complements the image you wish to portray and get advice from faculty and fellow students who have attended professional conferences. Neat and tidy can work with on-trend beauty styles

4. Comportment and Language

Speak with authority and carry yourself consistent with the image of a professional and not a student. That means rehearsing talking points until they can be repeated eloquently and with conviction. Tip: You are an authority here, so display confidence and don’t read a script as I did when presenting at my first APA Convention. More broadly, think politeness and respect for others at all times; “f” bombs (yes, I’ve seen it) and casual interactions can and will overshadow your research (if not obliterate your credibility in the eyes of others).

5. Chewing gum

No. Don’t even think about it. If you are concerned with minty-fresh breath, popping a mint or two beforehand will be more than sufficient.

To underscore, your goal is to get others excited about your research and to demonstrate your skills to prospective graduate faculty advisors and to enhance your graduate school applications. Keep that in mind and you’ll nail your presentation. Best of luck and again, congratulations!

About the Author

Daniel Michalski, PhD
Daniel’s diverse experiences as a workforce/pipeline researcher and accreditation policy analyst uniquely position him to share his perspectives on psychology education and training. Having presented at regional and national conferences, as well as at invited lectures, Daniel intends to contribute regularly to this blog and participate in an ongoing conversation about the leading issues within the discipline and profession. He earned his Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, a Master of Public Administration from the University of Colorado Denver, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. When not satisfying his hedonistic professional and academic curiosities, Daniel is happiest in the bright sun; either a Florida beach or a Colorado ski slope.