Beauty and the PhD

Hi all! It’s been so long! Between working in three projects at the same time now, traveling and conferences, and keeping up with the busy social life here in Cambridge, not much time left. But the desire has not stopped and I know blogging does me a ton of good, so I’ve felt compelled to write again. Sooner than later a lot of new posts about my life here will appear, but I’ve been the most active on Instagram, so visit there in the meanwhile.

If you are into makeup, or follow The STEM Squad community over social media, you might have come across last week the infamous Benefit ad campaign and the outrage that followed in social media. So, here’s the campaign:

Benefit Skip Class not Concealer
Yes, lovely ad. Not. Photo Credits: Cambridge News

It was the awesome Samantha Yammine (aka Science Sam, whom I had the pleasure to meet in person here in Boston at a conferece) who called Benefit out on this and the community followed. Just check #skipbenefitnotclass on Twitter for an example of some of the reactions (including mine). Anyway, let’s talk about this campaign. It’s so poorly conceived. My sister, who had some training in advertising and marketing during her Media Arts degree, said the ad looks like “skip class to wear concealer at home? If you skip class, why do you need concealer anyway?”. Also, the whole point that girls who want to miss class will prefer makeup any day, in stark comparison with girls that want to follow their education and well, it seems, not wear makeup at all. Those things are not mutually exclusive for sure!

I have always had dark circles all my life since I’m a child, leading to the point that people think I’m either too tired or nourishing myself badly. It’s likely from my face shape. So, if I choose to, concealer is a necessity and one of the makeup products I use the most (I even spent €26 on a concealer hoping that would work, and I never thought I’d spend that amount of cash on makeup). And, of course, my dark circles were the heaviest while I studied hard for my Biomedical Engineering degree and when I was in the lab for my MSc Thesis that took so much life out of me. For the PhD my life has been better balanced but lack of sleep (especially with these very early sunrises in Cambridge) kicks in. Turns out I could still wear makeup (in particular, nail polish), feel beautiful (with or without it), and be a good professional. However, sometimes I thought, throughout my research career, that I would be more respected as a scientist if I slacked on my looks, so that my intelligence and personality would shine more than my looks. I fell into the victim trap that society, for long, leads us to think that women that spend too much time and effort into their outer looks are lacking intelligence and personality on the inside. Even my parents told me I was being dumb for doing this, so my family doesn’t go by the stereotypes fortunately.

I am fortunate to see, around me, a supportive environment that doesn’t judge women on their looks or for wearing makeup. All of my fellow PhD colleagues at both groups I’m at are really pretty and take care of themselves either by using makeup or not. Their personal and professional worth doesn’t depend on that at all. Also, it goes both ways. While the point of this post is to criticize the stereotypes involving wearing makeup and being still smart and wanting to pursue an education and a career, I also think it’s wrong that people that have a more casual style and don’t care so much for their looks are demonized for this. In my personal experience, I felt more critique when I was more relaxed with looks than when I wear makeup (well, apart from staining my coffee cup with lipstick and everyone knowing in the office that that is my cup haha), but in most cases, from what I gathered from the community, it’s the opposite. To each their own.

Grad school can be a beast sometimes. So why not tackling it while trying to do something good for ourselves? Beauty (and clothes) are also a form of self expression in any way you choose. I have my own personal rituals before a conference of a meeting. I make sure I always wear one of my beloved red lipsticks and have my nails polished and with some nice color (I wrote this post while my mint green polish was drying haha). Because it just helps me to feel more confident and, for one, I believe the meeting will go better. But, more important than that, I exercise to feel less stressed. I try to sleep well and eat well. I always read a lot before any meeting to come well prepared and with questions for the people I collaborate with. Before any conference presentation, I spend a lot of time preparing either my oral or poster presentations (which I hopefully will write some tips about in the future) and checking the agenda to maximize my experience. Therefore, infusing a little more beauty, if you choose to, could help to tackle this beast full force.  However, that’s not the only thing.

Me, makeup and all, at the ISSCR2017 conference

I have also been learning from an incredible community of fellow female PhD student who have blogs and social media accounts that are empowering in fighting this dicotomy between enjoying makeup and having an education. Here are a few examples of inspiring women out there with whom I have also learned a lot by reading their posts or sharing experiences. I will keep the list very short and choose 5 among my favorites to showcase here, but the list could go on and on (here are their Instagram handles, since it has been the social media I’ve been using the most lately)!



Samantha is a powerhouse in #scicomm, especially in brains and stem cells, which is her field of research. It was wonderful to meet her in person in Boston when, at ISSCR2017, we both organized a Tweetup with other scientists present at the conference, which was a success! It is not the first time that she mentions the issue of makeup and sterotypes in science and she deserves a shoutout for bringing this issue with the Benefit campaign. I love following her IG Stories, full of scoops about lab work.


I’m on a roll with stem cells! If you are a regular reader of both our blogs, you might have noticed me and Sophie have collaborated already in the past with guest posts and interviews. You can read her interview on my blog here and my interview for her blog here. Also make sure to read her take on the Benefit campaign. Sophie’s PhD is about embryonic stem cells and how glucose influences pluripotency (the ability of these cells to differentiate into all the cell types of an organism). On IG, I also love her lab work stories and the “A day in the life of a PhD student” series!



Andrea is a recently graduate in Biochemistry and is very outspoken about fashion and fitness while being a PhD student, with some conference fashion tips! She also recently spoke about 10 lessons she wished she learned before starting grad school, which was super valuable advice for me as well.



Now off to the Portuguese bloggers and instagrammers! Catarina is from Porto and I met her through IG. I realized she is also a Biomedical Engineer and is making her thesis in tissue engineering, an area I already worked with in the past. Through her blog, A Girl in Mint Green, she writes about a variety of topics, including some science based skincare reviews.



It seems that for my choice of Portuguese fellow bloggers I am falling into fellow Biomedical Engineers! Andreia is also a Biomedical Engineer from Lisbon (albeit from a different faculty than mine) and is doing her PhD in London in the area of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) applied to speech disabilities. Her blog and IG account are full of beautiful photos promoting a healthy lifestyle and I love her choice of recipes. I even already did homemade cereal bars inspired by one of her recipes.


That’s it for today! So, let’s make the PhD more beautiful by being who we are, makeup or not. At least that’s what I strive to do. And making the world more beautiful by avoiding falling into stereotypes and promoting girls and women that are both beautiful, educated and responsible. I hope for one that other makeup campaigns promote women wearing makeup in geekier roles to fight stereotypes.

What did you think of the Benefit campaign? What are your views and experience on beauty and gender stereotypes in academia? Let me know! In the meantime, don’t forget to follow my journey around my PhD in the US in FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest to keep up to date!




  1. Sophie
    July 19, 2017

    Beautiful post gal! I love it! And I never actually thought of the point your sister made. If youre skipping class you dont need concealer anyway! Thank you for the shout out too. Science love x

    1. A Pulgarita
      July 19, 2017

      Thank you dear! Actually it was right on point when she said it. She is one of the smartest girls I know (not a PhD, a web designer) and super make up savvy. Science love right back to you 🙂


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