Academia's Overweight Bias Problem: Overweight Ph.D Students Are Less Likely To Get Jobs

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Academia isn't necessarily known for its inclusiveness (although, thankfully, that's changed a lot since the middle of the 20th century when professors were mostly men, mostly white, and mostly wearing tweed jackets. OK, I made up the tweed jacket part). A new study suggests that one group that struggles to receive acceptance inside the ivory tower is that of overweight people.

Last month, psychology professor Geoffrey Miller tweeted:

Dear obese Ph.D applicants: if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.

His critical, bigoted tweet rightfully ignited a controversy about attitudes in academia, especially how hidden (or, in Miller's case) overt biases might affect a candidate's course of study. Miller since apologized and said his tweet was part of a research product, but officials at the University of New Mexico, where he has tenure, didn't believe him. 

Still, it seems likely that Miller's views on obese and overweight people aren't an anomaly. A recent study, published in the journal Obesity, found that thinner job candidates had better luck finding postgrad positions after finishing graduate study. Obese candidates fared better when they were interviewed by phone, rather than in-person. I'm not sure if it's true in all disciplines, but I think the majority of tenure-track positions require some kind of in-person interview, whether it's an actual campus visit or a meeting at an academic conference, so I imagine that would make it really difficult for obese people to get jobs in academia (which, is worth mentioning, is a hard field in which to get a job no matter who you are or what you weigh).

The study, from Bowling Green State University, followed 100 Ph.D students who submitted over 594 applications to postgrad programs. Those with higher BMIs were less likely to be offered a spot, and the weight bias seemed more pronounced in women, said researchers. 

Although this isn't surprising, it's still disheartening, especially in light of Geoffrey Miller's asinine comments. While I'm all for lessening the rising rate of obesity in this country, that doesn't mean that overweight people should be discriminated against, especially intelligent, highly-qualified people who have succeeded in challenging graduate programs. 

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