A Geek's Guide to Professionalism

A Geek’s Guide to Workplace Professionalism

* This post was originally featured on the Nerd for a Living blog.

Finding your professional voice, attitude, demeanor, and style can be difficult – especially when you want to be authentic to yourself. The conventional notions of professionalism often feel stifling, and may tend to turn a lot of nerdy people off. It doesn’t help matters that, if you’re just starting out with a new job search or career, you may have to invest in clothes you might not feel comfortable in – attempting to exist in a professional world that is foreign to you.

Even if you’re someone who has worked professionally for a long time, these things often aren’t talked about head-on. You have to try to figure it all out on your own. This can lead to frustrating results, such as not being well-integrated into a team because you don’t know the dress code expectations or communication preferences.

I hope to convey a few simple concepts that will help you be the proud geek (or nerd) you are while still being professional in your workplace.


How people dress actually carries a good deal of impact in the workplace. It embodies the culture of the office, and (for better or worse) is how you make a first impression on people. How you dress reflects on your work priorities. It may be advisable to follow your colleagues’ lead, at least at first. Adapting your professional wardrobe to fit the general appearance of your peers can help you avoid attention for the wrong reasons.

You might like to showcase your geeky interests with your wardrobe, letting your nerd flag fly and expressing your personality. That’s awesome, but be careful not to go overboard, particularly in a new environment. Sometimes a subtle touch is best, with something like a lapel pin or necklace, or incorporation of an understated tie, socks, or tights into your outfit. Depending on your workplace, you may be able to get away with more casual clothing. Just make sure you look clean, presentable, and wear clothes which make you feel confident – it sends a message that you have put in the effort to look professional when you come into work.

As time goes and you’ve established your workplace persona and reputation, you can evolve your look and personal presentation to closer reflect your personality and taste.

Attitude & Demeanor

How you deal with people is a crucial part of your professional identity. Whether with customers or colleagues, you need to be able to speak to people in a respectful way that properly conveys your intended message. Some people may believe that being “authentic” means having “no filter”, but you can be yourself and still have the self-awareness of what you should and shouldn’t say to people.

Your nonverbal gestures add emphasis and nuance to what you do say. Be mindful of your posture, facial responses, and just generally behave positively towards other people. Remember to treat co-workers and patrons as you would like to be treated, and try to exhibit the enthusiasm you bring to your favorite geekdom to your interactions at your workplace.

Office Decoration

We end up spending a lot of time in our offices, and I love seeing how people decorate and personalize their working spaces. It’s important to me to have a comfortable space that can foster genuine connections with those who come in. I have a bunch of geeky stuff adorning my walls, and have had numerous people come by who see something they recognize. A moment of mutual adoration for that shared passion can help create connections that may later facilitate our working relationship. Rather than having to try to form connections with no context, we instantly know a bit about each other whenever someone comes into my office.

This seems like the most natural pathway for us to bring our geeky interests into our workplace in a professional way. Empty cubical walls and shelf space are a blank canvas for fun toys, posters, and trinkets that allow for authentic bonds to be created everyday. Most supervisors won’t have a problem with people bringing in some fun personal items to spruce up their workspaces, but if you don’t see anyone else with personal items in their workspaces, it may be wise to ask just in case.

Ultimately, while it may seem like a buzzkill for many geeks and nerds to exist in a “stiff” professional workplace, I submit that you can bring your genuine enthusiasm into your work in a positive way each day – and make a world of difference for you, your colleagues, and your customers.

Thanks for stopping by!

Geeky Office Décor Series: Kristen Abell

This week we're featuring the awesome office of Kristen Abell, Web Coordinator at University of Missouri - Kansas City.

Here's what Kristen had to say about her space:

"Over the course of my career, I have moved offices several times and managed to accumulate my fair share of decorations. Admittedly, if you had come by one of my first couple of offices, you would have seen mostly bare walls with a few things here and there on the desk. My current cube is easily the most decorated one in our office.

One of the things I keep at work is my Wonder Woman collection. I do this for two reasons. The first is that I find it gives me personality. I’m an introvert by nature, so I am sometimes not the most talkative office mate. This gives my co-workers a glimpse into something I love and a topic we can easily discuss. I have a few Doctor Who items thrown in here, as well as some trinkets I’ve collected at previous universities or in my work with organizations. The second reason I keep this collection at work is because I simply have no idea where I would put it at home.

This cabinet and wall are a mishmash of geekery and family. You’ll see some of my son’s artwork and pictures of him and my husband, but you’ll also see Wonder Woman featured prominently there, as well as my Rosie the Riveter poster - because what feminist doesn’t need one of these? I also have the front of the book I edited - Committed - front and center because it is such an important piece of who I am. Finally, just in case you weren’t sure if I was into tech or anything as a web developer, I have an award presented to me by my NASPA regional advisory board claiming me as a “Techno Goddess.” One of the best awards, ever.

A lot of people neglect the space that is behind them when they decorate, but I find this to be almost as important as the space in front of me. When I do hangouts or video meetings, this is my backdrop. And without fail, it tends to impress people. I mean, who wouldn’t want Buffy fighting a demon behind them? Or Wonder Woman in many artistic forms? (By the way, if you look closely at the Wonder Woman image with the blue sky, you’ll recognize it from my blog header). There’s also a couple more pieces of art from my son in here proclaiming that his mom loves salad (he is so wrong about that) and is as pretty as a butterfly.

So welcome to my little corner of geekdom. I hope you've enjoyed your visit."

What I really enjoy about this space is that even with a cubicle, Kristen really fully decorates what she has and makes it her own. A lot of people might get discouraged by the lack of an actual office, but a cubicle can work just as well! Another neat point of interest is how Kristen intentionally covers her back wall since it is always going to be showcased during video calls (smart move!). I'm also a big fan of her plethora of Wonder Woman stuff. She is such a great, iconic character and I appreciate all the different little trinkets Kristen has embodying and representing the character.

Many thanks to Kristen for sharing her story and space with us!

Stay tuned for more awesome offices in the coming weeks.

Thanks for stopping by!

Geeky Office Décor Series: Dan McDowell

This week we're featuring the office of Dan McDowell, Residence Director at Stonehill College.12053125_10205323796474555_105078933_n Here's what Dan had to say about his office:


"I recently moved to my new office in June and slowly but surely I’ve been adding my own personal nerdy touch to it. It started with bringing a growing collection of Funko POPs from a variety of fandoms like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and (my largest collection) The Avengers, including my recent additions of Miles Morales and the new Thor. Since they are the first thing students usually see when they walk into my office they are quick to ask questions about them or my interests. It’s been especially helpful during conduct hearings- particularly with students I haven’t sat with before. In one meeting I was able to spend a good 5 to 10 minutes discussing the upcoming Deadpool film with a student which I think humanized me and allowed the student to feel more comfortable and open throughout the remainder of the hearing.


They have also been a great tool connecting to RAs. It isn’t unusual for RAs from other areas to stop by and say hello when visiting friends or coworkers in the area. On one occasion an RA and I were able to chat about the comics we were both reading which led to a variety of other conversations involving shared interests and a stronger relationship. Finally, the latest additions to my office are my Star Wars Lego sets and decor. I had bought them over the summer just before moving and had intended to keep them in my apartment, but quickly discovered after moving I just didn’t have anywhere where they would be a good fit and so they came to my office. They have been a great conversation piece and allowed for me to share a bit more of my interest in science fiction with my residents and RAs as well.

Showing off my geekier interests in my office has been an incredible way to connect with students. Even something as small as my Game of Thrones-themed “Where’s the RD?” sign (not pictured) has residents stopping by to discuss their excitement over a shared interest and is able to jumpstart a conversation about any communities they’ve found on campus- whether friends or a club- that tie into these interests. It provides incredible leverage in breaking the ice with residents and helping them find new ways to get involved.


Now that I’ve started showing off my geeky side, I don’t think I’ll ever go back!"

What I really like about Dan's office (besides the Star Wars Legos and Marvel Funko POP! toys) is the simple, positive effect some small tweaks in his office had to change his interactions with students. I've had a similar experience, even with some staff members who pass by my office. I feel like there is no downside to bringing some of our authentic selves into our work spaces, it always gives the benefit of genuine connections to those around us.

Many thanks to Dan for sharing his story and space with us!

Stay tuned for more awesome offices in the coming weeks.

Thanks for stopping by!

Geeky Office Décor Series: Jon Bartlett

This week we're featuring the office of Jon Bartlett, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life at Texas Wesleyan University.

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Here's what Jon has to say about his office:

"My Funko POP! collection started with a single Thor figure that my RA staff gave me for my birthday three years ago. Since then, it has become something of an obsession. I only buy ones that are in my geek wheelhouse, so to look at my collection is to get a quick glimpse into my interests. One look at my shelf will tell you that I obviously prefer Marvel over DC and am a huge fan of the Walking Dead. It tends to immediately put students at ease, especially when they are in my office for less-than-exciting reasons like a conduct meeting. All the geek decor also opens up points of connection with students, so conversations can begin naturally with something we both like rather than the difficult thing we are there to discuss. I really believe that everyone "geeks out" about something, so it's just a matter of figuring out what it is. Like the poster of the Wil Wheaton quote says, "It's not about what you love, it's about how you love it." It brings me a lot of joy to discover what students love and hear their passion come out in our conversation. All the geek stuff in my office definitely helps facilitate that. My boss is a geek too, so I'm thankful he lets me keep my office this way!"

I'm a huge fan of the Funko POP! figures myself, and I'm sure you saw many of mine from my office photos (I have more in my apartment). They're a fun way to showcase some of my favorite characters from my favorite shows, movies, and comics. I like how Jon makes a point of stating how we all geek out about something, which I've written about before and wholeheartedly agree with. It is so great to be able to help support and nourish our students' (and our own) hobbies and interests. It leads to such genuine connections which can lead to deep conversations and learning about ourselves as well as the world.

Appreciate Jon sharing his space with us!

Stay tuned for more offices in the coming weeks!

Thanks for stopping by!

Geeky Office Décor Series: Lynne Meyer

This week we're featuring the office of Lynne Marie Meyer, the Director of Spiritual Life and Diversity at Illinois Institute of Technology.

Here's what Lynne wrote about her office:
Buddha Yoda and the other deitiesoverview of my interfaith display
Here are some shots of my office. There's not a lot of overtly geeky stuff -- at least, not pop culture geeky anyway -- but my prize piece of geekery is the Yoda Buddha given to me by one of my students just before she graduated. That Yoda sits right next to a little Yoda magnet given to me years ago by a Jedi-identified colleague, who decided that I needed Jedi representation among my interfaith display of icons, statues, etc. -- which has also come to include things like Mexican paper flowers, origami cranes, and yes, even a nun with a baseball bat, "Sister Runnata" (I'm a huge Cubs fan, and I want to help give my guys in blue any and all divine support that I can). Many of the icons and statues were gifts from students and colleagues, including Mary, one Ganesha, one of the Buddhas, a Greek Orthodox icon, and Athena. You can also see that I the end of the cabinet facing out towards my door, there are items about the Golden Rule in various religions, my Safe Space sticker, and two Hekate magnets. As I'm a devotee of Hekate, and since statues of Her are/were traditionally placed at thresholds/doorways, I've placed Her as close to my door as I could.
Medicine Shield
Next to that cabinet, on the wall directly to my right as I sit as my desk, you'll see a different kind of a display. The two African masks I bought because they're beautiful and I loved that artists' statements about what they signify. The Buddha tapestry was given to me by a colleague. But for me, hands-down, the central item is the focus. It's a medicine shield made for my late first husband, Ken, many years ago. He was part Northern Cheyenne, and when he was in his 20s (he was 18 years older than me), a friend made the shield for him. It features a crow, because that was Ken's spirit animal. When Ken died in early 2007 from colon cancer at the age of 53, I didn't know what to do with the shield; when he was alive, Ken was very clear that no one other than him could touch it, as it contained powerful spiritual medicine for him alone. As it turned out, I got my job at Illinois Tech later in the same year, and so I decided to display it in my office, where it could be honored and also serve as a kind of spiritual and emotional support for me. It's visible to students and colleagues, but removed enough that no one touches it. I later added the small shield with the spider on it to represent me, after a spiritually significant series of experiences following Ken's passing which left me deeply connected to Spider teachings.
Diversity walllamp
The other photo shows the opposite wall, which showcases my diplomas, a 370-degree photo of Harvard Yard, a diversity-related banner, a tapestry with a favorite Dalai Lama quote, and a cool (I think) map of religious diversity in the US. You can just see the Daffy Duck mug on my desk, next to my very favorite thing in the office: that lamp. My mother's aunt Esther was a Baptist missionary who focused her career on two things: improving race relations (she was doing this in the 50s and 60s), and resettling refugees. She traveled the world, and made friends everywhere she went. One such friend, years and years ago, gave her this lamp. I've heard many stories about who it represents, and I'm not entirely sure which is accurate. We think that he's one of the Eight Immortals of Taoism. Because of the scroll and large forehead, he seems to me to be associated with wisdom. But hey, if any of your readers can give me more info about him, I'd love it!
I love this wall -- and my office as a whole -- because it's colorful, provides a number of talking points for students and colleagues when they visit, and more importantly, gives them a very visible indication that this is a space for everyone. I want students to see something of themselves here. and know, too, that I'm a real person with lots of interests who's going to take an interest in them as well.

What I really enjoy about Lynne's office is how she brings her genuine self to the space through items given to her by friends, family, and other loved ones. Every item has a story and a meaning. There is personality covering all the walls and students instantly know who Lynne is, can ask questions, and learn so much just by the way the space is decorated. It's an amazing office that really embodies the spirit behind my thinking for this series, which is why it feels like such a great way to kick everything off. I really appreciate Lynne sharing her story in such depth for you all.
HH Dalai Lama quote
Stay tuned for more awesome offices in the coming weeks!

Thanks for stopping by!