by Greg Kotkowski

Usually, fashion and science are like the opposite sides of a magnet – if one is important then the other is left behind. Let us add up the odds and take some thoughts about the aspects of a PhD student’s physical appearance. It is quite peculiar that I mention this subject, because I don’t care much about my look. Specifically, let me mention hairdressing. Not the last trends, as I know absolutely nothing about the subject, but rather the problem of getting a haircut abroad.

I still can’t believe that I deliberate about this subject, but let me see how it goes. It’s something an early stage researcher involved in an international network which requires semi-long term mobility will experience at a certain point. In my case, I’ve gone abroad (from Italy) for a 3 months-long secondment to CERN, for a month to Clermont-Ferrand (France) and for another one to Oviedo (Spain). I don’t speak French or Spanish, so it is a little bit of an issue when it comes to having a haircut abroad. Most of the hairdressers that I’ve met don’t know English and I find it difficult to describe how I would like my hair to be cut.

I have curly hair that is difficult to put together. Additionally, a description of all the obstacles to getting a perfect haircut (like an unsymmetric position of my ears or not spherical skull) is challenging even in my native language. Formerly, I tried to google translate a short description of what I want, but results were – so to say – unsatisfactory. Lately, I show a picture of myself with a haircut I like and I ask to mimic it. This approach brings much better results.

My worst accident happened to me in France, when during a cut a hairdresser said a French p*** word (one of the few I know) and nervously tried to fix her mistake. I ended up being almost hairless. Well, curly hair can be a challenge. After that, I promised myself not to have a haircut abroad anymore. Apart from that accident, it feels awkward to me not to be able to speak with a person who works around my head. It is much more comfortable to have a hairdresser that one knows.

As I don’t care much about my hairstyle, more or less I let my hair grow until it looks horrible and somebody makes me visit a barber. That means I cut my hair on average every 3 months. Unfortunately, it happened to me that on every secondment this moment eventually arrived and I had to visit a foreign barber shop.

I don’t want to complain. It is just the experience that teaches me to plan more things in advance if I want to avoid the described situation. However, if one would care more about their hairstyle (an average man cuts their hair once a month, but think about more complex stylings for women), an ITN as AMVA4NewPhysics is not for him/her :). And I don’t speak about costs, which vary between countries, but just to have one’s hair done the way he/she wants. I imagine that it could really be a problem for many people.

I got very involved with these strange thoughts and my mind casted the issue into more probabilistic terms (it’s a side effect of my profession). How likely was it for me to have 3 haircuts abroad? I performed a simple simulation to find an answer.

Let us assume that a person cuts their hair at random when they become too long (like in my case). Growing hair is kind of an accumulative process which could be modelled by a Poisson distribution with the parameter λ equal to the average number of weeks between subsequent haircuts (in my case it is about 12 weeks). Assume that such a person would go abroad for a secondment in the 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th and 30th month of their contract.

Let us estimate the probability of having k haircuts abroad given the parameter λ. The estimates are obtained by a simple simulation for the assumed statistical model. Let us consider λ corresponding to haircuts once every 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 or 12 months. The results are presented below as histograms.



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As I had haircuts during every one of my secondments (3 times) and my intensity parameter λ is equal to 12 weeks, I find myself kind of unlucky. Again, I treat it as fun and account it as an experience I bring from the trips. Finally, it is definitely worth to have secondments and collaborate with researcher abroad despite possible haircut issues of negligible importance. Is it only me who sometimes wastes time on such strange meditation? Well, I’d better have some sleep.