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Auntie SparkNotes: My Advisor Found My Instagram

Auntie SparkNotes is on vacay this week, so we’re publishing a few of her vintage gems!

Dear Auntie,

So I’m a third-year medical student in a really great med school who’s off a few weeks for a break before studying again next semester. Another thing I should say about myself is that I have an Instagram account with 13,000 followers, and I’ve actually been featured on a “college dude” site because of my physical appearance. A lot of them are with me in a bikini or a bikini top, and some of them are with me either in a club or at the beach (since I live near one). Some of them also have me drinking alcohol, but not a lot (and I’m clearly above legal age). In short, none of them show me doing anything that bad.

I got an email from my advisor saying that I should delete the account because it’s “not becoming of a future physician” and that I should “put them on a site with a more limited audience such as a Facebook page only friends can see.” I have no clue how he saw my pictures. I’m extremely offended by his email, but he’s a well-known and respected internist who carries a lot of clout in my hoped future field. Before this email, he was always very nice and respectful, so this came completely out of left field. He has no idea how hard I’ve worked for this Instagram account and how much fame and recognition it has gotten me. (Like how could he discover my account and not see that 13k people follow it?)

Is this an inappropriate request for him to make? Should I approach the dean or someone else about this?

Well, let’s start there—with what you shouldn’t do, and more importantly, what I really sincerely hope you haven’t done in the couple of weeks since you sent your letter. Because when you ask whether you should approach the dean to tattle on your advisor, the answer is a resounding no, followed immediately by a resounding what-in-the-ungodly-heck-are-you-even-thinking. I mean, geez, dude. This man is an advisor, a professor, and a respected future colleague in your field whose opinion of you has the very real potential to impact your employability; if there were a list of people with whom NOT to escalate a single perceived offense into a giant administrative beef, he would be at the top of it.

And that would be true even if his advice were inappropriate—but the thing is, darling, I’m not entirely sure that he doesn’t have a point. Your chosen profession carries with it a certain amount of gravitas, and while you may not be a vapid, vain, image-obsessed insta-bimbo, it isn’t going to inspire confidence in your patients if you have an easily-discoverable internet presence that reads as such. (Speaking of which: Anyone with a following as large as yours needs to be realistic about the likelihood of someone you know IRL stumbling across your photos, not to mention that if your insta is in any way connected to your cell number, your email address, or your other social media, you’re likely to show up as a suggested follow in the feeds of people—or mutuals of people—who have that info, including your professional contacts.) Your patients are going to trust you with their bodies, their histories, their health, their lives. And your end of that bargain, fairly or not, requires presenting yourself as a serious person who is deserving of all that power and all that trust—even when you’re not on shift or on call, and yes, even online.

Which is what your advisor was likely getting at when he described your pics as “not becoming of a future physician.” It’s not that they’re bad; it’s that in his opinion, they’re at odds with the public face you’ll want to present as a doctor, one which is wearing a white coat and a stethoscope (and not, alas, a bikini.) And to be clear, I’ve no idea if his opinion would be widely-shared. If nothing else, it sounds like he definitely could’ve phrased it better. But the unfortunate truth is, you’ve chosen one of the few fields in which being a Hot Girl of Instagram™ may be at odds with being a respected member of your profession—and far from being inappropriate, this is the kind of thing your med school advisor is supposed to give you guidance about.

For that reason, a good next step would be to back-burner your outrage and have a productive conversation with your advisor about why he said what he said—preferably on the phone or face-to-face, where it’s easier to discern the tonal difference between a rude demand and a thoughtful suggestion. Be polite but direct: “I was a little taken aback by the tone of your email, and I’d like to get a better understanding of your reasons for writing it. Can you explain what it is about my Instagram that you found so problematic?”

And then, listen to what the man has to say. And please, do so with an open mind, and without making contemptuous comments (even internally) about his failure to appreciate all your hard Insta-work or notice your follower count. I hate to tell you this, sweet pea, but not everyone—and particularly not the population of folks over the age of 40—is going to be impressed by the “fame” you’ve achieved as an amateur model. And in the case of your advisor, you need to at least consider the possibility that he’s giving you useful and well-intended advice, even if it’s not packaged precisely the way you’d like it to be, and even if it’s bad news. If your online presence is a professional liability, that’s something you need to know.

None of which is to say that you have to take your account down. That’s entirely your call. But I would like to gently suggest that you at least take stock of your priorities, and ask yourself if “being hot on the internet” really deserves to be quite so high on the list moving forward. I know it’s nice to get positive attention for the way you look, but being pretty is not an accomplishment, and it’s certainly not the most important thing about you. And since your days as an Insta-hottie were always going to be numbered—if not by your own shifting priorities, then by the unstoppable march of time—this might be a good time to at least consider when and how you intend to close this chapter of your life, so that you can make a graceful exit before the effects of age push you unceremoniously out the door.

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