Along with GRE scores and personal essays, something else might factor into your grad school acceptances -- your weight.
Researchers at Bowling Green State University interviewed 97 applicants about their experiences applying to psychology graduate programs at more than 950 American universities. They then looked for evidence of weight bias in applicants' letters of recommendation and acceptance rates.
The research team found that applicants' Body Mass Index (BMI) did not affect the quality of their recommendations. However, individuals with a high BMI were less likely to be offered admission to a graduate program when the application involved an in-person interview.
"The success rate for people who had had no interview or a phone interview was pretty much equal," Jacob Burmeister, one of the study's authors, said in a press release. "But when in-person interviews were involved, there was quite a bit of difference, even when applicants started out on equal footing with their grades, test scores and letters of recommendation."
The link between high BMI and low admission rate was especially strong in women.
“There are two explanations," Burmeister told Times Higher Education. "One is that there is some sort of conscious or unconscious prejudice on the part of those carrying out the interviews... [or] it could be that when applicants with obesity are put into a face-to-face interview and are aware of some of these stereotypes, it negatively affects their performance."
Overweight individuals don't just find themselves at a disadvantage when applying to grad school. Research has shown that people with high BMIs are less likely to get hired and more likely to have their potential for career success and leadership judged poorly.
Usually this bias against larger men and women in higher education remains subtle and hidden, but earlier this year a particularly nasty example of weight discrimination surfaced via Twitter. In June Geoffrey Miller, a visiting professor at NYU, made headlines for tweeting: "Dear obese PhD applicants: If you don't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth." In response, hundreds of students sent images of themselves to a Tumblr blog "F*ck Yeah Fat PhDs," proving that body size has nothing to do with academic willpower.
The blog's founder, Dr. Cat Pausé, explained:
What I wanted to do was to highlight all the amazing fat individuals who are in graduate school, or have completed graduate school -- to provide a visual repository for anyone who doubts that fat individuals lack the abilities or qualities to succeed in academia. And to celebrate the amazing work being done by these rad fatties!
Obviously, a person's weight has nothing to do with her qualifications, ability to learn or ability to lead. We're looking forward to the day when our hiring and admissions decisions reflect that reality.