By Michelle Hogan
For many students, getting a tattoo is something they simply would not do. What will you do in an interview? You won’t get a professional job if it’s on show, isn’t that the reason you’re in college? These are very realistic thoughts that go through a college student’s head before getting a tattoo; I know, I thought the same. In order to get an experienced opinion on the topic I talked to Tony Sheridan, a PhD student in the University of Limerick, and currently the chairperson of the Limerick City Darkness into Light Walk Committee. Tony is a well-known mental health campaigner, event MC, public speaker and has held a number of professional roles in UL from education tutor, manager of the First Seven Weeks HUB and Access Office Coordinator to name a few.
Do you have any tattoos yourself?
Yes, I have 4 tattoos. One on each of my wrists and two on my back. On my left and right wrists I have the words ‘love’ and ‘life’ respectively and on my back I have an Oscar Wilde quote “Behind every exquisite thing that existed there was something tragic” and his signature on the upper left and a sketch of a Dragonfly on the upper right.
Are they just decorative or is there a deeper meaning?
Well I suppose all tattoos are aesthetic art added to your body, so they are decorative, but yes mine have symbolic meaning to me also. I have often spoke about the significance of them, in fact the first post on my Blog ‘Becoming a dragonfly’ dealt with the tattoos on my back, I talk about them when I give my mental health seminars in secondary schools and I spoke about the ones on my wrist on RTE Documentary ‘Reality Bites: The Gym’. While mine are personal to me and symbolic I have nothing against tattoos that people get just purely because they think they look cool though. It’s your body, your choice.
When did you decide to get them? Were you a student?
Well technically I am still a student, probably one of UL’s longest running students, ten years here now, PhD students are students too you know, if you prick us we still bleed. I wasn’t an undergraduate student however when I got them, I was 24 years old, I was working in UL at the time. I decided to get them probably years before that but it took me ages to be 100% certain where I wanted them, the design, the size, etc. I intend on having them on my body for the rest of my life so it wasn’t something I rushed into.
Did it ever cross your mind that getting a tattoo as a student might affect you later in life? Is that why you waited until you had a secure job?
Well I don’t have a secure job currently, all my work is temporary until I finish my Doctorate, but as an undergraduate student I never wanted a tattoo, it just wasn’t something that ever interested me. I certainly didn’t stop myself as a student from getting one in case it would hurt my chances in an interview though. Then when I started as a PhD student in the Education Department my Head at that time in one of the first conversations I had with him told me about the tattoos he had so I don’t think it crossed my mind before getting my ones that it could affect my career.
Did you decide on the places for your tattoo for the purpose of getting a job in future?
Well you see the thing is as a guy any job interview I go into I will have a full suit on so the only places that will be visible would be my face, my neck or my hands. Like my wrist tattoos are fully covered when I wear a shirt and unless I take my top off in public (which hasn’t happened yet) no one will see my back tattoos. I’ve never wanted a tattoo in the more visible places, but if I did want one I do think I would consider it carefully against potential prejudices of employers.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were discriminated against in a professional environment for having tattoos?
No, my wrist tattoos have been noticed by many academics, at lunch, at conferences, etc when I might have my sleeves rolled up or wear a short sleeved shirt of t-shirt for example but I’ve never had a negative reaction. Some people pass no remarks, some ask about them, generally they will tell you about their own tattoo or tattoos, or about one they want to get.
What advice would you give a student who is planning on getting a tattoo?
I could go on for days with advice but I’ll try keep this short. Do not do it on a whim spontaneously.Do not get matching tattoos with anyone who isn’t a direct family member. I know that friend that you have lived with for almost a year now seems like family, but trust me after college people drift apart and you will forever have this matching thing on your body to some person somewhere across the world you don’t even talk to anyone. If you have decided on an image put it as the screensaver of your phone and/or print out a pic of it in your room. If you are sick of looking at this on your phone or wall after 1 month do not get it tattooed on your body for the rest of your life.
Are there certain professions where it is acceptable to have tattoos? If so, explain.
Well certainly some professions are more liberal than others, times are changing too. In a barbershop, hairdressers, fashion outlet, etc it is common to see full sleeves, neck or hand tattoos nowadays but perhaps 10 or 20 years ago you wouldn’t of had a chance getting the job with the tattoos. I think some employers are more fussy, perhaps banks, certain retailers and cabin crew roles, etc. Personally I think it shouldn’t matter but the reality is that it still does.
What advice would you give a student who really wants a tattoo but has been told that it will make it harder for them to get a job in future?
Get it somewhere discrete on your body, best option is your ass. If you really want it and don’t want anyone who may potentially employ you to see it that’s the best place. If it is the type of job that they need to see your ass before hiring you then I doubt they will care if there is a tattoo on it.
Have you ever regretted getting your tattoos?
No, not for a second and I don’t believe I ever will. I know some old people covered in tattoos with no regrets either. I plan on getting lots more throughout my life but they will unique, symbolic to me and will be thought about for a long time before they get inked on me for life.