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Marketing Yourself

Last fall, I was interviewed by F. Kay Kidder, a writer for Lab Manager magazine, on the topic of marketing–specifically, whether and how scientists should market themselves using tools similar to those that people selling products and services have long deployed. Here’s the resulting article, which I just found yesterday.

The assumption behind the self-marketing ideas is that in the age of ubiquitous publicity and networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogs, professional scientists need to decide whether, to what extent, and how to put themselves out there before their peers and the general public.

This was the second time I’d been interviewed on this topic; the first time was for Marc Kuchner’s blog. Kuchner is an astrophysicist and the author of Marketing for Scientists. (If you click on that link and read the interview, please ignore the provocative title.)

At the core of this discussion is an important career-related issue. It has to do with the fact that as a professional scientist you have more than one audience: the primary one–your scientific colleagues–and the rest (mainly the general public, but also policy makers and other potential stakeholders). In one camp are those–I’d say Kuchner is in this camp–who say that in order to succeed, scientists should use all the tools at their disposal to get their names out there. In the other camp is–well, me. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are fine tools–but early-career scientists aiming to become established within a research community need to be aware that although it is changing, science remains a conservative culture–one that may punish you for seeming to care too much about the wrong things.

Specifically, many senior scientists–including some who may be
reviewing you for tenure–believe that the proper way to win notice in
science is to publish high-quality research in good, peer-reviewed
scientific journals. The importance of your work will then be recognized
via citations of your work in other peer-reviewed publications. Other
kinds of recognition–say, page views at your blog, where you write
about your work–may be looked upon as inappropriate self-promotion.
When you employ traditional marketing methods you may succeed in
building your public profile, but you may also alienate people whose
support you need.

The idea that people are rewarded entirely on
the basis of their merit–by the quality of the ideas put forward in
their scientific articles–is naive of course. Many other factors
determine whether your work will even be noticed. If you work alone and
don’t get out much, your work is less likely to be noticed even if it is
correct and important. The more you are integrated into the social
structure of your particular area of science, the more likely it is that
your excellent work will be recognized. And that, in my view, should be
the objective of a proper “marketing” campaign: Go to conferences.
Present your work. Ask questions. Network. Most importantly, publish
your work in good journals, and send reprints to colleagues you think
will be interested. Encourage your senior colleagues to believe that you
are a talented, earnest up-and-coming scientist.

There’s nothing
wrong with Tweeting and blogging (except that it can take a lot of
time). But as you decide what to post, remember who it is you need to
impress in order to advance your career. 10,000 Twitter followers won’t
get you tenure. 

Scientists who stand back and let their work
speak for itself are taking a serious risk: that their excellent work
will be overlooked. Those who broadcast their work to the wider world
are running a different risk: that they’ll win recognition from the wrong
people and be punished for it by the people whose opinions matter