As a scientist/graduate student, I seldom think about branding myself because I have never thought that I have some sort of “product” to offer to someone or the university. All I’ve been thinking is how to publish my papers in high impact journals, how to run experiments properly and so on. If you are a research scientist, you may also need to think about how to get a tenure position. These probably are the things that most of the scientists concern about, but as I am reading Dr. Marc J. Kuchner’s book “Marketing for Scientists”, I start to realize that marketing is just as important for scientists as it is for businessmen. In this blog post, I am only sharing the element of relationship building from the book as I am still on my journey reading this book.
First thing first, Dr, Kuchner puts the definition of marketing as “the craft of seeing things from other people’s perspectives, understanding their wants and needs, and finding ways to meet them.” In another word, the concept of marketing is to think about the needs of other people, and try to think like your customer. As for scientists, we need to think about how our research can meet the needs of certain people or organization, and how those people think about our work.
When you submit your manuscript to a publisher, the reviewers obviously have different concerns than yours. They probably would think that “Does these data support my hypothesis?” or “Is there anything in this paper I can use in my next proposal?”. Your reviewers have very specific needs for your paper, but in general, human needs are always around the most urgent necessity such as clean air, water, food, shelter, excretion, and sex etc. Here is a good marketing start point for all scientist to think about that how relevant is my research to these fundamental human needs? This is also the things that NSF is looking for in your proposal’s broader impact section.
One of the important elements the book points out in marketing is building relationships— “Human relationships might be the ultimate goal and the ultimate prize for our work.” How does this work in science? Well, in science world, this mainly happens in conferences where scientists meet each other and “sell themselves”, and then collaborate. When you “sell yourself”, remember you have to be real and authentic. Honesty is the foundation of relationship. I have seen graduate student did not pass the oral comprehensive exam due to making things up. That broke the relationship between the major advisor and the student and the committee decided to send the student away. If you don’t know something, just say you don’t know.
Listening and responding are also very important in relationship. Dr. Kuchner used the word “Schmoozing”, which is an SAT word and it means to chat in a friendly and persuasive manner especially so as to gain favor, business, or connections (based on Merriam-Webster). Scientists are good at sharing their research, but not everyone is as receptive and engaging in a conversation listening to what other people say. You can see this by just observing how people engage in the scientific meetings: people playing their phone and working on their data in their laptops during someone else’s talk. The book also shared an example of how building relationship helped a lab raise millions of dollars for research. The lab had a successful fund raising by throwing out a party targeting a wealthy neighborhood. Party is a great way to meet people and build relationship, and is pretty much universal.
In the past summer, I was awarded the Ambassador Fellowship from the School of Life Sciences (SoLS) and this fellowship required me to build relationship with ASU’s PhD alumni. I got to connect to more than a dozen alumni through phone calls and established my personal relationship with them. About half of them work in non-academia and the most important two rules they gave me for landing in a good job are 1. networking; 2. how well you can work with people. These two things are exactly about building relationships! Also, it is through my personal relationship with these alumni, SoLS can approach them in the future for their support (any kind of support) and it is marketing through building relationships.
Marketing for scientists is not just about building relationships. There are things like branding for yourself, creating your research website, proper use of internet and Youtube etc. If you want to know more, please check out Dr. Kuchner’s book “Marketing for Scientists”. It’s an affordable order on Amazon.
Neng Iong Chan is graduate student in Environmental Life Sciences and a Member of the Elser Lab and the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology.