First, let me be clear: I am extremely skeptical of academia how-to books. It seems as though they rarely have much to say to me, a physics professor at a small liberal arts college. And so it was great cynicism that I started to read Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times by Marc J. Kuchner.
Kuchner is an astrophysicist who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. But, I think crucially for this book, he’s also a country music songwriter. He begins his book by describing the manner in which he figured out how to market his songs – and his realization that much of that knowledge he picked up during that process actually applied to working in science. The result is a book that understands both the mechanics of marketing and the nuances of the crazy but wonderful world of science, a world that is populated by people, not just data. Kuchner successfully gives a plethora of recommendations that are both accurate and contextual for a scientist’s work.
Kuchner starts his application of marketing to science by defining the fundamental theorem of marketing: “everything you get from other people comes because you meet someone else’s needs or desires.” He then spends the following chapters applying this theorem to how to “market your science” to audiences such as the general public, government, funding agencies, your department colleagues, your institutional colleagues, potential collaborators, and fellow conference attendees, among many others. Because I think ProfHacker readers should buy this book, I don’t want to give too much away, but you can look forward to reading advice on ideal white-space design in proposals, personality archetypes and how they are or aren’t successful, why you should develop a Signature Research Idea, and the Star Wars Approach to Giving a Talk, all distributed throughout a good mixture of big picture suggestions and down-to-earth practical ones.
This book was successful because I never once felt that I was reading a marketing book by some random business guy who wasn’t a scientist but felt like his field could speak to it. Instead, I read a book that understands the market of science and how that means you have an audience (many audiences, really) and a product (proposals, in Kuchner’s analysis, with which I agree). Let’s be honest: how many of us figured out or were explicitly taught in grad school (1) that this is the way it is and (2) how to do it? While reading the book, I found myself both nodding in assent, noting passages that communicated well something I want to make sure I pass on to my students, and reading wide-eyed and underlining ideas and techniques of which I was never informed, such as the use of white papers to act as funding inquiries, or that I should consider emailing a copy of a journal article I write to each lead author of papers that are cited by it, when the article is published.
Being able to market (as much as some scientists hate that word) your work matters. As a physicist, I’m alarmed by the continued threats to close physics departments (and heartened by the work that is being done to combat the misinformation that facilitates the threats). Thankfully, we need to market our science for less defensive reasons too. Kuchner covers all the bases and produces a book that I believe can be helpful to most scientists – especially those who also teach and should be passing on this practical information to their students.
What about you? How does marketing play a role in your work in academia? Let us know in the comments.
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