If self-promotion feels dirty, you might need a buddy

2019-02-12

Self-promotion doesn’t come easily to most of us. Even if we know that it’s important to get recognition for our work in science, there is often an overwhelming feeling that we shouldn’t be the ones to do it ourselves. It can be due to lack of confidence, embarrassment or a nagging feeling that the science itself should attract the attention, not the researchers. Whatever the reason, the result is the same, fewer people hear about scientific research.

This feeling of self-promotion being dirty is often so deeply engrained in scientists that I’m not going to suggest that we remove it, I think we should side-step it completely. Instead of promoting our own research, why not promote someone else’s instead? This way, when we brag, we don’t need to feel bad, we’re doing it on behalf of our departmental colleague. This way, when we feel embarrassed about being interviewed on camera, at least we can say “I’m doing it for my friend”.

It would be great if our colleague could then do the same for us when our papers get published. This way, we have someone cheering for us and our co-workers when it is needed. It feels a bit like a scicomm buddy system, and in a way it is.

Think of someone in your department at a similar level in their career with a similar level of enthusiasm for public outreach and suggest this simple arrangement. Whenever you publish a paper, they will come up with the scicomm strategy and help you execute it, in return, you do the same for them. When you choose a buddy, make sure it’s someone you haven’t published with recently. It’s better for getting an outsider’s perspective and a co-author might also feel dirty about promoting their own research.

This works whether you are a full professor or a PhD student, you get to sharpen your scicomm skills without feeling sleazy and you have your own PR person doing the unthinkable dirty work on your behalf.

Hopefully, this means that more science is communicated to the public, but there are a number of additional benefits to having a scicomm buddy. For starters, you get outside perspective which is crucial in scicomm. Intricate understanding of methods and Latin nomenclature is a curse when it comes to simplifying your message, someone from outside can help. However, even if they are technically outsiders, they are still academics. This means that they are not communications professionals, hell bent on dumbing down your precious work to get a pithy, clickable headline (only half joking). When talking to journalists and communicators, it can help to have a third-party as a sounding board to clarify your message without losing accuracy. There is also a substantial accountability factor built in to this buddy system. You are far more likely to follow-through on a scicomm project if you know that someone else is depending on you. When you are doing it for yourself, it’s easier for self-doubt and excuses to take over.

So, if you feel self-promotion is dirty, maybe it’s time to buddy-up. Find someone who you can cheer for and who can cheer for you. Find someone who you can trust, and who you can listen to. Find someone who you can learn and develop new skills with. After all, two heads are better than one.

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