Last Thursday five of us (Abbie, Phil, Sara, Aomawa, and I) met at Schultzy’s to talk about Marc Kuchner’s book Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times. The main feature of the book was what scientists can learn from looking at science from a marketing standpoint. I can see many scientists cringe at reading the word ‘marketing’ used in context of science. And all of us who were at the book club agreed. To varying degrees we all felt uncomfortable with the idea of marketing ourselves, our research, or science in general. To clarify what he meant by ‘marketing’ Kuchner defined it early on as, “the craft of seeing things from other people’s perspectives, understanding their wants and needs, and finding ways to meet them.” It doesn’t sound so bad if you put it that way, and we all agreed that framing our scientific endeavors in terms of this definition marketing can help us communicate our science effectively and help us build fruitful and long lasting scientific relationships.
The author Marc Kuchner is an astrophysicist who works as a staff scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. What makes Kuchner unique is that he’s also a country music songwriter. Many of his anecdotes naturally relate to his early experiences visiting Nashville and trying to get his songs picked up by musicians and connecting them with the experiences of an early or mid-career scientist trying to establish a career in science. These stories, intermingled with advice on how to improve our website, grant writing, conference, etc, made the book very readable, and many of us at the book club found it a nice break from the dense writing of scientific articles.
After discussing the book for a couple hours, jumping from one part to another, we realized that because the book covered a wide range of topics, we all got something different out of the book. To give a taste of what we talked about, we discussed about following up with fellow colleagues after meeting them at a conference, writing grants for science funding, creating our own Signature Research Idea (SRI), making our own logos (maybe), revamping our websites, and much more. The book approached all these different parts of scientific life by framing either ourselves, our tools and questions, our proposals, or our websites as our products, which we provide to our consumers, the people we wish to interact with, and asking the question, “What’s in it for the consumer?” We already do this when we try to give interesting talks or write clear results in our papers that we hope can be of help for other colleagues. The book just asks us to take it further, perhaps a bit beyond our comfort zone.
The book could have used a bit more proofreading (a number of typos), and there were a couple advices that seemed to go beyond what the five of us would be willing to do, such as one on giving talks and anticipating negative preconceptions that the audience may have of us at the beginning of our talk and acting or saying things to break those stereotypes. We thought it was disingenuous to do so, especially if we weren’t being ourselves when combating the stereotypes. But overall, I think we all thought that the book was helpful and useful. Given it’s title, I was a bit reluctant to pick up the book and read it, but now that I’ve read it through, I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a way of looking at what we do as scientists.
Do you have any book suggestions for the next book club?