Good communication is what makes the world go around, and it is neglected in scientific research, says Kate Christian.
The typical scientist, and particularly the typical early-career scientist, is so busy focusing on their research and their outputs (and grant applications and publishing and more grant applications and more publishing) that they don’t give priority to communicating their research, or even their successes, outside of that framework.
But it is these successes and outputs that build a reputation and scientists should learn how to better self-promote. In my experience, getting published and funded are not quite enough to ensure future success. University librarians and media specialists — who collect evidence of research impact — can demonstrate the effectiveness of additional communication.
Here’s how to effectively spend a little extra time enhancing your reputation by distributing glimpses of your research — about what you are doing and why, and how it’s progressing — a little more widely than to those in your immediate academic circle.
Making use of social media
Social media is a great way to let people know what you are up to. It costs nothing other than a little time, and has the potential for great reach. Social media serves two purposes: it provides a way to keep your community informed about your research, and a means to build your professional profile more broadly. It can give you incredible reach with minimal effort.
Twitter and LinkedIn are the big social media applications you can use to enhance your reputation. You can also use Facebook, any of the “academic” social platforms like ResearchGate or Academia.edu, or less conventional places. (I’ve seen scientists upload their presentations on SlideShare, and put photos of crystals and cells on Instagram.) The principle is always the same: use it well, and you’ll have ease of access to your audience.
It may seem like simple advice, but you mustn’t forget to update your profile. Check once a month to make sure it is still relevant. Social media profiles are a shop window — the face of your brand — and should be complete. Structure your summary to reflect your research aspirations and focuses. Use it to show off your achievements and passions. Using keywords in this section will help your rankings in search results, so make sure you mention those which are pertinent to your research area.
Talk to funding bodies in language they understand
Learning to speak to the people who supply your funds is another vital form of communication, particularly if the granting body is a community or non-government organisation. Communicating to your funders usually involves learning to boil your research down into the essentials. These people might need your research presented from an entirely different perspective from that of your peers.
While they will still require good science, a funding body is likely to want emphasis placed on the impact your research will have on people. It is not about the funding you have previously raised, or your mass of publications, but on the translation of your research into patient outcomes, better technology or improved crop yields. These people and organisations will be involved with this funding body because they care about the impact of your research. It is vitally important to make your lay summaries accessible to these audiences. The same applies to your reporting, once you have been funded.
An effective way to introduce people from your funding bodies into your world is to create situations where people from both spheres can meet on equally comfortable ground. A lab tour can be a great, exciting tool to sell your research, particularly if the visitors are non-scientists — experience in a lab might be standard for you, but it’s totally new for others.
Remember your reviewers
Scientists need to understand that it is people — who may not be specialists or even scientists — reading their grant applications and journal articles. Scientific documents must be written with these people, and an understanding of their level of engagement and knowledge, in mind.
Share your perspective
The bottom line is that you need to be ready to explain, again and again, via different media — to peers, collaborators, mentors and funders — why you are doing what you are doing and what it is all for. To make others see things from your perspective, you must show them the way to get there.
Katherine Christian has worked in health and medical research for over 30 years, mostly for organisations conducting and supporting cancer research. Scientifically trained, she has chosen not to work in a laboratory, but to use her scientific background and a flair for organization to manage research projects and assist scientists with the management of their research. She is author of Keys to Running Successful Research Projects: All the Things They Never Tell You.