AsianScientist (Nov. 7, 2017) – While doing my Masters, I had a classmate who was brilliant. He was well-read and always up-to-date on the latest happenings in the field, witty with a larger-than-life personality that made him the center of many a discussion, plus he had interesting hobbies like taxidermy to boot. But he also a quality I found irksome: he loved talking about his ‘personal brand.’
As he spent the semester building his website, carefully crafting his online image, and growing his Twitter followers, I wondered if, instead, he should be focusing more on his schoolwork—after all, nobody wants to have show without substance, right?
And yet, now that I think back on it, perhaps that classmate of mine was onto something. Personal branding, or the art of selling yourself, is a factor many career experts consider crucial in the recipe of success. It’s been twenty years since management guru Tom Peters first invented the term, but “personal branding” remains a relevant concept today—especially in the ultra-competitive world we live in that exists as much online as it does in real life.
Creating a brand for yourself, one that promotes your talents, might seem narcissistic at first glance, but it’s actually about constructing a narrative for yourself, telling the world your story: who you are, what you do and what you stand for.
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once famously said.
A strong personal brand can be a career booster, opening doors to new jobs, research collaborations, speaking opportunities and so on.
Stuck in an elevator
So what does building your brand as a scientist involve?
“I think there are two facets,” Shirley Ho, associate professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, tells Asian Scientist Magazine. “The first is presenting yourself as an expert in your field of research.”
At the very least, this comes in the form of having a bio page or personal website where “people get to know what you’re doing,” she says. Engaging in social media can take your profile a step further because a lot of professional networks are on platforms such as Facebook.
“I think if scientists have the time, it’s worth doing,” says Ho.
In face-to-face settings, such as at conferences or general meetings, Ho recommends having an elevator speech ready at hand to make new acquaintances.
“If you happen to be in an elevator with a CEO of a big company or with a minister, how would you introduce yourself?” she asks. “Always have that three-minute type of introduction on hand so you don’t have to think about it. Because when you have to think about it, the opportunity is gone.”
Say it simple
The second aspect to promoting your work is by engaging with the public, says Ho. You can talk about your research through more formal channels such as interviews with journalists or by working with your institute’s corporate communications team, but there are more informal channels too, she says. These include giving public talks or even keeping a blog detailing the interesting aspects of your work and findings.
Fellow researcher Toh Tai Chong, a marine biologist and lecturer at the National University of Singapore, agrees.
“Social media platforms, websites, publications, public talks and blogs are all relevant tools to provide information on our skill sets,” he told Asian Scientist Magazine.
But no matter the medium, it’s important that the message be tailored to suit the audience.
“Eventually scientists have to develop the skill to strip down the technicalities of their work, and be able to explain it plainly, accurately and objectively,” Toh says.
Serving the community
Pushing your work onto others, especially non-scientists, can appear self-assertive, but there’s a higher purpose, says Ho.
“It may seem like self-promotion but it’s not just egotistical,” she says. “The broader picture is that you are sharing your expertise with other people and providing information that is useful and helpful to the public.”
For instance, when researchers fail to speak up on scientific evidence proving childhood vaccinations work or that climate change is indeed real, it’s a disservice to the community, says Ho. Scientists have a moral and ethical obligation to share their findings with the community, adds Toh.
“It’s important because government agencies can use the information to support their policies, for the public to have greater awareness of the issue, for institutions to develop comprehensive solutions to overcome their problems and to inspire the young to consider pursuing science as a career,” he says.
So while personal branding might be important to the individual, it’s the community that stands to benefit when a scientist actively promotes their work.
“I don’t think scientists should be too caught up with promoting themselves. We should focus on our research, and do it well,” shares Toh. “Our actions and deeds will eventually define us as a good scientist and due recognition will soon follow.”
This article is from a monthly column called Beyond The Bench. Click here to see the other articles in this series.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Pexels.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.