Ever wonder why automotive engineers design car doors to produce a particularly solid-sounding thunk when you close them? It is all part of a marketing strategy that author Marc J. Kuchner believes can be applied to science and scientists as well. In his well-written book Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times, Kuchner offers scientists some career-building guidance using the principles of marketing that he learned from his experience as a country music songwriter. His insights into the marketing field have been retooled for the science community and applied to finding a position, seeking grants, and having an impact on the public's perception of science. Because learning the skills of personal marketing is not typically a part of the educational experience for PhD candidates, this book offers a unique perspective that scientists at all stages of their careers will find interesting and perhaps useful.
Kuchner is no slacker when it comes to success. Now an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, he contributes to projects on the direct imaging of extrasolar planetary systems. He also coinvented the band-limited coronagraph, a tool for finding planets around other stars. Kuchner is a prolific researcher and an expert commentator, and in his spare time, he writes country music songs—that he markets, of course, in Nashville, Tennessee.
The selling point of the book is its potential to help scientists appreciate both the need for marketing and the way in which very specific marketing strategies can enhance their careers. Kuchner begins by reminding us that scientists are facing many obstacles: The general public has little appreciation for science, fewer jobs are available for new graduates, and funds in support of research are limited. Noting the parallel between scientists who write papers that are seldom read and songwriters who write songs that are seldom heard, Kuchner introduces the fundamental theorem of marketing: the idea that it is “the craft of seeing things from other people's perspectives, understanding their wants and needs, and finding ways to meet them” (p. 13).
Throughout the book, Kuchner offers very specific examples of successful marketing principles in action. Using analogies from the world of business, he introduces the reader to marketing principles with scenarios that relate to different moments in a scientist's career. He then changes his focus to identify who the actual “consumers” of science are and to propose a definition of the “products” of science that might surprise many in the field. Whereas previous authors have suggested that scientists market hypotheses, Kuchner asserts that it is the proposals themselves that are the actual “staple product of the scientific economy” (p. 111). He views presentations, papers, press releases, and conferences as marketing tools that allow scientists access to funding, fellowships, and positions.
To beginning scientists, Marketing for Scientists offers excellent advice on the process of developing and marketing proposals, although I expect that scientists at various stages of their careers might also find this useful. The text offers new definitions and nomenclature, such as the “signature research idea” and the “Star Wars approach” to giving a presentation. A consistent theme runs through the pages: Marketing is ultimately about understanding and creating a relationship with the “buyer.” The reader is often reminded that “it's about them, not you,” as the author relates stories from his country music career to illustrate his points and deepen our understanding of the principles involved.
Although much of the book is focused on providing scientists with the tools to market themselves, it also addresses the need to market science itself to the American public. Citing the 2010 National Academies of Science report Rising above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, the author reminds us that 49 percent of adults in the United States do not know how long it takes for Earth to revolve around the sun. He describes ways that scientists can change the public's perception of science, and he concludes his book by encouraging scientists to “start a movement” by marketing themselves and their field more effectively. Many readers will welcome this chapter, but some may wish for more discussion of this important topic.
Kuchner has done extensive reading and research in the field of marketing to make his arguments, and the book reflects this with detailed references in the final “Notes” section, listed by chapter, and with recommendations for further reading, organized by topic, following these notes. The Web site referenced in the book provides additional material that readers will find as interesting as the book itself.
The merits of Marketing for Scientists are many (the book is compelling and an easy read with useful illustrations and very clearly crafted prose) but one shortcoming is that it is written specifically for scientists in research positions. Its focus on activities that will allow a scientist to gain funding for proposals seems to limit its usefulness for other scientists who work in different types of organizations. However, with that one limitation, the general principles offered in the text describe skills that can—and should—be applied more broadly to professionals of any field.
The final piece of Kuchner's advice to scientists wishing to promote their work or their field can be borrowed from the title of one of his country music songs. If you check the catalog of tunes on his Web site, you will see “Start Now”—a fitting suggestion for us all.