How To Be The Don Draper of Science

Let’s play a word association game. What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word “marketing”? If you’re like me, you may have said something like “advertisement”. You may have even said something along the lines of “dishonest”. I’m almost certain, however, that none of you said “science”. At first, it’s hard to see how marketing could have anything to do with science. As scientists, we’re told we need to be researchers, teachers, writers, and communicators but never marketing executives. After reading “Marketing for Scientists” by Marc J. Kuchner, I realized that if we learn to be marketing executives, we could better fulfill all those other roles too.


Word cloud generated with using the “marketing” Wikipedia page for content.

“Marketing for Scientists” came highly recommend to me by Mike Angilletta so, in spite of my reservations about marketing, I was excited to see what it was all about. Kuchner starts by giving a definition of marketing that really puts it all in perspective for me:

Marketing is the craft of seeing things from other people’s perspectives, understanding their wants and needs, and finding ways to meet them.1

For whatever reason, I found this definition disarming. Maybe marketing isn’t such a bad thing! But how can it be applied to scientists? We don’t have a product we’re trying to sell to consumers. Not in the tradition sense at least. But Kuchner goes on to explain that we do have products: our science and ourselves. When we’re trying to get that big grant, our product is our science and we want our consumer, the review panel, to eat that product up! When we’re on the job market, the product is ourselves and we do everything we can to make search committees see that they can’t live without us.

Now that you’re convinced that marketing is relevant to scientists (I know I certainly am), we need some marketing tools. Kuchner takes what he has learned about marketing through the music industry (That’s right. He’s an astrophysicist who writes and sells country songs in his free time.) and applies it to science. Are you building meaningful relationships or just “networking”? What is your brand? Who is your consumer – a funding agency, a government official, the general public? How do you use papers, talks, conferences, and your website to get people excited about you and your science? Kuchner address all of this and then some. He gives examples of how these tools have worked for him and other scientists. There’s even a pretty spectacular breakdown of how you should fashion your next conference talk after Star Wars IV: A New Hope and if that’s not worth reading I don’t know what is.

If it seems like I’m raving about this book, it’s because I am. It’s targeted toward post-docs and other early career scientists but I feel ahead of the curve after reading it as a grad student. My favorite part of this book is that the advice isn’t exclusive to one particular career path – it could work just as well for an academic as it would for a government, non-profit, or private sector scientist. If you, like any reasonable consumer, are still asking “What’s in it for me?”, the short answer is more grant funding, more collaborators, and better science communication and the key is marketing.


1Kuchner, Marc J. Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times. Washington: Island Press, 2012.

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