Saturday, September 29, 2012

Marketing and Sales

This year I really feel like some sort of door-to-door salesman. As a TT PI, I feel like a huge part of my job is selling what my lab does. Hi there, my lab is awesome, here are some of the reasons why....(fill in with unabashed egotistical stump speech)

I'm emailing strangers to try to start scientific discussions and collaborations by telling them how awesome our research is and that they just absolutely have to work with us. Making sure people see what we are doing. To try to get on big PI radar screens.

I've been cold calling program managers at various DoD agencies. Please read a paragraph about my work and consider throwing some crumbs my way. Act now, if you don't fund this work, the security of the country will be at stake. My research will help you defeat our enemies.

This requires a fair amount of cojones and agressiveness, qualities generally lacking in engineers. Maybe it's different in other fields. My experience has been that to grow big, you have to be boisterous and animated. You have to be able to entertain site visitors. You almost have to ooze charisma. It takes a certain personality type. It also helps to be tall. Think about the academic big wigs you know. I know many excellent researchers that are quiet and more subdued who do great work and do well in their careers, but they typically don't run super groups (meaning $1 million plus in annual research income, 15 or more group members). The high school quarter backs and team captains run the show here just as much as in the business world.

I don't really have a strong opinion about this system, other than this is the game I have to play. I'm not by nature one of these alpha personalities that lights up a room. I do work hard to be that way though. So far it seems to be working, it is however quite tiring to be this person. Several of my colleagues refuse to partake in this practice. They don't want to bend and mold their research to fit someone else's vision, to travel non-stop and become detached from the day-to-day operations of their labs. Perhaps that is why we aren't a top R1.


  1. I am like you -- I know the game and play it reasonably well, but it is tiring. Ultimately you have to decide what is right for you, and how you can get the most enjoyment out of your work. If it's really important to you to be the superstar salesman, well, then you know what you need to do. Otherwise, just focus on your science, and greatness will be recognized in due time (one should hope, right?)

  2. I don't want to have a gigantic group, but I do want to have a decent size which does take a fair amount of selling. I think that good science is noticed and appreciated, it just takes longer. Lifetime achievement awards instead of pioneering and innovator awards.