We're a little crazy, about science!

Self-promotion in science

I admit it. I’m bad at promoting myself. It’s hard and I hate it. I’ve made a concerted effort to do just that though and over the past couple of years I think it’s helped, maybe? The problem is half of the metrics we use to measure success as a researcher come down to popularity. Things like h-index are great measures, but what they are measuring isn’t always how good your research is, more like how many people know your work. Which to be fair are similar, but still different things.

Okay a few days ago (or what feels like days…) I lamented about how hosptial-PI made a mistake about my citation count and h-index, which for a moment made me feel slightly less behind than my peers. That is until I realized his mistake and basically it sent me into a bit of a funk. I mean I don’t care exactly how many people cite my research, but part of my success hinges on getting people to notice, and yes, cite my work.

Maybe I’m bias, but I really like the research I do. I think it’s broadly applicable, scientifically sound, and has the potential to be beneficial to a lot of people. To me that sounds like good science, but my h-index, i10-index, and overall citation count tell a different story. And that’s fine for the most part, I’m still fairly new to the field I’m currently in (I have 5 papers, but all of them are under a year old) and biomimetics, my previous area of research wasn’t a huge field to begin with, so the combination of the two probably doesn’t help.

Another issue is there are big names in each field and research by those names tends to draw more citations. In my field of study, there are a large handful of people who I can name off that makeup the bulk of the research field. They are the people everyone talks about and wonders what they are currently researching and they have the citation count to show for this fact. Now I’m not saying they are not worthy of being cited or that their research isn’t good. Far, far, far, from it. What I’m suggesting is that for others who are trying to find the state of the art in the field someone like myself typically gets looked over in favor of someone known.

Lastly, there’s the issue that I am unknown and this issue applies to a lot of early career researchers. We need to self promote to get our research out there and people interested in what we’re doing. You can publish all you want, but if no one knows your research exists, well then what good does it do? If a tree falls in the woods… okay maybe that’s not the point of phrase, but it works in this case. If research is published and no one is around to read it, does it get cited? Luckily there’s an actual answer to this version of the thought experiment! Unfortunately, the answer is no.

And that’s a big problem for me because I am horrible at self promotion. Sure I talk a lot about the research I do here on my blog, but that’s the extent of the stuff I am doing. Blogging is literally the easier option for me because it feels more like writing, while other social media platforms are short form and I always feel like what I have to say isn’t incredibly important, so I opt to listen instead.

I’m trying to take a slightly different approach with this latest paper. I’ve written about it twice here and here, I’ve tweeted about it, and I’ve tried to share it as best as I could. I’m hoping that it actually has an impact on people noticing the work. Last paper in particular (the nickname for the paper discussed in the two posts I just linked to) was years of work and it nearly broke me. I’m hoping that the effort pays off and even if I have to push a little further now that it’s published by sharing it across social media platforms, well then so be it.

Basically my advice, which I’ve learned over the years, is simply learn to promote your work. It’s a lot of effort and you’ll probably feel exhausted after you publish the paper and not feel like doing anything extra because of how much work it was. Trust me, I live that myself, but in a world where h-index and other random metrics are key to finding work, you need to start early on or you’ll end up where I am and that’s not a bad place, but it could be much better.


One response

  1. Yup … I feel your pain. Just the thought of tweeting blog announcements twice in hopes that more people see them makes me queasy. And it’s not like I don’t see other people promote the same thing multiple times. It’s still uncomfortable. Makes me glad that my profession doesn’t expect me to advertise myself very much.

    Being a good publicist is, I imagine, a totally different skill set from being a good scientist, and takes time away from the things you’re really experienced at. It’s beginning to sound like the field needs better resources for paper discovery.


    July 5, 2022 at 8:55 pm

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