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PR for the modern scientist

All that goes into PR -- it's more than bragging, it's also networking.
All that goes into PR — it’s more than bragging, it’s also networking.

With recent fiscal challenges and public misunderstandings about science, the Acting Director of the National Science Foundation, Cora Marrett, pleaded the case for scientists to begin speaking out and doing some public relations about their research. The idea is that when we inform the public about our research and how it is useful, the resistance to all areas of scientific research is much less. This out-of-school learning works, too.

As a researcher, you don’t often have the time for your own PR after working in the labs, collecting the data, analysing the data, then writing it up for papers. It’s exhausting enough without having to do your own news posts. Listed below are some ideas of how you can efficiently do some PR. They are in relative order, from least involved to most involved.

  1. Use your company, university, and/or societies services. Did you know that AAAS has a blog category dedicated to its members and their research? Did you know that your university newspapers will pick up your story and run it? How about your department newsletter? If you work in industry, it’s highly likely your PR department is right around the corner waiting for something to do too. You can even publish your work on Insanitek. Depending on which outlet you choose, it’s usually as easy as sending an e-mail to get an interview, which will then get your work into print.
  2. Use a Web site such as Science Codex or Science Daily. There are news release sites related to science floating around the Internet if you know where to look. These Web sites often reach a wider audience than your school, corporate, or society sites since they are free to access. The downfall is you sometimes have to write your own article and explain your research, which you may not have time for. If you are going to write it yourself, you might also think about a blog.
  3. Blogging it. Whether doing so on your own personal blog or on a platform like Science 2.0 or Insanitek, blogging is a great way to the tell the story of your research and your field within a larger context. You can really get into the story and keep a live update on anything that might be of interest. These platforms are more widely read than news release sites because they have a more relaxed tone and are great for networking.
  4. Enlist help of volunteers and museums. Volunteers love to interact and teach the public. They are a great asset to a researcher since you can teach them to teach others about your research. Volunteers also work with the public in places such as state fairs, museums, and university or corporate publicity. One of the benefits of working with volunteers and the places they work is that they often come up with family-friendly ways of showing off and explaining your research—it’s a great way to get more material for teaching the same lectures in class.
  5. Preach it. Science Cafés are a grassroots movement to bring science to the community in a relaxed, informal environment, usually with good food, drink, and conversation. These are part-lecture, part-entertainment, and all enjoyment. They are a way for a researcher to present his or her research and explain it to a general audience, then hang out and talk about it with others.

When it comes to doing your own PR, though, there is something to note: It only lasts as long as you keep reminding people your ideas exist. At least until your famous. Let’s face it, we all know of Elon Musk, Larry Page, and others that have worked their way up to doing great things. We’d even still keep track of Rosalind Franklin were she still alive. Why? Because they did something so big they achieved celebrity status that the news outlets gobbled up. Unless you have that kind of attention, you’re likely going to have to work just a little harder to get a small part of the limelight on your own work.

The good news?

It isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be to go it alone, and there are always places wanting what you have.