Marketing in Science and the Research World

Marketing – the act of shaping the ideas or desires of a population to the desire of the marketer.

Science – the collective process and knowledge of describing how the world works and how to harness it for the advancement of society.

Some say marketing amounts to brain-washing, manipulating the buying habits of consumers to fulfill the goal of making profit for a company.  Many consider Science to be a linear, established collection of facts created and assembled by scientists, who have the freedom to explore and bring new discoveries to light.  In all my academic experiences, through the Bachelor’s, the Master’s the PhD, in scientific conferences on biomedical and smart material topics, I have heard el-zipppo concerning one of the most important topics of modern science – how to market it all.

The warm, cozy idealization of science is that scientists have total freedom (within ethical boundaries) to make scientific discoveries, share that knowledge with the world, and contribute to making society a better place by understanding the natural laws that govern our world.

But how is this done?

First off, science requires money.  You need resources to do science: laboratory, workers, computers, raw materials, etc.  Where does the money come from?  The money to do science comes from public and private sources.  Public means the government gives money to scientists.  In the US organizations like the NIH and NSF distribute millions every year to scientists in research institutions (like universities) to do science, make discoveries, advance society.

But who gets what?

The funding request is where the marketing starts to become important.  If your idea isn’t well marketed and clearly described, no one will give you money.  Ideal marketing buzz words change throughout the years, currently some of the best include various combinations of biomedical and nano-technology.

The committees distribute money based on their assumptions and idealization of what is good science.  Those projects get funded.  Others are ignored.  If you want money, you need to ask for it.  Generally this entails writing up a funding request, an application, explaining what the money is for and why your project is so important as to get funded.  A committee reviews that request and gives you the money.  Well, if you’re a university researcher, the university gets that money, then they will no doubt take something like half of it because the university – of course, is first and foremost, a commercial entity (secondary a learning institution).  I wouldn’t say this is such a bad thing, but in general it’s not really understood.  In some ways it’s disingenuous to write up grant proposal and submitting it without full disclosure of how much money will actually be used for research purposes and how much will be taken by the university.

If you’re a research who is dependent on public or private funding, and this description covers, well, probably almost every researcher in the world, it’s important to educate yourself on proper marketing practices.  If you’re not marketing yourself and your research well, then the exposure you receive in the academic and research communities may be very small.  Good marketing could be as simple as setting up a website with clear descriptions of your research work and contact information.  Communicate your ideas and work to a large body of people and increase your ability to work with others in your field and remain open to new avenues and research directions.

The Modern Science Economy

An economy is generally defined as a system with surpluses and shortages.? This means that things become more expensive, have more value if there are fewer of them and there is a high demand to acquire them.?So when Pentax releases a new camera, like the K10D, and a lot of consumers buy that camera, and then need lenses to go with it – but the production of lenses isn’t enough to meet the demand of consumers, the prices of lenses on the open market (like eBay) will be very high.?

Science is generally not associated with the idea of an economy.? Science is thought of as a collection of financially independent knowledge.? It is the process of discovering new ideas and enabling a better society through the use of those new discoveries.? For this reason, the education of scientists and engineers generally doesn’t focus on economic or financial topics, with the exception of a few required classes here and there.? Certainly, there is little push to integrate economic ideals into the research process.

I visited a Basics in Management course last summer, and it took about five seconds to realize how one dimensional my pervious engineering education at Michigan State University had been.? The need for scientists to be well-rounded interdisciplinary students increases every year.? While connections between different technical areas are focused on such as: computers-biology, mechanical-materials, chemistry-physics, etc-etc, the idea of applying economic principles to the scientific process are generally ignored.

Research scientists are not exempt from the economic laws of society.? Sound management, marketing, and financing strategies are essentially for any research lab.

First off: Management

There’s an implied fallacy that the primary job of an academic professor is to do research and make scientific discoveries.? 20 or 30 years ago this may have been true, but the modern professor is first and foremost a manager. Understanding this concept and running your research lab according to sound management principles is essential to building a successful, sustainable research lab.

Most important: The Research Economy

An economy is a balance of surpluses and shortages, inside there’s competition between rats to win the race.? In the research world there’s a limited amount of available money, which is distributed through a biased, limited number of funding sources.? At any given time many different research labs are applying for the same funding.? The amount of awarded money depends on how well the submitted proposal was marketed.

Profit: The Product of Research

What is the product of a research lab?? Publications and know-how. Ideally the product of a research lab is pure knowledge, but knowledge is essentially useless if not effectively communicated.? How is this done?? Via publication of research results in peer reviewed journals.? Publications determine what the impact of a researcher’s worth is on the global scientific community.? So a basic question the manager of a research should be asking is:

“How can I streamline scientific production and increase profits?”

Profits in this case means the generation of publications and patents, since these are some of the main factors in increasing institutional funding for the coming years.

You could be a research scientist, a photographer, a blogger, a burger flipper, a teacher, a cab driver – whatever you do in life, learning and applying economic principles to your activities will put you in the position of understanding the world and lend more freedom to where you want to go in life.