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.

Free Source Photography and Copyright

What if photography were treated like academic research?  It’s a logical question for a academic researcher with a passion for photography to ask.  As a scientist, one might be driven by the challenge of discovery and a desire to understand the world.  It’s also why many people climb, travel, write and do photography.  Pondering the notion of free science, intellectual property and copyrights begs the question:

"What if research were constrained in the same way that copyrights protect photos?"

In general, I am of the opinion that if the modern research process were treated in a similar way that modern photography is, we’d still be riding horses and crossing the Atlantic in sail boats. 

Some might say that photographs are just collections of data points.  Are they really so different from the graphs of data points found in academic journals like Science and Nature?  The scientist knows that although they’ve discovered something, it’s only useful if turned into a technology for people to use.  I know that unless I use the photos that I create, they will serve no purpose and will be lost to obscurity.

Here’s the basics, research institutions employ people like scientists.  Money comes from governments or industry and is assigned based on project proposals, grant applications, etc.  So maybe I get $80,000 to run a research project to develop active-wing technologies and then publish my results in a peer-reviewed journal, or patent the new design or process and translate these new ideas into technologies which benefit society.  Articles in journals might include anywhere from 10-100 references, so you see the road-map of how discoveries were brought about.

There exists an ideal, that every small advancement in science brings the collective of society closer to the stage of enlightenment where we understand the universe on the same level as the gods.  Ah, ok, that’s a bit much – the point is that we’re always moving forward, and that science should belong to and be freely used by everyone in society.  So when Einstein discovers and proposes the Theory of Relativity, it can be used by scientists in the US, Germany, Japan, Korea, China, Brazil, wherever – to develop technologies which give society more freedom.

So in general, a scientific discovery belongs to the people.  Old discoveries are used to feed the creative process and bring about new discoveries.  A photograph belongs to the photographer.  The content is copyrighted and can (in theory) only be used by the originator.  Everyone else in society must start from zero.

Like with photography, there’s literally millions of ideas sitting around in journal articles, many uncredited, never used, obscure to society.  There’s even more photos and images on hard drives, in shoe-boxes, laying somewhere no one remembers – being useless.

Are the photos created just to exist, or to be used?  How is defining and basing my work off of Einstein’s that much different from using an image from another photographer to create a new work?  Forget the laws and complications we’ve made for society.  Very few ideas are new, in general, everything is based off of something else.  Even Picasso based his work on off of other artists.  Who was the originator of Cubism?  How has society benefited?

I produce the images for this website because that’s how I want to use them.  I don’t want other people profiting from my images, but its pointless to horde images on a hard drive and waste energy worrying that someone is stealing them.  If one of my images inspires a viewer to advance and challenge their own ambitions, I think that’s a good thing.  If a photo is taken and used to in a Pepsi ad without my approval, that would piss me off.  If Pepsi initiates an ad campaign based off of my photos, but redo it all in a new photo shoot – I’m generally ok with that.  I wouldn’t see it as loosing money, because I’m not in the business of photography, I’m in the hobby of it.

"Ahh but it’s my vision, it’s my work it’s part of my soul.  Curse the bastard who uses my photo or copies my photo flare!"

Copyrights for songs belong to artists and musicians, and corporations, but Michael Stipe openly tells fans that there are songs from REM that belong to them now – because it’s the fans who are actually using them, who make the music live.

The craziness of copyright protection is often fueled by wannabe lawyers on photo forums, or posts on The Online Photographer.  Horror stories of photos used without permission, and the dream of big-money settlements – but largely is manifested as wasted emotions.

What if photographs were allowed to evolve like technologies do?  Imagine a world where art and science were equally free for those in society to use for our collective artistic advancement.

Imagine the explosion of creativity we could unleash on the world if we removed the constraints we’ve placed upon the creative process.