4 Ways Academics Can Promote Their Work (And Make the World A Better Place)
Being an academic in 2017 is difficult. If you are lucky enough to have a faculty job, it’s statistically likely that yours is not a permanent one. If you have a tenure track job, you are likely anxious about producing enough research to keep that job. And if you are tenured, you often end up wondering if all that work was worth it, feeling fatigued at just the thought of your second book.
Au fond, though, you know that your work is worth it. If it weren’t important, you would not have dedicated your life to it. It would be nice, though, if more people knew about your work and its larger importance to society. Given recent decreases in educational funding coupled with a rise of anti-intellectual sentiment in our cultural moment, it might really be more important than ever to get your work out there. It’s a challenge, however, to figure out how to promote academic work, especially when you are so busy getting, finding, and trying to keep an academic job.
Studio Muse was created to help academics reach a wider audience. Founded by inspired scholars partnering with non-academic professionals, Studio Muse works with academics to help them demonstrate the value of their expertise. Our goal is to promote public intellectualism. And we’re doing so by fostering conversations between experts who might otherwise know nothing of each other’s work. (When was the last time you heard of a critical race scholar collaborating with a software retention specialist? At Studio Muse, that was last week.)
After lots of cross-specialty conversations, here’s what we’ve come up with as the top four things you can do to increase your public profile and, of course, help foster a sorely needed public intellectual space:
- You’re good enough. Get out there.
As an academic, you are in a tight spot. You have to prove yourself to be highly knowledgeable in a specific field to others in that specific field. This wins you prestige and recognition as an expert. But then you also have to prove that what you know is important to university administrators who might have little interest in your work. Moreover, academics often need to have a public profile. Institutions of higher education are no less swayed by name recognition than other companies. And it is, in the end, the university that decides whether to hire the expert.
It doesn’t have to be hard to do this, though. Most academics are also talented educators. You know how to explain difficult concepts well—even if you might not get enough practice explaining your own research to lay audiences. A well designed website with clear descriptions of your work can be a start. Building an online presence can also help. (It’s okay to put a complicated idea into 140 characters, especially if it’s about educating the public about an important topic.)
Getting out there can change a lot. It gets new conversations going. It prevents factual knowledge from being limited to a few. And it promotes the notion that expertise is, in and of itself, valuable.
- Be bold. Change the conversation.
Academics have a few stereotypes to overcome. How many times have you heard that all academics are nerdy; that they aren’t good with people; that what they know is too arcane? Starting out by believing in the value of your expertise to the public good is a great way to challenge these stereotypes. Remember how all the “Friends” shot Ross down every time he made mention of his expertise? What if he had shot back: “No, guys, really… I can explain the origins of humankind. Here’s how that’s valuable.”
You can change the conversation by taking advice from marketing experts. What if instead of having to argue for the value of what you do based on class enrollment numbers or grant amounts, it was simply taken as fact that your work is worthwhile? Consider changing the focus from the hypothetical to the realistic. For example, instead of “studying literature is important because storytelling can be useful,” try “analyzing the way we tell stories allows us create new and better futures.” You can be your own marketer by believing in your expertise, relying on your pedagogical skills, and thinking of new ways to apply that expertise.
- Be realistic, but not pessimistic. Think bigger.
Most people who finish a Ph.D. will not have a university job. And it’s not because they aren’t good enough. It’s likely that you know someone who has a Ph.D. from Yale, a book from Harvard, and who still had to adjunct before landing a decent-paying job. Prestige is important, but today it often isn’t enough.
Here’s a question: what might we all gain by thinking of academic knowledge as having inherent social and cultural value? Expertise should not be limited to college classrooms and university laboratories. Assuming that these places are the de facto center of knowledge production and sharing might be doing us more harm than good. What happens to the expertise of the adjunct who finally decides she can’t afford to pay her bills by teaching? What is the consequence of limiting guided intellectual exploration to young adults who can afford college tuition? Considering ways to expand your audience has multiple benefits. It demonstrates the larger value of intellectual inquiry while also challenging a strained and often unjust system of financial compensation.
- You know a lot. But you don’t know it all. And that’s okay. Get help.
Smart people often feel like they have to be good at everything. And there are a lot of hats that professors have to wear. You have to teach well, administrate well, produce the most fascinating research in your field, figure out where to publish that research, and then promote that research when it gets published. It’s not realistic for one person to be good at all of those tasks. Yet, all of these jobs are on your to-do list.
Think instead about what might be done better (or faster) by someone else. What if someone else could provide you with a customized website about your book? What if someone else could advise you on the best press to choose? What if someone else could easily describe your work for a general audience? What if someone else could think with you about new and expanded audiences for your work?