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Scientists: Is Modesty the Best Policy?

Posted by Mary Canady June 23rd, 2009 .
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I recently looked over a company presentation for a friend and noticed something that I see a lot from scientists: she was being too modest in stating her reputation and abilities. When I pointed it out, it seemed as though I was suggesting that she should brag, a fate worse than death it appeared. Now, we all knew the jerk in grad school who acted like s/he can and did do everything, winning the favor of the advisor and not giving credit to others in the lab. I am not suggesting that scientists should overstate their abilities, but rather, be more confident and clearly communicate their skills and how they can benefit others.

I see this change in attitude being beneficial at many levels. On a personal level, scientists should think about what they’re good at early and often, and how to communicate it (also, if distinguishing talents don’t emerge, that needs to be worked on as well!). This is good for a scientist in developing his or her scientific progress as well as landing a job that fits well and positions them for maximum growth. See Comprendia’s Biotechnology Marketing 101: You First presentation for more hints on finding and communicating your ‘value proposition.’

Additionally, I see biotechnology as a whole benefiting from more confident, self-realized scientists. If companies find it easy to identify qualified candidates, either because they clearly post their abilities on LinkedIn or give great interviews, they save time and end up with employees who are a great fit and can communicate well. I also see scientists at companies being too modest at all levels, it doesn’t always ‘go away’ when a scientist leaves academia or reaches upper management. See Comprendia’s Biotechnology Marketing 101: Your Company for more details on clearly defining and communicating the value proposition of your company. Your business, science, and employees will all benefit when it is clear what your company excels at.

Who benefits when scientists are too modest? I can’t think of anyone. As long as you give credit where credit is due, and help others, you should realize that knowing and communicating your talents is the best way to advance the field. If you’re worried that you’re exaggerating, by all means ask for advice from some colleagues. Any fears about appearing too arrogant will likely be allayed by people who know you or your company, and they may even tell you that you’re still understating your abilities!

I sometimes feel as though I’m on the ‘other side’ of science since I concentrate on marketing, but I think I’ve got a good perspective on the importance of communication for success in biotechnology and life sciences. Success by any one of us means more success for all of us. Remember that many younger scientists are benefiting and learning from your science and your achievements–why understate them? As life scientists, we don’t have a Hippocratic Oath regarding our responsibilities to society, but maybe we should. Feel free to leave your ideas for one below!