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Sep 4, 2018

On shameless self-promotion

I had a number of interesting conversations about whether faculty should promote their own work, and how to do that. On one hand, the ethos of Academia seems to include an assumption of dignified expectance that someone else will discover us and recognize our achievements. On the other hand, some people do promote their own achievements. It could have been a matter of individual choice, individual style, right?

Yes and no. Many individual choices taken as an aggregate almost always become something more systemic. It looks like women in academia tend to be much less likely to engage in self-promotion, much more hesitant to share their publications, awards, recognition on social media, much less likely to reach out to their universities and their societies to help with promotion. It is in part, because women have been socialized to be less assertive and more modest. In part, it is because our culture rebukes self-promoters, and women often face much higher informal sanctions than men do.

From the institutional point of view, self-promotion is a good all around. Academic book publishers are in a long-term decline, and most have no advertising budget. They rely on authors themselves. Journal articles have never been really promoted, but there are more journals now, and it is difficult to get noticed and cited, even when work is excellent. (My advice is to upload a free copy of your paper somewhere; most journals are OK with that. Google Scholar will eventually pick on the free copy, and free access copies are more likely to be cited). Our service and teaching achievements are even harder to get out there, because traditional mass media are not that interested in good stories. We live in the age of social media, where warm contacts are much more effective than traditional advertisement. Every time one of our faculty members gets noticed, Sac State and our college bask in his or her reflected glory. It helps our public image and invites potential partnerships. This is why we really try to help with such efforts, and will share any good stories on our social media and beyond. Yet we need to hear about the story first, and that is where many faculty members are hesitant to share, for the reasons I described. It is impolite to brag; more so for some people than for others.

The best thing we can do is create a culture where sharing is encouraged not just the dean but also by peers. Let your friends and colleagues know – it is totally fine to send a link to a new paper, to take a picture at a community event, to share news about a new amazing class activity you tried this semester. You are not going to be called an showoff behind your back. Your story contributes to a larger narrative of who we are as a college. We will like and share your posts, read your papers, help you promote yourself. You are not doing it for yourself – you are doing it for us all.

Is there a limit after which it becomes more annoying than useful? – Yes, probably, but it is a very small risk. It is better to be a little annoying, than completely obscure.

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