Rookie Rocky: Establish your own brand

Posted on behalf of the Rookie Rocky

In the world of marketing, brands are arguably as valuable as anything else. The idea is that a distinguished brand promises the quality of service or goods that can meet the customers’ expectations.

In the world of scientific research, I wonder if it’s pretty much the same. Recently, I have been struggling to get a paper published, and it seems to take more effort to satisfy the reviewers and editors than ever before, even though I wrote the paper in exactly same way as I have for many years. The message I get is: now you can breeze through the process no more. The reviewers question everything and the editors seem to be a lot more cautious about their concerns.

As a result, I’ve started wondering whether I got an easy ride under the established “brands” of my PhD and Post-Doc supervisors. Would my work have been published had I worked for myself or someone just like me – a newly independent academic? To qualify this question, I think almost all reviewers and editors, of course including those excellent ones at Nature journals, are fair. They do not judge the merit of a manuscript by whether a novice or a Nobel laureate generated it. Good papers are good no matter who wrote it, which is something I really like about science. The trick comes when a paper is not that good, nor that bad – that’s when the marketing effects may factor in. An established scientist would certainly have a strong publishing record that backs his/her credibility, which is something that rookies have to earn. It is just like we founded a start-up company, and the first thing we need to do is to familiarize potential customers with our new brand. Continuing the analogy, it is quite reasonable that people would choose to buy Coke or Pepsi rather than Rocky-Cola. That is not something we should complain about. In some ways, I feel this is rather nice as it will provide a window to aspire to higher standards: Hopefully one day I will have my own brand that compares with those of scientists I admire, and Rocky-Cola will be something that people really enjoy.