Researcher or marketing drone?

In my previous blog post, I defined research as the need to do great things. What I had in mind was quite broad, ranging from someone who does research to build a prettier garden, to the writer who does research for his next book, and including the artist who tries to come up with a new painting. I defined research as a need, and not an action. That is because research is a state. More precisely, it cannot be defined as a set of actions one willfully takes.

What is your greatest frustration about your work? What is your greatest victory? If they have to do with recognition, you are a marketing drone and not a bona fide researcher. Do not worry, there are many like you.

Daniel Lemire, "Researcher or marketing drone?," in Daniel Lemire's blog, April 7, 2008.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

7 thoughts on “Researcher or marketing drone?”

  1. I’m going to have to take exception to that last sentence. There are several reasons for this, but I’ll focus on one: “that’s easy for a tenured professor to say”.

    I love research, but I’m very much aware that my ability to do it during office hours could be taken away from me at the end of my current contract, just as I was aware that it could have be taken away from me at the end of my PhD studies. In order to prevent this dreaded outcome, I need recognition. The steps needed to get recognition are an annoying distraction from my research, something I dislike doing and aren’t particularly good at. Thus, it is an immense frustration when it goes wrong, (and I have to focus more on it to get things back on track) and a big relief when it goes right (and I thus I can return my focus to actual research).

    Furthermore, the recognition game is a bit more black-and-white than research. The rewards and frustrations of research tend – to me at least – to be more gradual and more gentle, whereas an acceptance or rejection comes all at once. Thus even if I mostly care about the science itself, it may be possible that the single highest high or lowest low comes from the recognition game.

    Thus I have no shame in saying that my greatest frustration to date was the rejection of my first paper, and yet calling myself a bone fide researcher.

  2. I’m still going to argue here, as I don’t think its a binary distinction. Firstly, pedantically, it’s not about survival. Not getting another contract at the end of my postdoc won’t make me starve – if anything, it would do my earning potential a world of good.

    Secondly, more importantly, what’s the point of fighting to stay in the game if you have to lose the very reason for being there? This is where I take a bit of a stand: I do out-of-hours work when I am fired up with curiosity, and when I’m stuck in the land of papers and PowerPoint I’m desperate to get out of the door as soon as my contracted hours are over. I reckon that if I can’t keep this attitude and still succeed, then a scientific career wasn’t worth having anyway.

  3. Secondly, more importantly, what’s the point of fighting to stay in the game if you have to lose the very reason for being there?

    Maybe you got my post wrong. I did not argue that I was somehow pure, and that all of the rest of you were just marketing drones. I need to do some marketing otherwise, soon enough, they will cut my research grants and make it more difficult for more to pursue my interests.

    When do you know that you have lost the war and become all fluff and no substance? When your work focuses on marketing. That’s when!

    It is a fine line.

  4. OK, fair enough. I maintain my point about how day-to-day experience is a better measure than the highest highs and the lowest lows, but by and large we now seem to be agreeing.

  5. To take the other extreme, very few of us would do research in a vacuum where we produced results that did not get published or presented. So we all must have *some* of the “marketing bug” (if you must call it that) in us.

  6. Some amount of personal recognition is crucial not only to “stay in the game,” but also to provide outside validation of your work.

    That said, I feel most vital as a researcher when I care only about the success of the research, and not about how or even whether I am personally recognized for it. Conversely, I feel most frustrated when I see the best and brightest researchers not focusing on what I believe to be the most important problems.

    Perhaps this is just a more nuanced form of egotism.

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