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The Entrepreneurial Scientist

I still remember the first time I searched the Internet. It was 1996 – a time when dinosaurs, such as Netscape, AltaVista, and AOL, ruled the virtual world. A couple of years later, during my PhD, I personally contributed (very slightly) to the implosion of the music industry (apologies to Lars Ulrich). Indeed, our faculty had the dubious honor of crashing the university’s main servers for the first time, simply by downloading MP3s from Napster…

Just as Napster revolutionized the music industry, quite remarkable things are occurring in all areas. Today, platforms rather than websites are beginning to dominate the virtual world. SlideShare, for example, is a community for sharing presentations online (which I like a lot), hosting more than ten million presentations, documents and infographics. And with over 60 million unique visitors and 130 million monthly page views, it ranks in the world’s top 150 most popular websites. Due to this popularity, each uploaded presentation possesses the intrinsic capability to rank highly in Google searches. Triggered (though skeptical) by this potential, I uploaded a presentation on gas chromatography carrier gases last year. If you type ‘van Deemter’ in Google you will most likely find it on the first page. The result? My presentation, “The van Deemter Indoctrination”, has been viewed more than 2600 times – something that would not have happened if I had only published it on my own blog. And for a small annual fee, you can become a “pro” user with access to analytics that track presentation performance and trace viewers.

Compare this approach to the current state of scientific publishing and the contrast cannot be more vivid. Articles are generally published six months after submission, authors still have to pay and sign away copyright. And article-level analytics information? No such thing. Clearly, twenty-first century science would greatly benefit from a serious shift in gear.

We are all well aware that competition is getting fiercer by the year. As an example, in the year 2000, only six articles with co-authors from Chinese institutions were published in Nature journals. By 2012, Chinese scientists accounted for 8.5 percent of articles. That’s a staggering increase of 5000 percent! At the same time, the global financial crisis has put severe pressure on scientific funding. Europe has been hit particularly hard; the Horizon 2020 research program suffered a budget cut of over 12 percent before its acceptance by the European Council. The general public is not always guaranteed to be supportive of scientific endeavors either; did you know that only 20 percent of Americans believe that human beings evolved from less advanced life forms without the guidance of a God? (In fact, 37 percent believe that God created human beings in their current form in the last ten thousand years. Source: YouGov.)

And yet, I remain hopeful. New approaches, such as crowdsourcing and open access journals, remain marginal, but are generating momentum that even classic scientific publishers cannot deny. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Elsevier proudly announcing a new service called ‘AudioSlides’. I immediately checked the website: “AudioSlides are short, webcast-style presentations that are shown next to the online article on ScienceDirect”. It’s basically a low-tech version of SlideShare that gives authors the opportunity to present their research in their own words, helping readers to quickly understand what a paper is about, to appreciate its relevance.

The consequences for science practitioners are clear. Standing out and getting noticed is the key message. In order to do so, it’s crucial to stop thinking like a typical scientist, get out of the lab and start acting like an entrepreneur. Not for you? Just take a look at these five qualities of a successful entrepreneur (2):

  1. Unwavering passion
  2. Open mind towards learning new things
  3. Desire to be an expert
  4. Forward-looking approach
  5. Constant flow of ideas

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? So start marketing yourself; design yourself a logo, write a blog, and make beautiful presentations. Think outside the box and consider crowdsourcing for your next project. You’ll be an innovator, no doubt, but isn’t that what we all ought to be? The status quo is no longer an option.

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About the Author
Author Joeri Vercammen
Joeri Vercammen

“I have never felt like a true scientist,” says Joeri Vercammen, “It just takes so long to get things done. I consider myself more as a facilitator. I bring the right people together to get things done. Science, technology or marketing? They’re all mutually important to me.” No wonder Joeri enjoys working at Interscience, a Benelux- based distributor of GC and GC-MS instrumentation. “I advise our teams on how to differentiate themselves by applying smart chromatography”. With his team at the “The Uninspired Scientist”, he develops training programs to make scientists and their institutions think more like entrepreneurs.

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