Promotion as a Moral Obligation

My amazing colleague (seriously, I am so lucky to work with her), Andrea Denton (@michigandrea), and I taught the latest iteration of our Altmetrics class on Thursday, October 8th. If you’re interested, you can view the slide deck on Slideshare. It was a small class, but a very good one: in addition to feeling that we’d helped those who attended with exactly what they wanted, we were told that the Chair of P&T (who attended one of our first classes on the topic two years ago) had included altmetrics in a presentation the day before.

I want to be clear that the P&T committee at our institution is NOT including altmetrics as a measure for consideration, but the fact that the Chair thought it noteworthy enough to include in one of his presentation, was striking to us. And, ok, we might have given ourselves a pat on the back for being the ones who introduced him to the concept ;)

As cool as that is, it’s not what I want to address today; rather, I want to discuss the idea of promotion as a moral obligation. And not promotion in the sense of Promotion & Tenure, but in the sense of self-promotion, which I know is anathema to many.

Here’s what made this idea crystallize for me:

We always begin the class by going around the room and asking each attendee which department he/she is from & why they they’re attending the class. One of our class attendees said (and I’m paraphrasing),”I know that being active on social media is important, and I’m jealous of my colleagues who are getting their names out there. I just don’t want to take time away from my real work. Isn’t there anyone who can do this FOR me? Someone who can promote me, and tell the world about what I’m doing?”

Since I began proselytizing about reputation management and online identity, I’ve heard many variations of this, mostly from clinicians who lament that they became doctors in order to practice medicine and not social media. I have all the sympathy in the world for this, truly. And, frankly, I’m surprised that more departments haven’t hired someone to oversee their social media, monitor physician rating sites, and to promote the great work of their members. It seems like a no-brainer to me, especially when you consider that the impact of patient ratings continues to climb. But the fact is that most departments DON’T have someone doing this, putting the onus onto individuals.

But there’s something more at stake when you’re not there on social media, and that’s the fact that YOU aren’t there on social media. Sure, it’d be great to have someone tweeting about the paper that you just published, and posting on Facebook about the grant that you just secured (and of course updating your ResearchGate, ORCID, etc, profiles), but YOU: your brain, your heart, your beliefs, your connections, your knowledge, your experience– all of that would be missing. No one is a substitute for all of those things that make up YOU. No one else can engage on your topic of expertise the way that you can. Someone hired to promote you may be fantastic at that, but they don’t have your discipline-specific knowledge, and they will miss opportunities to engage with others in your field and to build partnerships with them.

I’ve discussed my Party Metaphor many times over the years, as well as the fact that sometimes you and no one else, are the best person for a position, and that holds true; however, this idea has more urgency for me now.


Because we live in an age in which we can communicate at lightning speeds with people around the world. The potential for collaboration- to save lives through knowledge partnerships- is unprecedented. Your participation on a platform that provides you the means for that communication could literally save lives.

Yes, we all need to showcase ourselves in our best light and to continually demonstrate our worth. But there’s more to promotion than that. Being connected and collaborative is a moral obligation that we owe our species and the other species with whom we share this world.

Is the world set up to reward collaboration and openness? Not really. Have strides been made towards creating that kind of world. Sort of.

I realize that everyone has to make money and that, for some, making money depends on getting the grant that numerous people/departments are going after. It’s set up to be competitive, not collaborative. And I don’t blame you for competing. But I believe with all of my heart that we can all find ways to collaborate for our collective good, even in the midst of competitive environments.

For instance, it’s a small thing, and in no way on the scale of the work that, say, pandemic researchers do, but my belief in this is the reason that I make all of my slide decks available to anyone who wants them, both here and here. In the interest of self-promotion, I do ask that people credit me and not, you know, blatantly steal the content that I create, but I want that information to reach and help as many people as possible. It’s a small thing, but how far has that small thing reached?

Interactions that I’ve had on social media have lead to collaborative opportunities between myself and other people; they’ve lead to my being able to introduce people to each other who have gone on to have collaborative opportunities with each other. In small ways, those interactions have changed our field.

Imagine if every researcher/clinician/librarian/engineer were involved in social media, sharing their work and making themselves open to collaboration and solution-finding. What on earth COULDN’T we do?

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