Building Your Personal Brand: Tips and Tools for Scientists

Dec. 27, 2016

Picture of Marquita QuallsWhat is your personal brand? Have you spent time purposefully shaping it, or has it evolved on its own? Do you wonder what a "personal brand" even is? One of the great things about the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) is that it combines scientific sessions and professional development opportunities for students. At ABRCMS 2016, Dr. Marquita Qualls of Entropia Consulting presented a session on building your personal brand.

A chemist by training who spent about a decade working in pharma (first at the bench and later in business and management roles), Dr. Qualls now runs her own consulting and coaching firm for scientists and others. She emphasizes that students don't have to wait until graduation to begin building their brands.

Dr. Qualls defines personal branding as differentiating yourself by promoting your unique value. It's how you're perceived by the community and includes your personality and past performance. Being a technical expert or a great communicator is part of your brand. "Your brand is more than goggles and a lab coat," says Dr. Qualls. Those things don't distinguish you, but your unique skills and personality do.

Why should you brand yourself? Maybe you have underutilized talents and skills, or perhaps your work style is often misunderstood. If you're looking for a job (or a graduate school), and want to present your potential, you need to show that you have the skills they're looking for, including non-technical ones like conflict management and decision making.

Dr. Qualls offers three key components of personal branding:

  • Who - knowing who you are
  • What - knowing what your target audience/community is, like graduate programs or industry
  • How - Choosing your approach, whether it be social media, a paper CV, etc.

You don't want to have too many brands, and your brand should be about who you genuinely are. As Dr. Qualls says, "You're not trying to be a chameleon." So choose one target audience and direct your efforts towards them.

A good way to begin building your brand is by using SWOT analysis.

  • Strengths are what you can do better than anyone else, your network, your achievements, and your values.
  • Weaknesses are what you don't like or do. Are you lacking resources, do you procrastinate?
  • Opportunities make you more competitive, and include trends and unmet needs in your discipline.
  • Threats are the obstacles you face, like competition or changing demand for your expertise.

Complete your SWOT analysis and ask yourself if you do things that will cause people to perceive you in the way you want to be perceived. You can also solicit honest feedback from others about how they perceive you. Then adjust your branding efforts as necessary.

Finally, as Dr. Qualls says, remember that "Personal branding is not about gaining celebrity status. It's about gaining influence and credibility in a specific area."

ABRCMS is sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD) under award number T36GM073777 and managed by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). 

Author: Bethany Adamec

Bethany Adamec
Bethany Adamec is a Science Education Specialist at ASM, where she communicates about ASM’s work in student and faculty professional development, supports the ASM Education Board, and works with colleagues to promote evidence-based education reform.