SfN18: Celebrating Women in Science Luncheon

Guest post by Kayt Sukel 

Type “self-promotion” into the search field of Dictionary.com and you’ll be rewarded with the following definition:

self-pro·mo·tion, noun, plural noun: self-promotions

  1. the action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one’s activities, especially in a forceful way.

“she’s guilty of criminally bad taste and shameless self-promotion”

Dr. Yasmin Hurd speaks during the Celebration of Women in Neuroscience luncheon. Photo courtesy of Fiona Randall

Yasmin Hurd, the Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience and the director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, said it’s a definition that can make you take a step back.

“The word for me is a bit of a problem,” she said, as part of the panel discussion regarding the art and science of effective self-promotion at the Celebration of Women in Neuroscience luncheon at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting this week. “Did I get asked to present today because of my criminally bad taste? I hope not!”

Hurd, along with moderator Courtney Miller, a professor of neuroscience at the Scripps Institute and fellow panelists Emilie Marcus, executive strategy officer at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, and Susan Magsamen, executive director of the International Arts and Mind Lab at the Johns Hopkins University, took to the stage to inspire and educate women neuroscientists of all ages and stages—and show them that self-promotion does not have to be the dirty word so many make it out to be.

Miller introduced the session by offering why self-promotion, especially for women career scientists, is so important.

“Again and again, we see studies highlighting gender disparities in our field,” she said. “But one way to combat those disparities is to make ourselves more visible. And that requires women in scientific careers to know how to effectively self-promote their research—and, of course, themselves.”

There are many way to tackle self-promotion; Miller asked each panelist to discuss their own approaches to publicizing their work. Hurd said that focusing on her differences, personally and professionally, helped her learn to feel more comfortable standing out from the crowd.

“Because I am different, I am visible,” she said. “And that allows me to be a role model for other scientists who may not have seen people like me—like themselves—before.”

Beyond that, however, Hurd also said that she allows her scientific mission and her passion for her research guide her promotional efforts, without having to be too forceful.

“Here’s the thing: I love my research. I can talk about it all day long,” she said. “Self-promotion became much easier when it wasn’t about me but about promoting the research I love.”

Emilie Marcus seconded the importance of passion and sharing your enthusiasm with your fellow scientists and the greater community. But, after sharing her journey from neuroscience student to CEO of Cell Press to her new role at Geffen School of Medicine, she added that you may not always end up where you might expect in your career and that’s okay. She said her own path, and her ability to share the varied skills she’s acquired over the years, has opened up amazing opportunities along the way.

“It’s important to be resilient and do things that may put you out of your comfort zone. It’s a good way to grow and to learn,” she said. “And it’s a good way to find new ways to promote yourself, too.”

The panel concluded with remarks from Susan Magsamen. As a woman who straddles the worlds of science and industry, she said that the art of self-promotion really is about letting “your work show up for you.”

“Pull up a chair. You deserve a seat at the table. Even though it may not seem like it at the time, it’s the incremental work that gets you where you need to be,” she said. “It doesn’t happen in the flick of a switch. It’s beautiful and it’s hard—but, in the end, it’s worth it.”

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