This is the first of a series of posts I’ll be writing on Academic Public Relations (PR). The thrust of these posts is to talk about Academic PR as a set of strategies for academics, young (graduate student, PhD candidates, etc.) and old (ABDs, post-docs, sessionals, etc.), who are looking to get their work noticed. All major post-secondary institutions will have PR departments, but this isn’t Academic PR. A university’s PR team governs their institution’s image in order to recruit students and increase public awareness, but Academic PR is the practice of PR by academic professionals seeking to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities.
The job placement rate of a given graduate program directly relates to that program’s prestige. And more prestige leads to more funding, more industry partnerships, and more growth in the form of course offerings, faculty specializations, and scholarships. So it behooves academic institutions to teach career strategies, doesn’t it?
You’ll recall an earlier post where I interviewed Carleton University’s Dr. Lara Varpio and she outlined the importance of networking for PhD students nearing the end of their studies. Dr Varpio told me that effective networking helped her land her a job, and that effective networking leads PhD students and post-docs to the coveted markers of academic success: publications, fellowships, scholarships, and, most importantly, jobs.
Graduate students are told to disseminate their work at conferences and to network; but they aren’t taught to put themselves on the radar of potential venues for their work. And while Dr Varpio had in mind the more traditional form of networking (face to face at academic conferences), it is my contention that graduate programs and graduate students fail to teach the networking possibilities afforded by the internet, i.e., Academic PR.
So in this sense, Academic PR remains the hidden curriculum of graduate studies: there aren’t any courses taught on this subject, but you need to understand it if you hope to get a job. Why is this?
It could be that the practice of Academic PR is distinctly unacademic. The academy is about pure objectivity while PR is about overt and covert persuasion; the academy is about meritorious knowledge dissemination while PR is about strategic knowledge dissemination; the academy is about research and reporting while PR is about pragmatic, human connections. But the fact remains that many successful academics are practicing Academic PR, and the next generation of academics should learn to do the same.
What do you think? I can see this post generating a lot of disagreement, and that’s great! I’d love to hear your feedback in the form of a comment below.