YOUR OWN BRAND: THE (IN)VISIBILITY OF ACADEMICS

To my surprise, my school invited me to attend a seminar by writer and coach Neus Arquès addressed to making our personal brands more solid and visible. Having turned herself into a self-employed consultor, Arquès claims that she was one of the introducers in Spain of the idea of the personal brand, beyond, I assume, the world of show business and celebrity. She helps her clients to turn their skills into recognizable personal brands as a first step to publicize professional projects and attract, in their turn, clients. I was invited to join her seminar, it seems, for my efforts to make academic life visible with this blog, my e-books with students, and my collaborations with non-academic fandom associations.

In the end, I didn’t learn from Arquès’s seminar what I wanted to learn: how I can break the barrier that is preventing me from publishing books in Spanish, and by that I mean both academic volumes and essays for a general readership in one of the Planeta publishing houses. Arquès herself issues her books through a publishing house attached to Planeta, so why not I? However, the advice she gave me was that I need to be patient and try as many publishers as possible (I have gone through fifteen already trying to publish my book on villainy in Spanish) and, perhaps, disguise the academic nature of my work. Deep sigh.

At some point I apparently missed the train, because even though my first two books were in Spanish (with a publisher whose name I won’t even mention), I have been unable to secure the attentions of other more serious Spanish publishers (I mean without paying to be published). In contrast, many of us in English Studies in Spain are publishing regularly with top academic publishers Routledge, Palgrave, Brill and other Anglophone university presses (not Penguin Random House but, well, good enough). I see, besides, that most books currently popular in Spain within my own field of research, Masculinity Studies, are not written by scholars but by journalists with a significant media profile (see La nueva masculinidad de siempre: Capitalismo, deseo y falofobias by Antonio J. Rodríguez). It’s tremendously frustrating. A friend tells me that first-rank academics are now self-publishing in Spain even on Amazon, which is certainly something I have been considering. In fact, I have just self-published a new book in my university’s digital repository, of which more next week.

I digress, though. My theme today is how academic life forces all academics to turn into personal brands even when they don’t know this is how things work. Arquès explained to us that you may understand the value of your personal brand by checking how you are mentioned on the internet; this is what she called ‘reputation’, warning this is a word few like. I happen to like it. Reputation used to be the prestige attached to outstanding scholars usually thanks to a well-known book (I’m talking about the Humanities). Reputation used to be what made others scholars and even some illustrated students exclaim ‘oh, yes…!’ when a name was mentioned. It still is the cause by which one gets invitations to lecture. Reputation, however, is now being destroyed, if it has not been already destroyed, by metrics, accreditation processes, and other types of measuring standards (I am amazed by how people insist on winning awards and prizes, when its sheer abundance devalues them to much). At any rate, since competition is so fierce in academia, a basic tenet is that you need to build your reputation (new or old style), which is why every academic is indeed a personal brand, whether they know it or not.

A brand, in case I am not explaining myself well, is what makes a business publicly recognizable as a concept. Please, don’t confuse this with a logo, though of course they are related. Apple, as a brand, is the concept that Steve Jobs developed to identify a set of technological products and the strategies to develop them; the logo is the famous bitten apple (Jobs used to work picking apples in his hippie youth, hence the fixation). Brand and logo connect in a rather awful way: ‘to brand’ means to mark with a burning iron a symbol on the hide of cattle, so that the owner can be identified. Slaves and criminals also used to be branded. The brand burnt into animals and persons is the originator of the logo which companies use to identify themselves, so next time you proudly wear a t-shirt with any commercial logo on it, consider how you contribute to your own enslavement and feel treated like cattle. Harsh, I know. Particularly if you think that even universities are brands and have logos. I am attending these days a course on how to maintain the Department’s website and you can be sure that the matter of the correct UAB logo to use has already been raised.

So, even though we may not have individual logos (hey, that’s an idea…), we scholars are personal brands since we must put a great deal of effort on the constant promotion of our talents and work. This comes quite as a shock when rookie teachers are hired, for not all have the skills that self-promotion requires. I have seen some individuals progress from being doctoral students to full professors in a little more than a decade, on the basis of what you might call unbounded ambition, whereas others initially enjoying the same scholarship have even failed to complete their PhD dissertation, soon losing their bearings.

Nobody tells you openly what the rules are, so you need to grasp them as you work on. You are generally told that you need to make your work known through conferences and publications, that you need to join a research group, that you should join Academia.edu and ResearchGate, but these is general advice. It is then up to each scholar to work out how to engage in effective networking, what publishing houses and journals give you more visibility (i.e. citations), and how to position yourself strategically in relation to the job category you aspire to, vying with others in the same Department or elsewhere. Even so, obstacles arise or errors are committed in the plan. You may have dreamed of being a catedrático in your favourite city only to become a catedrático but in a city you hate and be stranded there for decades until you retire.

I referred in another post, years ago, to the figure of the obscure professor and the difficulties of being visible and my impression is that nothing much has changed. I dutifully joined Academia.edu and ResearchGate and this has generated a variety of problems: I need to keep track of my publications in both sites apart from my own website and the UAB’s Research Portal, I keep on getting requests for publications which are copyrighted and I’m not supposed to circulate, and I don’t have time to keep up with all my colleagues upload. I don’t know if my presence in these networks has really increased the number of my citations, but one thing I can say is that even though I am doing all I can to make my work visible, in a recent application for a group research grant my impact was calculated on the basis of Scopus, for which I hardly exist since I am not a scientist. I felt so deeply humiliated… How Scopus and academic reputation combine is beyond me.

A quite intriguing aspect of Arquès’s seminar is that she insisted that being visible does not necessarily mean being present in social media. I agree: you can have a Twitter account, as I do, and keep a very low profile, as I do. I have never got the hang of social media and I am not really making any efforts to learn because of the immense amount of noise they generate. It certainly makes more sense to publicize academic work in Academia.edu or ResearchGate than on Instagram. I know that some primary and secondary school teachers are very popular TikTokers, but I don’t see my academic peers or myself capable of generating much interest in that way – perhaps I should try to have my students work with me on a Victorian Literature TikTok channel… Yes, I know, not really… So basically, Arquès meant using personal websites wisely and making sure you release information in your social media (academic or otherwise) that enhances your impact. Always considering that this takes time stolen to research.

I am thinking, to conclude, that whereas Neus Arquès’s seminar did help me to understand in which ways I already operate as a brand and in which other ways I don’t (can’t, won’t), I would like to be in a seminar with a really big academic name who could teach me how they have gained their visibility. On the other hand, as matters stand now, with Elon Musk about to buy Twitter and erase its already extremely limited rules of engagement to express opinion, being visible only means being vulnerable. I like passing on information and ideas to share in debate, that’s all, as I assume most scholars do. Any other ambition in the Humanities is just quite silly (fame, money… come on!). It just annoys me that others passing on information and ideas are not academically as qualified, though they are certainly clever at making themselves visible. Perhaps the key word in all my ranting today is not, after all, reputation but recognition and, why not?, envy.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. The Spanish version of the blog is available from https://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

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