Business cards for scientists? Of course!

This past week I delivered two seminars for the School of Medicine at Harvard University. At the end of my first seminar something surprising happened.

As you might expect, after seminars, participants often come up to ask questions they didn’t want to ask in front of the entire group. Of course, I answer what I can and if I have supplemental materials that pertains to the question, I usually offer to send the person more information. I always ask for the person’s business card so that I can follow-up with the requested information.

Well, this typical scenario played out again at Harvard, except, this time, each time I asked for a card, the response was “I don’t have a business card.” (It wasn’t just that they didn’t have the cards WITH them–they DIDN’T HAVE business cards at all! Well, to be fair, one guy did have a card, but he was the exception.)

I thought to myself…”What??? No business cards???” The audience was made up of postdoctoral researchers, who by definition, either are currently looking for a job or very soon will be seeking a new position. Hadn’t someone explained the need for business cards?

So, why do I think postdocs (for that matter – anyone trying to advance their career) should absolutely have a business card? Because to most, the very presence of a business card means that a person is serious about their career and they recognize the value of looking professional in all interactions. Besides cards are so cheap (you can get 100 full-color cards for approximately US$15) there is no reason NOT to have them.

So what does a scientific researcher do with business cards?

First and foremost, a card should be exchanged anytime there is an exchange of ideas, a possible collaboration. Certainly, you should be handing them out during poster presentations, after conference talks, during professional meetings with people outside of your lab. You should even consider giving a stack of cards to you mentor/collaborators so that they can network on your behalf. Of course, business cards can also be used to conveniently leave a note or to easily provide your contact info–you’re never stuck looking around for a pen and paper. (For a more unusual use of your business card, read about speed-networking for science geeks).

Those early in their career can also use business cards to make important contacts. When you hand someone a business card, “card courtesy”, dictates that they give you one in return. For senior people, it’s almost a reflex. You can take advantage of this by giving your card to senior research professionals (you won’t have to “work up the nerve” to approach them for their contact information). Simply hand them your card at an appropriate moment.

So what exactly should your card look like?

First and foremost, it should be simple and professional. (For inspiration, take a look at the professional layouts chosen by the postdocs at University of Pennsylvania or perhaps you prefer a more unusual approach). It should be on standard weight card stock and should include the full color logo of your institution. Of course, you’ll want to include your full contact information.

If you have a famous boss, be sure to include “Famous Name Laboratory” in the address of the institution. You’ll also want to include your cell phone and permanent email (institutional email accounts are fleeting) address so that someone can connect with you during personal time or even a few years later.

Finally, you’re card should have a link to your professional blog/website (If you don’t have one, these are free and easy to set-up and are also a job search networking essential) that includes links to your work, your updated CV, and your professional frequently asked questions document.

Every time you meet someone you should be networking. Even when you meet someone at the local coffee house or a wedding, it’s good practice to explain your work and then exchange business cards. It is NEVER to early to start building your professional network –in fact, it’s best to develop it BEFORE you need it. With this in mind, if you don’t have a card, you should get one now!

You should keep some in your wallet/purse, in your glovebox, in your laptop case, in your desk at work, in your desk at home…everywhere, really. You never want to be caught without your card. You never know when you might meet someone that can help you. A professional card can speak volumes about how you care for yourself and how you interact with others.

Oh, and don’t forget, to create the digital equivalent of your business card. There are a number of professional networking sites (I use and have had good success with LinkedIn …see my previous blog post.)

There is 1 comment .

Heba Elnaiem —

If I am a recent B.S. graduate and I will be a postbac fellow for a year, before I apply to professional school. Should my card include any information about the institution from which i graduated?

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