How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Your Bio: How Does Your Research Lead the World?

Quick note: I misspelled Jessica Hellmann’s last name in last week’s email on researcher bios. Two n’s in Hellmann, not one. My apologies!

As a leader of a research-driven organization, you have a bio. And you almost certainly don’t like it.

Study this one for Jessica Hellmann, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.

It’s her bio as director of a research institute, not her bio as a researcher. Most researchers in positions of institutional or organizational leadership fail to recognize the distinction — and thus fail to position themselves as the full leaders they are. That’s a critical error with media and others who are taking ten or 15 seconds to scan your bio, looking for more than just your amped-up CV.

How does Hellmann’s bio do this? It performs a couple of subtle inversions from a stock research bio that, as I put it in last week’s email, leave you thinking “Hellmann is a leader, a researcher who on all fronts has targeted impact as her goal.” Today, the first of those inversions:

Inversion #1: For leaders, research achievement is about impact, not journals.

Look at the bio’s fourth paragraph, which is all about Hellmann’s research and that of her research group.

You don’t see any leading journal names dropped. (That happens much later in the bio.) No papers. This critical section — maybe as far as anyone will read down the page — is about the cumulative impact of Hellmann’s research. And as such, it uses language that’s both general and confidently explicit about that impact.

  • “Hellmann’s research focuses on global change ecology, climate adaptation and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” Succinct summary of her research interests.
  • “She was among the first to propose and study ways to reduce the impact of climate change through new techniques in conservation management.” Emphasizes her leadership as a scholar with research relevant to practice.
  • “Hellmann led an important paradigm shift in ecology and natural resource management by showing that adaptation — living with climate change — is just as crucial to the future of humanity and Earth’s ecosystems as slowing and stopping greenhouse gas emissions.” Bold statement about leading a paradigm shift that also signals Hellmann has a strong POV on a topic of enormous importance and growing interest to many audiences.
  • “Her research group also has shown that differences in the way populations respond to climate change are key to predicting and managing their future.” This phrasing of the research group’s accomplishments couldn’t get much more concise. The text doesn’t get hung up in details of species, just gives the barest of essentials.
  • “And her research led to the creation of a private venture, Geofinancial Analytics, that monitors methane emissions for investors in publicly-traded companies.” Research leading to a company that does well — a leadership example that will speak to an important funder class.

Takeaway: Here are the questions to ask of your research to write this paragraph:

  • What does your research focus on that makes a difference in the world?
  • What has your research led in real-world practice?
  • Has your research led a paradigm shift? If so, describe it.
  • Which findings of your research group have made a difference in the world?
  • And who has taken up those findings and built innovations upon them?

Answer those questions in a sentence or two each, and you’ll have a better bio.

Tomorrow: How Hellmann’s bio summarizes her work with non-specialists to highlight her impact as a leader.