I had my first professional publication more than three decades ago. That was at the US Bureau of Mines. I’ve told you about that previously. Since then, I have been published about three dozen more times. A list of most of those publications can found at http://www.bryanulrich.net/publications/. Many of those publications are now of very little consequence, but each one helped me to become a better engineer.
Creating publications, and maybe more importantly, giving public presentations of those publications, is a very fundamental way of developing an image for yourself in the industry. Yes, social media is very important, and platforms like LinkedIn can be a great way to network, and to get yourself known by your peers. I have nearly 4,000 connections on LinkedIn. But that doesn’t (much) help you to stand out in a crowd. Yes, it is a start.
Co-authoring publications with clients can be a very beneficial way to get to know them better. The same holds true with co-authoring publications with your coworkers. And it can be a very introspective and thought-provoking process. But publications alone may not give you much notoriety. I would not be surprised if some of my publications have had essentially zero readers. But the audience at a conference can range from dozens to hundreds. During the last year, I have been honored to follow the first keynote lecture at two different conferences. And, I’ve had quite the crowd at those events (and they were still fresh and interested!)
A good public presentation can have a lot of impact on your reputation. Yes, it all has to be good. The content, the delivery, the message, and it needs to be at least somewhat captivating. But you don’t have to be a professional speaker. If all goes well, you will be remembered. If not, you will be forgotten, and believe me, when I first started out, I was forgotten right away on several occasions (or I hope that I was)! I think that the first public presentation I ever gave where I was remembered was at the 2003 Tailings and Mine Waste conference in Vail, Colorado. It was the first public presentation where I included humorous content. The talk pertained to static liquefaction. In one slide, I had an illustration of a frog in a blender, and a woman about to start the bender (note: many blenders have a “liquefy” setting). I also had a quote from Professor Steven Wright, who recently retired from the University of Michigan. I don’t recall the quote, but on the next slide, I had a quote from the comedian Steven Wright, “The world is a small place, but I wouldn’t want to have to paint it”. The audience loved the comic relief, and I was remembered for some of that content, even years later. If you want to use humorous content, it needs to fit well with the presentation, and you need to feel comfortable with the delivery. It needs to feel natural. I have been complimented on my humorous content on several occasions, and it feels good. After one recent talk, I was told that I missed my true calling as a standup comic. I replied that I think I am only funny to other engineers.
I would always advise people new to giving public presentations to first enroll in Toastmasters. Toastmasters provides a friendly environment to learn how to speak in public. They sure helped me, once I found them!
Because of a recent presentation I gave at a short course in South Africa, I was identified by one of my contemporaries as an expert in filtered tailings (I’ve discussed filtered tailings in other blogs, at least in passing). My contemporary, who also presented at that short course, passed along my contact details to a reporter from the Minnesota Public Radio News. I spoke to the reporter, and he truly just wanted to learn more about the technology and application of filtered tailings. It was nice to be interviewed, and to give him some help. It would have never happened if I hadn’t been interested in publishing my work.
One other nice thing recently happened to me that pertains to publication, and it was the second time it happened. Fade to an earlier scene, circa 1990. I was at a client’s office at a mine site in Utah. On his bookshelf was a copy of the proceedings of a recent conference in which I had a paper. I indicated that to him, and he said that he already knew that. Possibly, that was why I was there, completing a project for him. It had to have some impact on his decision to engage me anyway. Fade to present day. No, a few days ago. A couple of my colleagues were visiting a mine site that is preparing for a large expansion. We are engaged in some work there already, but I don’t know the specifics. On the client’s desk was a copy of a paper that I had recently published, with my co-author, Josh Rogers. He said that he was in need of a third-party review of his proposed new tailings facility. Whoever said that publications are a thankless task is just plain wrong. Writing impactful publications can be very fruitful.
So, to misquote legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, if you don’t have any publications, get out there and make yourself some! They don’t all have to be earth-shattering!