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#54 Dennis Fink Story

Dr. Dennis Fink shares how he became a science communicator and started his own company right after a PhD. 

Published onAug 03, 2018
#54 Dennis Fink Story

Dr. Dennis Fink, a PhD in Marine Microbiology, is back to our podcast! 

In episode #20 Dennis told us how he became a science communicator and started his own company right after a PhD. 

In October 2017, Dennis came back to big business and joined the famous biotech company Qiagen as a campaign manager and social media channel expert.

What motivated his choice? 

How do his PhD and the skills he developed while being self-employed help him in the new job? 

And why being present on Social Media can boost your career?

The answers to these questions in our new episode!

“Social media is not the answer to everything, but, for sure, it’s not a hazard. [...] As a scientist, you should not be scared about the use of social media. Actually, contrary to this, you should use social media, you should use career networks, because it will make your life easier, especially, your professional one.”


Michele: Hi and welcome to PhD Career Stories - a podcast for people interested in career opportunities after a PhD. My name is Michele Manzo and I am author and co-founder of this podcast. At PhD Career Stories, we believe that any transition and any transformation in your life comes with a great amount of struggle. Struggle is also a way to build character, and that is what you need to take the next step in your career development. 

Today we have as a guest Dennis Fink, who is coming back, as he was one of our guests in episode #20. So if you want to know more of his experience and his transition from academia to industry, please refer to that episode. In this new episode, Dennis Fink is telling us about his new challenge as a social media manager. And he highlights a very important aspect of a nowadays jobmarket; the rising of a lot new jobs which were not available about ten years ago. So if you are still doing your PhD, or maybe you are at the beginning of your PhD, just consider the fact that the job you might do in a couple of years, might not exist yet. And this also opens the opportunity for inspiration. So thank you Dennis, for being with us today!

Dennis: Hi everyone! My name is Dennis, and I am from Cologne, Germany. I did my PhD in marine microbiology at the Max Planck Institut in Bremen. I am actually located in Cologne and after my graduation I co-founded a company for science communication, which I headed for five years. And just recently, six months ago, I switched to Qiagen, which is the biggest biotech company, to become a campaign manager and social media channel expert. And today I want to tell you a little bit about this job and why I switched and what this is all about.

So let us start at the beginning; social media. What does social media mean to me? I mean, social media for me is the perfect connection to like minded people with this vast amount of different channels, different opportunities. I can basically choose the time when I would like to get in contact with people. I can choose to get in contact with people based on their interest, based on their job skills. I can look through news, I can keep myself informed on topics. 

All of this is possible in social media, and it is possible at any time. So social media for me is really a bridge tapping into the internet, but to a place where like minded people talk about things they are interested in. So the question now is, when did I first get in touch with social media or why did I ever now become a social media campaign manager? 

Already during my PhD at Max Planck Institut, during my research there was a time when social media grew and was very big and I discovered it for my private life and I really enjoyed it because as a scientist you may be really stuck in the lab and stuck at the same place with the same daylight with not much contact to the outside world. And so, social media for me was a place where I could actually still be in touch with my friends, who might be in Cologne, the place where I was born and I was [now] in Bremen. 

And it was at the same time a place where I could exchange thoughts even on a professional level, so social media for me is not only Facebook and Instagram, also for example ResearchGate for me I would say is social media, because people with the same spirit come to one place, talk about things or challenges or problems they have.

As I told you, I was an entrepreneur and now I have become a campaign manager and how did this happen? I was always fascinated by social media, and during my time as the CEO of a company that was focusing on science communication, a lot of the of the science communication, almost all of it, happened online. So it was about helping scientist to reach out, be it to customers, be it to other scientists, or be it to students, via the internet. And when we talk about the Internet, of course this means that you have your own website and that you try to get people on your website. 

But the easiest way to talk to people on the internet is on social media. So also for the scientists, this is the easiest gateway to talk to a certain group of people. So I acquired these skills, let us say, during the five years talking to different scientists, facing the challenges they had, trying to bring them in contact with a very specific audience that they had in mind. All of this using strategies and tactics that go around the topic of how to actually the right group, like a target audience, on social media. 

So after this five years I was, I would say well equipped, with a skill set or with a mindset that I would just be able to say “ok, by looking at your research and by looking at your goals and by also looking at your budget, I am in the place that I can tell you with which channel you can reach your target audience and what is the suitable strategy”. And about that time… so, a lot of things concerning career, depend on the right timing, right? There was a time when I was always checking out if some of the companies I really liked would have open positions, and this one came up. 

So I joined Qiagen on October 2017 and now I am, as I said, a campaign manager and social media channel expert. So what does that mean? It means that if Qiagen tries to reach out to its customers, it [Qiagen] does this in the form of campaigns. So my customers, so to say, come from within the company. So for example, a regional manager from North America, who is having a new product that he or she wants to launch, approaches me and says “Dennis, I want to launch this new product and I want to spread the word. I want people to attend a webinar, I want to get people to attend an event. I want to have people buy this product! How do I do this? Can you help me with a suitable campaign?” 

So then I ask questions like “Ok, who is your audience? What is your budget? What is exactly your goal? Shall I take people from for example social media ads and bring them to your website? Are you interested in traffic? Are you interested in leads? Because nowadays you can use Facebook and also LinkedIn for lead generation which means that people leave their data in exchange for some nice incentive. So, you can generate leads which might turn into sell prospects, and in the end people who want to buy your products. Or are you interested in selling your product? Do you want a promotional campaign? Maybe 20 percent of off a certain product?” 

So there is a lot you can do. I am now in the position where I then compose these campaigns. For example, I will say “Ok, for your target audience, and for the budget that you have and for the goal you have in mind, I propose that we do a email- or e-targeted campaign, that we do social media on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and maybe a print ad. And a display ad at ResearchGate. So, I really think about the audience that this person needs to reach and I compose a campaign. 

And this is what I basically do all day. A lot of this is basically product management, so now I am talking about the skills that you need if you are a campaign manager. I would say 90 percent of this is good project management, because the things I need for a campaign - the visuals, the text, the tracking code - everything comes from different people. I am not creating this visuals myself, I am not writing the texts and the ads for myself, there are people  - experts - how are doing this things and I have to keep track on their workload and I have to make sure that we, when we have a deadline, the whole campaign is in place and I can send it out and then I track the campaign, I look at it for example at the social media ads everyday. I see if they go along with what the goal was, I can still change this, so it is a lot of project management. And it is a lot of consulting, so talking to people and making them realize that what you propose to them is a good idea, it is a good strategy, so I would say that this is ninety percent of what I do everyday.

Now, when we talk about this target group that I have - the scientists - nowadays still a lot of scientists look at the social media as something that is not very serious, something where people post picture of their lunch, where they share funny video, this is nothing that can actually help scientist in any way professionally. So it’s nice, you can look at it from time to time, if you want to have some fun you can go on Facebook or Instagram, but if scientists think about career development, about things that can help them in their research, they might not think of social media as the first thing. They might even think that it’s harmful if they are caught being active on social media. 

I think this is not true. I think social media, if used in the right way, can do exactly this - it can solve professional problems, like answers to questions that you might have, because it opens doors to groups which you would never be able to talk too, and you can talk about the challenges that you have, for example, on Research Gate. Or it opens doors concerning your career path. If you have a good profile on LinkedIn, if you have a good CV, if you are active on LinkedIn, chances are really high that you find your next job on LinkedIn and not on the next newspaper. 

So, independent of what your goal in life or professionally is, I think, social media is not the answer to everything, but, for sure, it’s not a hazard, it’s nothing dangerous if you use it in the right way. Even as a scientist, you should not be scared about the use of social media. Actually, contrary to this, you should use social media, you should use career networks, because it will make your life easier, especially, your professional one. 

Not only the scientists. If we go one step higher from the students, from the PhDs, from the postdocs, up to the professors - there are some really good example of professors and PIs who use social media in a brilliant way, but it still comes down to the goals. If I would be a professor and I would ask myself  “Do I need social media?” - it’s the same question that I ask the requestors that I have: What is your goal? Do you want attract more students to your lab? Do you have a need of more students? Maybe a website is not enough, because, let’s be honest - who would stumble across your website if it’s just there in the internet. 

It is really easy to talk about your science on the social media and get, especially, younger scientists interested in what you’re doing and attract those. 

Or, are you interested in representing your work and showing colleagues in other countries and other groups what you’re doing and keep them up to date? It’s perfect - you can use Twitter, you can tap into different groups via hashtags, you can keep people up to date when you are out at the conference, even if they cannot go, you can keep your students up to date about what you are doing. So, depending on what your goal is, there might be the right channel and there might be the right approach on social media on how you can actually achieve this. Of course, you can not solve any problem on social media, but there is a lot you can do even as professor professionally on social media. 

Going from the people to the institutes. Also nowadays the institutes and universities realize: “Oh, I think I need a social media! Everybody is doing it now, do we a Twitter channel, or Youtube, or Facebook, or Instagram - I don’t know!” Actually a lot of my work, also with my former company mediomix, was about helping institutes, taking care of their social media accounts, posting content, creating content for those. Because it’s the same as with professor or with group leaders: when your goal as an institute is to attract new people or to represent the research that you are doing on a global scale, social media for a low budget is the best thing  you can do. There is nothing better than the Facebook when it comes, for example, to B2B marketing. It is just like that. 

If you ask me what is my favourite social media channel, I would say, privately it’s Instagram, because I am a visual person, I like looking at pictures and videos, and Instagram is 100% based on this - it’s just videos, and images, and, using hashtags, it makes it rather easy to tap into certain topic that you’re interested in. So, privately, I would say, Instagram. 

Professionally, I would say, Facebook, because the possibilities that you have to target audiences is unparalleled on Facebook. It’s like the best social media platform if you think “Ok, I have really specific audience in mind, how can I target in this?”. Also, in terms of different choices that you have for an ad. If you put an ad on Facebook it’s not just an image or a video, you can do an offer ad, that contains a promo code, you can do a canvas ad - it looks beautiful on your smartphone with panorama, images and so on - you can do all kinds of ads on Facebook - leads generation, as I already mentioned. So, depending  on your goal, it’s a perfect platform. The only thing I’m missing on Facebook is actually the option to target job skills. Because, LinkedIn has this. For example, on Facebook you can only target interests, but someone could be interested in oncology but could be working in a flower shop. So, this person would not be or should not see my ad for an oncology Qiagen kit. So, by targeting people based on the job skills, let’s say an oncologist, that I can target on LinkedIn, this is far more specific and it’s also more expensive. 

So, there is a vast range on things that you can do on social media and this is what I like with my current job - there are a lot of opportunities, there are a lot of creative things that you can do, but, still, you have to take into account that you are speaking in the voice of company: there is a certain branding, a certain guideline. 

It is really interesting to work in this field, especially, as a researcher. Because, as a researcher, I know the people that I am trying to show my ads to, and, believe me, I am the person who does not like to see ads that I don’t need on the Internet. If I see an ad, I want to see one which is perfect for me and which I want to see. And this is my job: I want to show you, guys, ads that are perfectly suited for you. I hope that next time you see an ad from Qiagen, you click on it, because this will make my life really happy. [laughing]

Seriously, I wish you all the luck with your career and all the best for you research. If you have any questions, please, get in touch and have a nice day. Thank you, guys. 

Michele: Thank you for listening for another episode of PhD career stories! If you have any comments or suggestions about our podcast? Any way we can do it better or we can do it different? Do you know anybody, whose story will be interesting to be told on our channel? Don’t hesitate to let us know! We are always interested in hearing new stories. Thank you and have a nice day!

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