Having a Business Card Doesn’t Make You a Douchebag

The business card is a staple in most industries, but they are much less prevalent in science, particularly in the academic community.  For many of us, the thought of handing out business cards congers up images of slimy douchebags at cheesy networking events.  Yet, the reality is far from that fear.  The business card is a powerful professional tool that deserves serious consideration among scientists.  The douchebag, on the other hand, is a different kind of tool and should be avoided in the interest of career development…


Aren’t business cards for business people?

No!  If you have a name and ever think you’ll meet someone new, a business card is for you.

Consider the business card a product of directed evolution.  Over the past few decades, businesses have experimented with hundreds of thousands of formats to weed out the undesirable traits (why didn’t the poster-sized card ever catch on?).  What’s evolved is a thin, durable, lightweight card that includes all of the basic personal information you’d like to share and fits neatly in a wallet, pocket or purse.


Why have a business card?

Be lazy, look well-prepared

No pen, no charged cell phone – no problem.  Actually, problem.  Meeting someone new may be the beginning of an important relationship, assuming you know how to get in touch later to nurture it.  “Just tell me your email address – I’ve got a really good memory” is like saying “I’m going to forget whatever you tell me, but I don’t care enough to do anything about it.”  Not good.

However, a business card contains all of the information you were going to have to write down anyway, so save yourself the hand cramp and the embarrassing penmanship and simply hand the person a card.


Stand out like a responsible thumb

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we spend a lot of time as scientists trying to figure out how to make our research stand out from the crowd.  We read the literature to figure out what’s been done in the past; we go to conferences to hear what others are working on currently; and we write grants targeting projects we think we can complete before anyone else.  That stuff’s not easy.

Yet, we often overlook the importance of standing out personally when meeting new colleagues, collaborators or potential employers.  (Showing up for a job interview wearing no pants is not the kind of “standing out” we had in mind.)

Luckily for us, most graduate students, postdocs and professors don’t use business cards.  Therefore, handing a card to a potential postdoctoral advisor will leave quite an impression.  In an industry like academic science where business cards are not provided to everyone upon hire, having one stands out.  A card says you’re serious about your career path and take pride in doing it well.  As a prospective boss, would you be more interested in a candidate who frantically rifles through looseleaf paper in their bag, ultimately writing your information on the back of a napkin; or the person who hands you a business card and thanks you for your time?  If they’re that disorganized simply taking down an email address, what are they like in lab??


"Yo, take my cahd - best call you ever make, trust me (wink, puckered lips)."

Try one (and pass on the fake tanner)

Getting a business card is easy and involves two steps- design and production.  Twenty years ago (pre- internet-as-we-know-it) this would have been brutal to do on our own.  Luckily, it’s twenty years later.

.Step 1 – Design


If you work in an academic institution, go to the departmental headquarters and inquire about where to obtain a business card.  If they don’t do it themselves, they will be able to point you in the right direction.  The advantage of going through the university is that they already have cards designed.  They will simply ask for your information then place the order and you’re all set.  You’ll likely have to pay a small fee, but consider it an investment in your future and it won’t hurt as badly…



If you work in a company, your boss should be able to tell you who to ask about them.


Design your own

If your place of employment is less than helpful or if you’d prefer to add a little custom flair, there are several options.  Most online business card printers (see below) have templates that allow you to add personal information to pre-made designs.  For a more personal touch, they also allow you to upload an image file for the card, so make a date with Photoshop and come up with a design that accurately represents you.

Be aware that if making a custom card, you’ll need to get permission to use any logo or graphic from your employer first.  An easy alternative is to go with a simple logo-free card.  There are plenty of sleek templates out there that don’t require an image.

Information to include: Name, Position, Employer, Email, Phone

Optional: URL of website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Skip: “My time is more valuable than yours, so don’t waste it.”


Step 2 – Production

For the DIYers in the house, there are no shortage of web-resources for printing your new business cards.  BIZCard and Vistaprint are two of the more well-known sites.   Twenty bucks will get you more cards than you can give out and between frequent promotional deals on both sites, you can often get them much cheaper.

Simply fill out a template or upload a design and the cards will magically arrive a few days later.


Take my card and call me

When to use the cards?  You may want to go easy on handing them out under the stall in a restroom or while giving birth, but other than that, let ‘em fly.  Anytime you would normally give someone your contact information- conferences, poster sessions, beer hours, etc.  There’s no need to create a Costanza wallet by stuffing it with 200 business cards – carrying a few should be enough for everyday use.  For conferences, load up on some extras in your bag or consider purchasing a business card holder.

Quick tip – When taking someone’s card, write an identifier of some sort on the back of the card after meeting them.  This can be any pertinent information about the individual (husband’s name is Jim) or the venue (met at poster session at ACS Boston).  Even the best of memories can be put to the test when sifting through cards days after the event.


Leaving someone with a business card says many things about you, but “you’re a douchebag” is not one of them.  Unless you’re one of these guys, in which case a business card is the least of your worries…



Need to work on what happens before handing someone a card?  Check out How to Craft an Elevator Pitch to master the art of selling your research.


3 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. @scwai

    wrote on August 5, 2010 at 1:48 am

    Hi, my name is Stephanie. I'm a scientist, and I have business cards.

    Great post, Alan! You're absolutely right on this topic. Exchanging contact information is so incredibly easy when you can just whip out a card all ready to go. I ordered my business cards off Zazzle. They have a HUGE selection of cool designs, including science related ones! They even have these super-trendy skinny cards if you really want to stand out.

    My card is very simple. Name, e-mail address, LinkedIn URL, blog URL. Also a short professional headline so people know what I'm about. In my case, I went with "Biologist, Editor, Writer" which mostly sums up my education and work experience.

  2. How to Create an Elevator Pitch | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on August 17, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    […] Having a Business Card Doesn’t Make You a Douchebag […]

  3. @BizCards4u

    wrote on September 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I agree with Alan and Stephanie. Scientists as well as other professionals including recent graduates may benefit tremendously by marketing themselves with great looking, handy business cards. Do you carry your resume in your back pocket? Of course not! But, you can carry the next best thing – a personal business card! Websites such as biz-cards4u.com and zazzle.com offer an extensive selection of business cards for almost any profession and/or trade that you can imagine.

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