GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

The Risks of Being an Independent Researcher

In Ana's Posts on 2012/11/18 at 00:12
Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany.

Initially, I wanted to write about ‘the benefits’ instead of mentioning a term with intrinsic conflicting, and not always positive, connotations. On the other hand, while trying to make a mental summary of my ideas, I discovered that, in fact, the option of being an independent researcher may present several serious challenges.

For someone – as me – not too keen on dedicating too much time and energy to the bureaucratic constraints of the normal academic life, being an independent researcher is the only possible option that allows me to continue my academic interests without being fully part of the academic system as such. It means, for instance, being able to do my own research for various books and academic articles and other research. In my ideal world, as long as I know what I am looking for and I am respecting the highest academic standards, I should not worry about developing any inferiority complex in comparison with my regular academic friends and competitors.

However, there is an important problem to consider when thinking of starting such an adventure: the money. Especially when you are at the very beginning, you will need to have serious credentials in order to get at least 25% of the usual funding dedicated to regular researchers. Your credentials might be perfect, with many published books and articles, but so are those of many of the academics teaching in universities. From a financial perspective, many organizations and institutions keen to sponsor research – fewer in the last 24 months for obvious reasons related to the financial crisis – would be happy to have a certain level of control over the ways in which the funds are used. Consequently, they could obviously prefer the classical type of academic and open their accounts to their needs.

Another aspect that does not have too much to do with the level of academic achievement as such is the time that you should dedicate to non-academic activities: you need to network more, spend more time blogging and following marketing and PR strategies aimed to reach your intended audience. And, very often, if you really want to have a constant source of revenue for a good life for you and your family, you must sometimes to play the practical card and use your brain and your time for non-academic activities, such as editing or journalism or PR. At least for a few months, you should put aside some free time for your academic adventures besides the usual time dedicated to your daily work.

Stereotypically speaking, any beginning is difficult and you should be optimistic enough to hope that every mistake and failure will help you to do better the next time. But, on the other hand, I do not see any way around it, and thus, I should organize my time to get the best start for a new academic adventure. I would rather take the risk than think that it will be too hard for me to wait until I will be ready to enter the classic academic market.

PS: Any suggestions and ideas are more than welcomed!

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

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