Independent scholar, cat addict, tattoo lover

Life and work of an indy scholar part 11 – 80 percent of us leave the university at some point after our graduation, most of us sooner than later. That makes us the rule rather than the exception. I met many young doctors who were disappointed about academia and rigorously turned their backs on it. Others cling on with temp adjunct jobs. ‘Indy scholarship’ is somewhere in between. It’s not 100 percent leaving nor 100 percent staying. Reread the first sentence as ‘80 percent of me’. It’s a healthy ratio to devote 80 percent of your time to your clients and 20 percent to academia. After all, surely there were some things there that you enjoyed doing? Why not look for them elsewhere? Don’t mix up ‘scholarship’ with ‘university’. The first is a profession, the latter an institute. You can exercise your profession anywhere, independent of any institute.

It’s difficult to maintain that you’re an indy scholar when you have zero connections with other scholars. After all, part and parcel of scholarship is that we communicate with the community of scholars in our discipline. It’s the inherent vice of our trade. So how can you stay in touch with academia? Well, first of all, you can continue to write academic papers, articles, chapters and books. The advantages are manifold. First, this is a great way to organize a quality check via the peer review system, so you know you’re not fantasizing ins Blaue hinein. Second, and related, it adds expert status. Although many of your non-academic clients are unlikely to read your academic writings, they may be impressed or at least reassured by your peer recognition. Also, don’t forget that academics can be among your clients. They certainly care for an up-to-date publication list. Third, writing helps you relate to the state-of-the-art literature in your field as you need to position your contribution in current discussions. And fourth, of course, let’s not forget the joy of writing and the value it has for its own sake. ‘The desire to write grows with writing’ said Erasmus. It’s difficult to never lovingly strike those keys again after finishing that one big writing project we call ‘the PhD thesis’. Writing helps us arrange our thoughts and come up with creative ideas. The art of writing stimulates our imagination and opens our eyes to new insights. Academic writing is never just about reporting, it’s always far more about creating a convincing and appealing narrative that calls for a rearrangement and readjustment of what we know. And as an indy scholar, you can cherry pick where you want to publish, about what and when. Those publish-or-perish panting production schemes that dictate the workflow in university are absent in the life and work of an indy scholar, as our jobs don’t depend on them. Plus, fifth, there’s always that blissful satisfaction when your writing is accepted, no point in denying that.
So writing for academia is a perfect opportunity to keep your intellectual muscles well-trained. The remaining 80 percent of your time, when your target audience is mostly non-academic provide less chances for this. Most clients don’t care for theorizing (more here) and they’re not very keen on hearing ‘the academic voice’ we grew so accustomed to (more here). Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that they don’t like to read. Writing for non-academics is a great way to build expert visibility and the sales can generate a steady stream of income (more than writing for academics), but that isn’t the subject of this current blog.
Related to writing, keep conferencing. Conferences are an excellent place for meeting academic peers and staying in touch with the latest developments in the field. Similar to writing, conferencing gives you your peer feedback and refreshment of the mind. As an extra bonus, it brings you to such interesting places as Dubai, Søndberg, Tampere, Falmouth, Ghent, Leeds and Lisbon, trips that are tax deductable in the Netherlands (check first to see if this is the same in your country).

As I wrote above, universities can be among your clients too. You can be hired as a guest lecturer, an external advisor, a PhD second supervisor, and so on. This too contributes to your intellectual workouts and brings you new ideas. And you can send invoices for this part of your 20 percent, although university budgets can be smaller than elsewhere.

I have profited immensely from switching between academic and non-academic clients. The first challenge me to articulate and sharpen my theoretical frameworks and methodology for researching everyday life in general, whereby I can better service my clients with a concise and logical proposal for their specific issues. The second bring me a wealth of empirical data that I can use for further theory building and methodological refinement. Most research in the social sciences and in the field of applied humanities is a to-and-fro between theory and practice anyway. In university, the balance is more in favor of theory, whereas in indy scholarship practice prevails. This is understandable, because at the downside, most of this work is for free which causes lost income (and, in the case of conferencing, costs you money). Moreover, as it’s labor intensive, it can interfere with paid work. Therefore, try to find a healthy balance. For me, 20 percent of my time for academia is perfect.

If you have any suggestions for upcoming blogs, let me know via floorbasten@orleon.nl. And follow me via @BlanchefleurX to stay updated about my weekly posts.

PS. If you feel maltreated by university and want nothing of it, don’t bother your clients with your lamentations. They don’t know university life and don’t care about it, you just make them feel they’re second choice (more here).

Part 10: Care to share          All weekly blogs