Funding for Indie Researchers

coins on handOne of the great frustrations of being an indie researcher is inability to access funding. Maybe this is easier in other parts of the world but there are few options here in the UK. The UK’s Research Councils, which hold most of the country’s research funding, do not regard indie researchers as eligible to apply for that funding. For example, as a social science researcher, I would look to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). They have a budget of almost £200m to fund research, but indie researchers are not even eligible to apply for any of this public money. (ESRC also says it ‘has no budget’ with which to pay indie researchers for work they ask us to do directly, e.g. independent assessment of its end-of-project reports – but that’s another story.) Indie researchers can form part of a team to apply for research funding from ESRC, but that team must be led by someone employed in a university or research institute.

I would like to see this change. I believe independent social scientists have a lot to offer to research, because we have perspectives that are not directly affected by institutional pressures, constraints, and power games. Therefore, I think excluding us from national funding is a waste of a valuable national resource. I’m not asking for funding to be ring-fenced for indie researchers, or for any special treatment. I’d just like to be allowed to apply for funding, as I could if I was a researcher from a university or a research institute.

If the ESRC isn’t sure about how to distribute funding effectively to single operatives, they could always ask the Arts Council who have a great deal of experience in doing just that. However, much though I’d like to change ESRC policy, I realise I’m unlikely to be able to achieve that with this blog post – or with anything else, for that matter. So I’m glad to say there are a few other funders who are offering small pots of money which are accessible to indie researchers. Here are the ones I’ve found out about.

The British Academy offers Small Research Grants of between £500 and £10,000, which may be spread over two years. These grants are for primary funding in the humanities and social sciences. The lead scholar must be based in the UK, but beyond that, people from other countries may be involved in the project. They look for a clearly defined piece of work with an identifiable outcome.

The Wellcome Trust offers Small Grants of up to £5,000 for small-scale projects in the humanities and social sciences. You can apply for up to £10,000 if you intend to hold an international meeting or attract international speakers. Applicants must be based in, or travelling to, the UK or Ireland or a ‘low-to-middle-income country’ (long list from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe).

The Wellcome Trust also offers Seed Awards of £25,000 to £50,000, usually over a 6-12 month period. These are intended to help researchers develop a novel idea that will enrich our understanding of human or animal health. They encourage the development of new approaches and collaborations. They are also piloting Themed Seed Awards of £75,000 to £100,000.

The Independent Social Research Foundation offers independent scholar fellowships for European researchers (scroll down). They are intended to buy out someone’s time for up to a year, with a maximum award of £25,000, to enable them to work on a research project or an article or book.

That’s all I’ve been able to find so far. On the one hand, these are paltry amounts of money compared to the £193million of ESRC funding that indie researchers can’t access directly. But on the other hand, I could do a great deal with a small five-figure sum. This is partly where I think the larger funders are missing a trick: indie researchers don’t have big overheads so we’re very cost-effective.

Do you know of other funding for which indie researchers can apply? I haven’t looked beyond funding available to UK-based researchers. Shall we try to develop an open access spreadsheet of global opportunities? If you like this idea, and you know of suitable funding, please leave details in the comments.

Analysing Data For Your PhD: New Book Launch!

ADFYPhD_darkbrown_neurons_LC_RGBToday sees the launch of the third in my Phd Knowledge series. The subject of data analysis is close to my heart. It is at the core of our work as researchers, yet it’s often poorly understood. Doctoral students can find themselves facing the analysis of a sizeable amount of data without really knowing what it is they’re supposed to do. My new e-book, Analysing Data For Your PhD: An Introduction, is designed to help in this situation – or, if you read it in time, to prevent you reaching such a stressful impasse. This book follows on from the previous books, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know and Gathering Data For Your PhD: An Introduction, but it works equally well as a stand-alone volume for anyone who only wants to delve into this part of the process. It is concise – around 10,000 words – and clearly written (says my editor – in fact, he said ‘As usual, this was a beautifully written little document to work on’). And, as with the others, it costs less than the price of a coffee: £1.99/$2.99 and equivalent prices in other jurisdictions.

But wait! There’s more! To celebrate the launch, and in recognition of the new academic semester starting soon in Australia and New Zealand, I have reduced the price of Starting Your PhD to £0.99/$1.49. This is a time-limited offer for one week only, so get downloading. And happy reading!


Ethics of Academic Publishing

publishers need youLast week I posted about ten ways to get hold of academic literature from outside the academy. I also questioned the ethics of some of the methods I suggested. This week I’m talking about that in more detail.

Publishing is, on the whole, a money-making enterprise. Most academic publishers, or their parent companies, are very wealthy organisations. Writers see very little of this wealth. For every JK Rowling, there are thousands of writers earning tiny amounts from their writing. The median income of writers dropped by over 50% between 2000 and 2013, and was reported in that year as £4,000. I aspire to reach those dizzy heights. Last year I grossed almost £1,000 from writing. I spent nearly that much, too, buying reference books and funding my new self-publishing business. I’m hoping 2016 may be the first year when I earn more from writing than I spend on my writing.

As a writer who needs to earn money, I felt uncomfortable, last week, about advising you to look online for cheap second-hand copies of books. However, as a frequently rather skint person, I know how useful cheap second-hand books can be. I buy new books when I can afford to, though I always check the book price comparison site bookbutler first (and before you tell me I should buy from bookshops, I do when I can, but the nearest one is 15 miles away and doesn’t stock any academic books). Bookbutler is available in other countries too, and seems to index just about everywhere except eBay which is also worth checking. Some bookselling sites are independent, such as Wordery or Alibris, so I try to use those rather than the mammoth monopolies. And if I buy a book second-hand, I aim to do something else for the author, such as write a review online, promote their work on social media, or download an affordable e-book they wrote.

I don’t feel so worried about ethics where journal articles are concerned, because academic publishers generally make a load of money out of university library journal subscriptions (have you seen how much they cost? It’s eye-watering!). I know that the academic publishing business is getting more competitive, like everything else, with the recession requiring all expenditure to be thoroughly justified. But even so, I’m on the editorial board of a journal (unpaid) and I write articles for journals (unpaid) so I figure the least the journal world can do is let me have some pdfs now and again.

But I am very worried about the move to open access. Yes, it’s great from the reader’s point of view. But what about the writers? There are now many journals in which I can’t afford to publish. This doesn’t only affect indie researchers; university publishing budgets are limited, so junior academics may struggle. And it applies to books as well as journals. Recently De Gruyter Open, a reputable academic publisher (not the desperate kind I’ve written about before), emailed to ask whether I’d like to publish a book with them at a cost of only 10,000 euros (approx £7,000 or $14,000). I don’t have that kind of money lying around – and if I did, I could think of lots of things I’d rather do with it than pay to publish a book which the publisher will then charge people to buy.

I don’t know how we got to this point because publishers need writers to survive. Not the other way round – especially not in these days of self-publishing entrepreneurship. Maybe it’s because some people think publishers are doing them a favour by publishing their work. If you’re one of them, undelude yourself immediately!

Another arena where I think (some) publishers are shafting authors is in royalties on e-books. This is an area where publishers could give authors a really good deal without damaging their own profit margins. Royalties on hard copy books are usually in the range of 10-15% – i.e. authors earn just 10-15% of the sale price of books, depending on whether they’re hardback or paperback, and on how many copies have sold (for example, some deals are e.g. 12.5% on the first 2,000 paperbacks, 15% thereafter). This is because publishers have to bear significant costs associated with hard copy books, such as printing, warehousing, shipping, and pulping. These costs don’t apply to e-books, which only require a day or two for a distribution professional to format and upload. Therefore publishers could easily give authors royalties of 50%. But on the whole, they don’t, unless you negotiate hard (negotiate, people, negotiate! Remember, publishers need you!).

I chose my own publisher for their ethical stance. Policy Press is a non-profit-making organisation with a commitment to social justice. They have treated me fairly and I would recommend them to anyone wanting to publish in the fields they cover. I also have a lot of time for the Committee on Publication Ethics (CoPE) which raises awareness of, and works to support, the ethical publication of academic journals. But all its work is directed to internal ethics: ethical peer review, challenging suppression of results, handling fraud, and so on. This is important and I’m glad they are doing it. But there is a real need for more awareness of, and some challenges to, the unethical aspects of academic publishing on the macro level.

Ten Ways To Get Hold Of Academic Literature of the big barriers to doing academic work when you’re not a salaried academic is lack of access to academic literature. Books are one problem, though you can often get hold of them through inter-library loans, national libraries, or (if they’re not too new) cheap second-hand copies online. But academic journals are the major difficulty.

People outside academia often don’t realise that even salaried academics won’t have access to everything. University libraries have budgets and have to decide which journals to subscribe to. Even professors sometimes need to use the techniques in this post. But those of us outside academia need to use them all the time. So, for those who don’t yet know, here are my top ten methods for getting hold of academic literature.

  1. Use openly accessible literature. Much of this can be found online. You may find relevant ‘grey’ (non-academic) literature through conventional search engines: anything from commercial research reports to zines. But for journal articles, I’d recommend starting with the Directory of Open Access Journals. This independent directory includes over 2 million articles in over 10,000 open access journals, more than half of which are searchable at article level, and more are being added all the time. The journals cover most topics and must be subject to peer review or editorial quality control.
  1. Look for conventionally published articles that are openly accessible. Publishers such as Sage, Taylor & Francis, Elsevier, Emerald, Wiley, and Springer are quietly making more and more content open access. Follow them on Twitter for the latest news. Sometimes a publisher will open its electronic doors completely for a limited period of time, which gives you a chance to get in and harvest pdfs to your heart’s content. More often they will offer a selection of openly accessible articles which you can find by digging around in their websites. And some have initiatives such as SpringerOpen which encompasses a range of fully open access journals in science, technology, and mathematics.
  1. When you search using Google Scholar, look beneath each search result for the small print that says ‘all X versions’ (X being a number). Click on that link and sometimes you will find that one or more of the versions includes a pdf you can download. This may be a pre-print or draft article, but it will be close enough to the final paper for you to assess whether you want to cite it.
  1. Academic social media sites, such as ResearchGate and, act as repositories for pre-prints and other openly accessible formats of articles which are uploaded by their authors. Anyone can sign up to these sites and they can be a useful way of keeping track, particularly of new literature by people whose work you respect.
  1. Google Books is a project for scanning and digitizing books. If a book is out of copyright, or the author has given consent, you can search and see full pages. Otherwise you can search and see small sections of text around the search string; sometimes this can be enough for your purposes.
  1. Amazon lets you ‘look inside’ some books, and again you can search and see parts of the text around the search string. Amazon is also handy for tracking down citation details as you can always look at the copyright page of any book with the ‘look inside’ feature.
  1. For much fuller access to academic literature, you could consider securing an affiliation with a university department. Universities can offer honorary titles such as Associate Fellow or Visiting Fellow. These don’t come with a salary attached, but they do come with benefits including access to electronic and hard copy literature, seminars, collaborations, and perhaps some mentoring. Also, it looks good on your CV. You might be asked to do some teaching or other academic work in return. If you know of a department where there are people in your field, you could ask whether they would take you on as an associate.
  1. Another option is to ask people you know in universities to get pdfs for you. If you’re going to do this, make sure first that the university concerned has access to the journal from which you want articles; you should be able to do this via the journal’s website, or the university library’s website, or both. It’s probably best not to ask people too often, though, as that can get annoying.
  1. Twitter is also a great place for sourcing articles. You can either put out a general tweet, perhaps with the ubiquitous ‘pls RT’ at the end, or you can use a hashtag such as #ICanHazPDF which will put your tweet in front of a wider audience. Do include the link for the article you want, and use a link shortener such as bitly to make more space in your tweet.
  1. If all else fails, email the corresponding author and ask for a copy of the article. Keep your email short, and polite, but try to say something about why you want the article and what you’ll be using it for. Authors are usually pleased if someone shows an interest in their work and will be happy to email an article to you.

However, there is a big question, for me, about the extent to which all this is ethical. And there are certainly some very unethical ways of accessing academic information, such as downloading pirated e-books – though I do realise that, in some countries, people have few or no alternatives. So next week I’ll say more about the ethics of academic publishing.