A New Venture: Path To Publishing

pathlogo-purplegreen.jpgTaran-taran-taraaaaa! Drum roll! I have an announcement to make!

I have been plotting with my co-conspirator Dr Janet Salmons of Boulder, Colorado (who I met, like many of my collaborators, on Twitter). We have designed a new online course, Path To Publishing, for people who have been awarded their PhD or equivalent (EdD, DBA etc) and who want to publish from their thesis or dissertation. And not just publish whatever they can, but publish effectively, in a way that will support their career aspirations. (NB: edit as a result of a query from Oxford Dphile in the comments below: if you’ve completed your thesis or dissertation, but haven’t yet had it examined, that’s fine too.)

Path to Publishing will run for six weeks in the first semester of the next academic year, from October 10 to November 18. It is limited to 20 participants to ensure that we can give everyone good quality individual feedback. We are offering a discounted rate for the first course in recognition of the possibility of teething troubles (though we are working hard to try to ensure there won’t be any). The fees will be US$400/£280 payable through PayPal – after this first course, the fees will rise to approx US$500/£375 (exact amounts may change slightly due to currency fluctuations). We will be asking for detailed feedback in exchange for the discount, to help us perfect the course for future participants. Another reason we’re offering a discount to the first cohort is that, along with the course, we will be setting up an online support group for course members and alumni – but the first time around there won’t be any alumni to give advice and support to new members. Nevertheless, there is value in peer support, and we expect the online support group to be well used.

The course will include two live webinars at times as convenient as possible for the class, bearing in mind everyone’s different time zones (and these webinars will be recorded for those who, for whatever reason, can’t attend). Janet and I will provide good quality course materials, weekly lessons, and exercises in planning and writing for publication, plus individual feedback on each exercise. We plan to show you how to assess the publication potential of your thesis or dissertation in the light of your career goals. We will cover all kinds of publishing, including traditional academic publishing (journal articles, book chapters, books), self-publishing, social and mainstream media. By the end of the course, you will have a personal publication strategy for the next 1-2 years which aligns with your own career goals. All you need is a completed thesis or dissertation and a good standard of written English.

Janet and I have extensive experience of academic writing, publishing, and teaching. We have both written full-length books, book chapters, and academic journal articles, and have taught on several continents. Janet has co-edited books, and I have self-published books. Both of us are experienced users of social media and also have some experience of mainstream media. We have enjoyed the process of combining our expertise to create Path To Publishing.

We’ll be starting to publicise the course in earnest soon, but I wanted my blog readers to hear about it at an early stage. As the number of students is limited, if you are interested, put your name on the preliminary class list here for first access to registration. Janet and I are excited about this course and we very much look forward to working with our students.

When A Contract Ends

finish lineI’m putting the finishing touches to the report of a research project that’s been running for the last 18 months. And then it’ll be over. Which is a bit sad, for a number of reasons.

First, the work is for a national organisation, but unusually that organisation is based close to where I live in the Midlands of England. So, unlike most, this job hasn’t involved a lot of travelling: much of the work has been done within half an hour’s drive of my office.

Second, I’ve been working with another researcher, a colleague I met for the first time on the day we went to be interviewed for this job. I liked him then and my respect and appreciation for him has grown throughout the project. He’s responsive, thoughtful, caring, creative, and generally a terrific collaborator. I will miss working with him.

Third, it’s been an interesting, complex project, evaluating a community-based advocacy service for older people with cancer. The work is multi-faceted and that makes it a real challenge to investigate it fully and come up with suitable recommendations for taking the work forward.

Fourth, it’s paid some of the bills. These kinds of longer-term contracts, that provide a basic level of income for a period of time, don’t come along so often but are invaluable for indie researchers.

Letting go of a project can be hard for anyone, but there are some specific areas of difficulty for indie researchers. Commissioners don’t think to get back in touch to tell us how our work is being used, and seem surprised if we email or phone to ask. We have very little say in how our work is disseminated, and sometimes it’s not disseminated at all, which can be really frustrating. And unlike our academic colleagues, we don’t have the requirement to publish that can keep the relationships formed during a project alive for months and years after completion.

So in many ways I’m sorry to see this contract end, but the pill is very thoroughly sugared by the new contract I landed earlier this month. Without that I think I’d be in deep mourning. But this time it really does feel as though, as one door is closing, another opens.

Back On The Indie Researcher Rollercoaster

rollercoasterI’ve written before about the indie researcher rollercoaster. I’ve been riding it again recently. The last few months have been quite tough. I’ve had one contract rolling along, and some bits and bobs of teaching work. I’ve also had:

  • The promise of ten days’ sub-contracted work in the second half of 2015, which turned into two days’ work at the very end of December, for which I still haven’t been paid.
  • An associate role with a national organisation, since last summer, that seemed likely to yield a fair bit of work but hasn’t yielded any yet (though I do have one whole day booked in for them in May).
  • The promise of almost full-time contract work from January to March of this year, which didn’t materialise at all due to staff sickness.

So overall I’ve been keeping my head above water, but only just. I have consistently been able to pay myself £1,000 per month, and had calculated that I would be able to carry on doing so while continuing to break even up to and including June. However, the rolling-along contract is about to end. I have some more bits and bobs of teaching work booked in over the next three months, but after the end of June I was going to fall off the edge of the work cliff into the cold deep workless sea.

On top of this, there were a number of unavoidable expenses looming: from essential repairs to my elderly and infirm car, to all my underwear developing holes at once. I was resigning myself to digging into my savings for the first time in many years, reasoning that if I’d saved for a rainy day, it was now, metaphorically speaking at least, about to throw it down.

Then last week there was one of those reversals for which the indie lifestyle is famous. A colleague and I went for an interview at a Russell Group university that wanted to commission some research – and we got the gig! Sensible budget (not so sensible timescale, but you can’t have everything) and the people were lovely.

So now I don’t need to dig into my savings, instead I can pay myself a little extra to cover the unavoidable expenses. Plus I don’t have to start worrying about work again until the summer. This is a huge relief – I have, quite literally, been sleeping easier.

Plus I landed another teaching client, and the more of those I can reel in the better. I’m working to build up my teaching because, although the work lasts for days rather than months, it’s more regular than research. If I can reach the point where I have a few days of teaching work in each month of the academic year, I’ll be able to stop chasing commissioned research altogether. Though the Teaching Excellence Framework is looming here in the UK, and I don’t know whether my input will help universities to manipulate the metrics successfully enough to make it worthwhile for them to use me. So while I can take a break from the rollercoaster for the next little while, I’m sure I’ll be riding again soon.

Society For Indie Researchers?

SRA logo 300dpi.jpgI was invited into an interesting conversation on Twitter the other day, between @DrNomyn, @deborahbrian, @lianamsilva, @readywriting, @darthur62 and @donnarosemary. At one point @deborahbrian said, ‘What we need, too, are professional organisations for independent scholars – do these exist?’ That was when @DrNomyn invited me in, asking, ‘How hard would it be to start one?’

I replied on Twitter but, as this is something to which I have given some thought, I had rather more to say than would fit into 140 characters (or 80, more like, what with all those names already in the tweet). I have long wanted a society for independent researchers. (Despite my scholarly credentials, I identify as an indie researcher rather than an indie scholar. I think this is because I’ve never been, or aspired to be, a salaried academic. Nevertheless, there is clearly significant overlap, and I think such a society might well have room for both.) And I have considered starting one, because, as @DrNomyn implied, it wouldn’t be that difficult.

The hard part would be keeping it going.

I think there are two main reasons that would be hard. First, there aren’t actually that many indie researchers/scholars who would be interested in such a society, and most of us are insanely busy, so getting people involved in anything beyond initial sign-up would be difficult. (I know this because I’m on the Board of the UK and Ireland Social Research Association (SRA), which makes considerable efforts to involve and support indie researchers, most of which are poorly attended/used despite what people say they want in the biennial members’ survey). Second, and partly as a result, such a society wouldn’t generate enough income to pay people to run it, so it would all be done by volunteers, and as I believe I may have mentioned on this blog once or twice, the last thing indie researchers need is more unpaid work.

A third, subsidiary problem, is that there is a high turnover of indie researchers and scholars. People like me, who are resolutely indie and have been for, in my case, 17 years now, are rare. Quite a high proportion of indie researchers or scholars are people who have been made redundant, or whose contract has finished, and who haven’t yet secured other work, so they set up as indie while also looking for jobs in the hope of earning some money to tide them over. Some of them may stick with indie work, either through choice or necessity, but many will go back into employment sooner or later. Others like the look of the indie lifestyle, so set up as indie with every intention of making a go of it, then find they can’t make enough money, or they don’t like working for themselves, or they hit some other problem. (I felt for @darthur62 who said he couldn’t maintain indie work because his networks fell apart; that’s what happened to me after the change of government here in 2010, and I’ve been very lucky to be able to rebuild my business). And some are successful indies who are seduced away from their indie work by an organisation with an offer that is (or appears) too good to refuse.

I make no criticism of anyone in these positions. Any of them could be, or could have been, me. Frankly, if any organisation offered to pay me a decent salary just to write stuff, I’d be there like a shot. But the churn in the indie population is another factor that I think would make it hard to maintain a society for independent researchers and/or scholars.

So my advice, as given on Twitter, is: find a society near you that caters for indie scholars or researchers, join it, and get involved. I’d recommend the SRA for anyone in or near the UK/Ireland. They offer events, training, support with research ethics, good deals on insurance, a magazine and newsletter, a directory of members’ services, and we’re currently trialling access to academic literature for members, with other benefits in the pipeline. There is an equivalent-ish organisation in Australia called the Market and Social Research Society, though some tweeps expressed disquiet at the thought of being lumped in with the market researchers. There will also be discipline-specific societies, as @deborahbrian pointed out, for e.g. educational researchers, sociologists, anthropologists, etc. Each society should be able to give you information about how many indies they have in their membership, and what they do to support independent scholars or researchers, before you join.

I was looking forward to meeting other independent Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences. Turns out I’m the first. There are one or two who are indie now, after decades as professors, but that’s not the same. I would love it if there was a society for indie researchers and scholars, and am rather hoping someone will disagree with me enough to start one. I’d certainly join.