As an independent researcher I have the power to do things differently. My last journal article was in a forensic science journal; my next (due out in TQR on 13 July) will focus on comics. When I was writing my book on research ethics, I talked through the innovative approach I was taking with a senior professor, who commented that I wouldn’t have been able to write that book if I’d been working in academia.
There are increasing numbers of people doing research and scholarship differently. As a result, there are new societies and organisations springing up – and some that are not so new. The National Coalition of Independent Scholars (which, despite its name, is a global organisation) was formed in January 1989 to support researchers who are not part of an institution. It offers networking opportunities, grant awards, and discounts on professional services, and operates a peer reviewed journal. Some countries do have national associations of independent scholars, such as Australia (founded 1995) and Canada (founded 2001).
The Ronin Institute was founded in 2012 to facilitate and promote scholarly research outside academic institutions. It is based in the US and is a non-profit, which means its members can apply for some research funding (presumably restricted to US members and US funding). It makes a good case for funding independent researchers – something I’ve been lobbying for here in the UK, with the support of the Social Research Association – and also offers publicity and networking opportunities.
The Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and Education (IGDORE) was founded in 2016 to improve the quality of science and science education, and to improve the quality of life of scientists and scientists’ families. They are open to researchers within institutions, though their main long-term aim is to build a new type of university where researchers can choose whether – and, if so, when and what – to teach, and the focus will be on using openly accessible materials and open source software to teach open and replicable scientific practices. At present they have a small not-for-profit campus in Bali, Indonesia, which is open to the public, and offers a small academic library, meeting rooms and facilities, and plenty of space to read, think, and work.
Others are also working to build new types of university. The London Interdisciplinary School plans to offer courses encompassing the sciences, arts, design, technology, the social sciences and the humanities. The aim is to produce graduates who are better equipped to tackle real-world problems than those who have studied a single or double discipline. Their admissions process does not only focus on grades, but also takes into account applicants’ educational, familial and personal backgrounds. Their first cohort will begin study in 2021.
An even more recent innovation is the Free Black University. This is a significant step in the essential decolonisation of academia. The long-term vision is for a university, with its own university press, which ‘will centre radical and transformational thought that may not be respected under the current frame of knowledge’. Also, the project is thoroughly intersectional, being ‘Black, queer, trans, anti-colonial, and revolutionary from its very heart’. Funds are currently being raised for the Free Black University. I have made a contribution. Maybe you could too – or, if money is tight for you, perhaps you could circulate the link on social media to encourage others to donate to this important cause. We all have the power to do things differently, in small ways and/or large, and to help others do things differently. Let’s find and use our power.
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