viernes, 28 de octubre de 2016

Researching outside Academia

Originally published in

I personally know no researcher who intends to do his job and accomplish his career goals outside academia. No one but myself. I do know about independent researchers elsewhere (not in Chile) because I read book reviews noting the affiliation of the reviewer, but have never met one in person. Academia is attractive because it assures a constant income for at least one semester, although for no other reason as far as I am able to observe.

The negative aspects of working inside academia seem to me much heavier — even overwhelming. There is the “publish or perish” problem, which has been sufficiently discussed and showcased. The issues deriving from this one and others not so well known to the public are, nevertheless, as discouraging as itself.

  1. Justifying. When working at a university or applying for funding, you are asked to justify what you aim to research. And, no, you are not allowed to answer honestly, but you are rather expected to ellaborate complicated explanations about how useful your findings will be. Then I wonder since when has research to be useful? What kind of filthy mind could ever believe that research has to be rendered useful? Research pursues no purpose other than satisfying human curiosity!
  2. Planning. You are also asked to present a detailed chronogram of how your research will progress and when will be done. I feel it nearly impossible to predict how much time I shall spend in every project. How am I supposed to report about something I am not certain? Of course I can guess how long it will take me to complete every step in a project, but guessing has little to do with academic research. So this requirement always feels like a waste of time. Ultimately, you may end up writing something that does not fills your own expectations because of the lack of time or, on the other hand, being done much earlier and feeling guilty about how little you have accomplished.
  3. Teaching. Most institutions expect you to teach students, especially undergraduates. Some will even hire you with the only purpose of teaching, so you will not get paid for doing the research these institutions ask you to have done before hiring you. It is like telling you that your worth comes from your research, but you mean nothing if you cannot spend time teaching rather than researching. So you have to fund your research and only then get “rewarded” with the possibility of teaching some lads. From the researcher perspective, however, teaching is a waste of time. Important as it is, for we need to educate the future researchers, every scholar put to teach is taken away from research. It involves not only the sessions in front of often uninterested spoiled children, but also producing documents (syllabi, tests, rubrics) and marking exams. This takes a lot of time.

These are the problems I can think of without much reflection, as immediate examples of the struggle you experience inside academia. My colleagues are all linked to at least one institution and they expect me to “settle down” in a university as well. It is tempting because of the financial stability it offers, but the consequences are far from light. Private teaching has given me, instead, a freedom they cannot dream about, albeit it does not guarantee the financial stability they enjoy. Independent research, on the other hand, lends me more freedom, more time, and less stress. I understand why they have chosen oeconomic tranquillity, but am not convinced of joining them in the castle of Akademos.

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