Displaying items by tag: independentscholar
Wednesday, 06 March 2013 13:58

Disability in Star Trek Papers

In the next two months, I will be delivering two papers on disability in Star Trek. I am officially living the geek dream! I have wanted to present on Star Trek for many, many years now, but always felt like I should choose more literary or "high-culture" examples to discuss at academic conferences. Then I remembered: I'm an independent scholar! I can talk about whatever I want. Enter: Star Trek. Since a few people have expressed interest in my papers, I am posting the abstracts for them here. If I have the time and inclination, I also would like to post the completed full papers once I have delivered them.

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For ICFA

Blink Once for Yes: Remaking Disability in Star Trek

From reproduction technologies that seek to eradicate and limit the reproduction of disabled people, to prostheses that replace missing limbs and extend the function of the body, technology is an essential component of cure narratives in many science fiction scenarios. We can see an evolution of the representations of “cures” or “fixes” for disability on the SF screen, for instance, through the figure of Star Trek’s Captain Christopher Pike. In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “The Menagerie” (1966) Captain Pike (played by Jeffery Hunter) is severely injured during battle, leaving him confined and dependent on a wheel-chair unit (operated by his brain waves) that encases his body, leaving only his badly burn-scarred face visible. To communicate, Pike’s chair is equipped with one large light which blinks once for yes and twice for no. This Original Series Captain Pike is pitiable, and Captain Kirk – the very embodiment of masculine health and vitality as played by William Shatner – struggles to gaze upon his old mentor. Fast forward to 2009 when director J. J. Abram’s glinting reboot of the Star Trek franchise hit the screens and reimagines the iconic disabled figure of Pike (now played by Bruce Greenwood). While still injured in battle, Pike clearly earns his wounds as a hero, and is shown in the final scenes of the movie in a low-key wheel-chair, smiling, and fully functioning aside from his inability to walk. 2009’s Captain Pike is a far cry from 1966’s – the representation of his character’s disability demonstrates the change in cultural attitudes towards people with disabilities (i.e. less monstrous, more heroic), as well as highlighting the advancement of the technological “fixes” for disability. Despite the gains we see through the figure of Captain Pike, the desire to cure his injuries and return him to – or get him closest to – the idealized vision of the perfect/normal body remains. In a wheel-chair, he is a deviant body and portrayed as being no longer in a position to be the active leader of a starship (and therefore must pass off his role to the able-bodied Kirk).

In a utopian vision, like that played out in the Star Trek universe, when integrated into the able body, technology makes the human body better, an idealized version of itself. When technology is applied to the disabled body, however, all too often it is in an attempt to cure or normalize what is deemed “wrong” with the body. Take the technology away and the disabled body’s supposed lack remains. In this paper, I will analyze the ways that the two representations of Captain Pike speak to a shift in our (Western) cultural understanding and acceptance of the disabled body and its relationship to the technologies that attempt to cure and contain it.

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For Eaton/SFRA

Shadow of the Man: Reading Disability in the Star Trek Universe

From Star Trek: The Original Series to J.J. Abrams’ filmic reboot, Star Trek in 2009, the Star Trek universe is rich in its representations of disability. Throughout its forty-six year history, the space opera franchise has reflected the Western cultural attitude towards disability and people with disabilities, a vision that, while well-intentioned, is often contradictory and ableist. As Tobin Siebers argues, “the ideology of ability makes us fear disability, requiring that we imagine our bodies are of no consequence while dreaming at the same time that we might perfect them. It describes disability as what we flee in the past and hope to defeat in the future” (Disability Theory 9). While I will touch on examples from across the series, for the purposes of this paper, I will focus my main analysis on the last Star Trek: The Next Generation motion picture, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis (2002). This film is an excellent example of the two main disability narratives prominent in Star Trek: first, the positioning of disabled peoples as exploitable bodies, and second, the potential of disability to be a positive, transformative experience once it is eliminated or “cured.” I will draw on key Disability Studies theorists to frame my analysis, notably Siebers, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, and Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell.

In their foundational work, Cultural Locations of Disability, Snyder and Mitchell state: "In a culture that endlessly reassures itself that it is on the verge of conquering Nature once and for all, along with its own “primitive” instincts and the persistent domain of the have-nots, disability is referenced with respect to these idealized visions. As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without 'deviancy'” (32).
These two parallel disability narratives play out in Nemesis within the dominant storyline of Shinzon, Picard’s ailing clone, and the subplot of B-4, an early prototype of the sentient android (and as “good as human”) Data. Reading the film through the lens of disability studies, I am interested in examining the ways the audience reads both the fleshy Shinzon and the synthetic B-4 as inauthentic, primitive versions of the “real” Picard and Data. Each “copy” carries out different responses to living with their deviant bodies: the unevolved B-4 is unaware of his limitations and is therefore exploitable, while Shinzon, on the other hand, is fully aware of his status as other (he says, “I am the shadow of the man. The echo of the voice”) and chooses to enact his limited agency through violence and redirected repression. I am particularly interested in how the divergence between the two representations (B-4 is pitiable, yet expendable, while Shinzon is offensive and deserving of death) speak to our current cultural anxieties about expanding rights and visibility for people with disabilities. Star Trek explores not only what it means to be human, but who gets to be counted as human.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Wednesday, 20 February 2013 16:24

Valuing the Independent Scholar

A few months ago, I was asked by a kind and generous woman to be on a panel about independent scholars at a large, well-known conference. She found me through this blog and I was honoured to have been asked – it is always nice to be noticed after all. My first response was an immediate but tentative “yes.” Apparently, two different academic organizations were sponsoring this panel, so I thought that perhaps, given the topic (the challenges of being an independent scholar), this meant that there would be some kind of funding offered. I wasn’t expecting much, but I hoped that at least the conference fee would be waived.

It only took a few email exchanges to learn that not only was there no funding for me, there wasn’t even any funding available for the woman who put the panel together (which meant that she herself couldn’t go). At this point in our conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder: what kind of professionals “sponsor” a panel to learn about the barriers and challenges of independent scholars and then neglect to provide any sort of financial support? Learning that I would have to fully pay my own way to attend the conference in order to share my experiences, there was no way I could justify the expense of the trip. I still wanted to be part of this opportunity to discuss independent scholarship however, so I proposed the possibility of presenting a paper via Skype.

Emails were sent. Higher ups were lobbied. And yes, delivering a paper via Skype was an option …but I would still have to pay the conference fees! At this point in time, I was beyond annoyed. I was being asked to present on my experience as an independent scholar over Skype--a free service--and I still had to pay them for the honour. My frustration with the elitism and pay-to-play culture of academia was at an all time high. The attitude that I encountered from these conference organizers was that I should be grateful that they were going to let me speak in the first place. I decided that I would never attend this conference (as there really is no benefit for me to be there) and thanked the woman who had contacted me. I sincerely appreciated her effort in trying to make my participation on this panel happen, and we both agreed that, if nothing else, at least we were able to make a meaningful connection with one another.

As an independent scholar, I have no interest in paying to tell salaried and funded academics about my experiences creating an intellectual life outside of the university system. So to anyone in academia reading this, here’s the deal: if you want to hear from independent scholars at a conference, give them money. Any amount will do, really, as we are writing and researching on our own, without university resources. We independent scholars clearly have a passion for sharing our knowledge and expertise, but it is insulting to be invited to speak about our challenges and then be expected to financially perform as if we have tenure-enabled travel funds. Greater value needs to be attached to our efforts and contributions to scholarship, especially when those inside of the academy invite us to return and share with them our unique struggles and successes.

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

All in all, 2012 was a great year for me. While I suffered through a string of chronic-pain flares and developed carpal tunnel syndrome in late November, I am learning, slowly, how to better take of myself (so those kind of problems don’t happen with such regularity). Overall, I am far healthier – both physically and mentally – than I ever was in graduate school. Part of this improvement is due to my decision to pursue independent scholarship. While I definitely went through bouts of self-doubt and uncertainty, I kept pushing myself to take risks. I went to cons (both academic and fan), I sent out proposals to journals, and I took on the task of editing a collection of essays.

Since I had no idea how to be an Independent Scholar, I had no expectation of reward. I figured that if I was successful in least one of my attempted academic endeavors, then good on me. I did not expect to land every proposal (except one) that I wrote up. As an Independent Scholar, I found the success –and joy, and intellectual freedom, and peer acceptance – that I never did as a graduate student. Perhaps the only thing that changed has been my attitude to the work, but I do believe I have finally discovered the path of scholarship that best suits me. Since I am honestly researching and writing for the love of it (and not for a tenure-track worthy CV), the parameters of what constitute my success and failure are broad and always flexible. Independent scholarship won’t put money in my back account, but, as clichéd as it sounds, my life feels richer for it.

It is actually quite difficult to write this post without weeping over my keyboard (and not just because my wrist still hurts). How can I properly express the depth of my surprise – and satisfaction – that I am doing well at the very thing I love? I feel incredibly blessed to be in this position. Without the support of my partner, Andrew, I am unsure if I would have taken the risk to start this unusual and uncertain career path. I have an academic coaching and editing business that I thoroughly enjoy each day, and a self-determined work schedule that allows me the space and time to follow my scholarly interests.

Here is what I accomplished as an Independent Scholar in 2012:

- Wrote the Afterword for Outlaw Bodies, Edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad

- Presented papers/was a panelist at ICFA, WisCon, WorldCon/ChiCon7, SFContario3, and attended the World Fantasy Convention.

- Confirmation of publication in the forthcoming WisCon Chronicles 7 (paper: “Theorizing Vulnerability in Feminist SF) and a book review in JFA.

- Two articles are in the peer-review process (one for a journal, another for a collected works).

- And, saving best for last, I landed a contract with Palgrave Macmillan for my edited book, Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability in Science Fiction! I’m beyond thrilled about this news – the subject matter is important and timely, and my contributors deserve to see their interdisciplinary work in print.

Just writing all of these things out makes me giddy/proud/scared/teary. Seriously. I’m feeling all the emotions. I was so used to getting the “we regret to inform you” rejection letter that I really didn’t fully believe that I had all the skills necessary to make it as a scholar. Even though I would say –and sincerely mean – that I could make it in academia if I wanted to, there was a nagging little voice deep inside that whispered “that’s a lie.” I think defeating that voice, or, perhaps more truthfully, pushing forward despite it, has been my greatest accomplishment this past year. I don’t want to let such (old) shadows of self-doubt and fear keep me from challenging myself and exploring new and unfamiliar ways of working (either paid or unpaid).

I don’t have an exact idea of what 2013 will look like for me, but I know that it is going be an interesting year. I’m going to fulfill my long-held nerd dream of having a room full of people listen to me talk about Star Trek – I will be presenting two (!) papers on disability in the Star Trek universe (one at ICFA in March and the other at Eaton/SFRA in April). I haven’t committed to any non-regional SF cons yet, as finances will only allow for so much travel. Still, now that I have built up a network within the SF community, I don’t feel so isolated and am already looking forward to participating in SFContario 4 (held November in Toronto).

I want to thank everyone who has helped me achieve my goals this past year – my old friends from grad school and my new ones from cons, my diverse editing and coaching clients (whose business keeps me in food and books), and the many wonderful and supportive people I talk to online (I’m looking at you Twitter peeps). It is easy to laugh at Independent Scholarship – to load it up with pejorative labels and preconceived ideas of some sort of intellectual inadequacy – but I have been so heartened to find an open-minded community of people who have taken my work seriously. Thank you all. Your presences in my life, no matter how small or passing, have helped drown out that whispering voice of doubt. I wish a happy, healthy, and brave New Year to you all!

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Tuesday, 02 October 2012 15:16

5 Myths About Independent Scholars

In a recent thread on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Forum, someone asked about using the label “independent scholar.” A little digging showed that it wasn’t the first time the topic has been raised there, and there is clearly a lot of anxiety associated with the alternative identification. I read through the threads and took note of some of the stereotypes associated with the independent scholar title (my favourite descriptors are: “goofy,” “crackpot,” and “unhireable”). There is a pervasive sense that identifying as an independent scholar is risky and should be avoided (in favour of other labels, such as “visiting scholar”) if at all possible. From what my cursory research shows, this hand-wringing and name calling comes mostly from those still firmly entrenched within academia. For scholars on the outside, like myself, there is significantly more confidence and feelings of quality attending the label of independent scholar.

Let’s first establish some sort of working definition of what actually constitutes an independent scholar. The National Coalition of Independent Scholars outlines the following criteria for inclusion in their membership: “NCIS welcomes people who are pursuing knowledge in or across any fields whose credentials demonstrate an active involvement in independent scholarship in any field, as evidenced by advanced degrees or presentations/publications. Further qualification is that the scholar not be employed on a full-time basis by an academic institution or other organization in the field to which their independent scholarly activity pertains. Graduate students intent on pursuing independent scholarship, adjunct faculty, and others tangentially associated with academic institutions who do not receive financial support for their scholarly activities are eligible.”

Okay – so an independent scholar is actively pursuing knowledge (and presenting/publishing it), tangentially or not associated with a university, and does not have funding/financial support for their scholarly work. Nothing shameful or embarrassing there, right? Nope. Despite evidence to the contrary*, there nevertheless persists a good deal of myths, mostly unfavourable, about independent scholars. Here are the most popular ones:

 

Myth #1: “Independent Scholar” is a placeholder title for unemployed PhDs

Two points: First, As the NCIS definition indicates, an independent scholar has an active track-record of scholarly research and publishing. “Active” is the key word that distinguishes an independent scholar from an unemployed PhD. “Independent scholar” shouldn’t be used as a placeholder title. If you are not an active scholar but want to identify yourself to prospective employers as a PhD holder, then use the honorific of “Dr.” or put “PhD” after your name.

Second, it is entirely possible to have a PhD, be employed in a non-academic position, and carry out independent scholarship. Most of the independent scholars that I have met work full-time jobs of some sort, and they integrate their scholarly work into their daily life.

Myth #2: Independent scholars are crackpots

I’m sure that some independent scholars are indeed “crackpots,” but so are some “real” academics and professors. A label does not determine quality of work. Peer review processes are in place, in both Humanities and STEM fields, which ensure a certain level of intellectual engagement and worthiness of the contribution within academic publications. Publishing or presenting outside of traditional academic locations is also a legitimate direction for independent scholars – if you are interested in sharing your knowledge/passion with an appreciative audience, then the opportunities to do so are everywhere, from blogs to community library talks to international conventions.

Myth #3: Independent scholars are really retired professors

Yes, there are definitely retired professors who now identify as independent scholars. They are known to frequent their favourite conferences and still publish a book review or article every now and then. But there are also independent scholars, like myself, who have never been employed by the university past their graduate education. There are even independent scholars who don’t hold advanced degrees because they are self-educated and have pursued their passion to academic levels of intensity.

Myth #4: Academic publications aren’t open to independent scholars

The idea that you must have a university affiliation for any academic publication to take your work seriously is a particularly pervasive myth. Definitely untrue. While it may be easier to get published in certain journals over others (and this is true even for those with university affiliation), if your work is solid, then the independent scholar label will not limit your opportunities. If you present yourself professionally, then you will be taken seriously. Make inquiries if you are uncertain about the suitability of your paper for a specific journal. Follow all submission guidelines to the letter and meet deadlines.

Using myself as an example here, I left grad school with zero peer-reviewed publications, but now I have (in the works), one edited collection of essays, one journal article, and one chapter in a book. (I’ve also presented three academic papers at conferences in the last year, and have written an afterword for this amazing anthology of SF short stories, Outlaw Bodies).

Myth #5: An independent scholar is a wannabe professor/failed academic.

There are many reasons why someone chooses to pursue scholarship outside of university employment. Given the dreary state of the academic job market, an ever-growing number of advanced degree holders find themselves unwilling or unable to chase tenure-track jobs around the world. Choosing independent scholarship can be a political decision, a way of taking some authority away from the university. Or it can be a lifestyle choice – independent scholars are free to pursue multiple career and research avenues that are not possible for a tenure-tracked academic.

Whatever the reason behind someone’s decision to identify as an independent scholar, assuming that they lack the academic chops for a tenure track position just makes you look like a total snob and/or clueless jerk. Scholarship is possible beyond the university, and academia does not hold the rights to original thought or innovation.

I’ve written about the benefits of being an independent scholar before, and there is certainly more to say about the topic. Feel free to add your own thoughts about the myths of independent scholarship in the comments.

 

*I haven’t included any specific examples of independent scholars (other than myself) here because, well, they really aren’t that hard to find. Also, I’m going to write a post on notable independent scholars and I don’t want to give away all of my fascinating research now. Stay tuned!

 

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Earlier this week, I lost all of the confidence I had been carefully encouraging and maintaining for the last year. Up against several deadlines – of my own making no less – I began to crumble. Physically and mentally, I felt terrible. Knowing that it was an avoidable situation just made me feel worse.

The evidence of my “doing okay” is everywhere around me. I run my own business, set my own hours and rates, and am doing exactly what I want to be doing in terms of scholarship. A few weeks ago, at the height of my new found life satisfaction it suddenly hit me: I do not know how to deal with success. When it comes to rejection and failure? No problem. I am expecting rejection and failure. And academia provided me more than ample opportunities to play out that expectation.

As a graduate student who wasn’t ever able to secure external funding (i.e. the kind of funding that counts), I went through the five years of my doctoral studies too often feeling like a poor loser. The majority of my peers managed to land SSHRC or OGS awards for at least one of the years of their programs. I never experienced that day of excitement when the acceptance letter arrived, or had the validation and comfort in knowing that, at least for one year, there would be enough money in the bank to live on. I became used to the idea that I wasn’t at the top of my department/university/field. I was just another graduate student, earning the university two more units of governmental funding. Such a position does not inspire confidence.

When I left academia, I had to do a lot of hard work reorienting my ideas of success and happiness to life outside of the university community. Even though I was already existing on its margins in the last year or so of my doctorate (as I prepared for my departure), it was a difficult transition. I didn’t just have to find a new career path for myself, I had to rebuild my destroyed confidence, a task far more difficult than networking and developing an entrepreneurial plan.

Having finally achieved happiness in my work life, it was startling to see myself falling back into old destructive habits these past weeks. What changed? For one, I prioritized my independent scholarship over paid client work for a bit, which meant my incoming earnings dropped off as a result (an echo of my underpaid grad life). I also received feedback on one of the papers I have out in the peer-review process right now. While the feedback was fair, it was far from glowing, inscrutably listing everything my first draft paper lacked. Suddenly, I was back in grad school and I wasn’t good enough anymore. I had to forcefully remind myself that I don’t need to publish this paper (or any papers for that matter). Nevertheless, already stressed by unrealistic deadlines, the all-to-familiar sounding criticism was the last straw. I crumbled. 

So this week I have needed to repeat my mantra of “independent scholarship means freedom!” I have the freedom to write about whatever I want (and I am). I also have the freedom of not caring about how successful I am within the realm of academic publishing. It would be nice to publish an article in a top-tier journal since I want to share my research, but the success of my current work life, which I love, does not depend on it. I have many options available to me, and it is foolish and unproductive to hang my hopes on the same unrealistic standards of academic performance that I found oppressive just a few years ago.

Being an independent scholar, as I am discovering, is not as easy as I would like it to be. And it isn’t because of any institutional barriers; it has everything to do with the way I approach success and failure. Thankfully, this latest bout of self-doubt has been brief. Surrounded by the positive community I’ve found in SF fandom, the happy clients for whom I work, and an ever increasing list of cool independent scholarly projects, I am already coming back with a renewed sense of confidence and purpose. Now all I really need to do is reschedule those ridiculous deadlines ...

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Thursday, 05 July 2012 17:27

Benefits of Being an Independent Scholar

The current furor over the University of Birmingham offering an “honorary" research assistant position has caused me to reflect on my own unpaid scholarly pursuits. It is absolutely wrong for a university to expect their research workforce to perform for free, but as an independent scholar, the unpaid aspect of the work – and for me it is work, not a hobby – is a necessary given. At least once a week, when I’m up against a deadline of my own making, I think to myself (usually out loud to the increasing annoyance of my partner), “Why am I doing this again?” When you are working “for free” it is important to be clear about the purpose of your efforts (otherwise, you’ll lose motivation and accomplish nothing). Increasingly, this blog pulls in traffic from people looking for more information (ideas?) about being an independent scholar. There are growing numbers of MAs and PhDs out there who are hesitant to lay down their research books simply because they aren’t in a teaching or tenure-track position at a university. I think that this is a good thing.

For the curious and the disbelieving alike, here are a few of the benefits of being an independent scholar:

Advocacy

While the current academic job market and over-production of professionally unprepared PhDs (in the Humanities and Social Sciences) are not ideal situations, the fact that more post-graduate degree holders are seeking outside alternatives to researching and publishing can only increase awareness that there is a need for higher education reform. The vast majority of PhDs who leave academe for non-academic jobs aren’t solicited for their opinions on their experience of graduate education, nor are they an audible voice in advocating for reform. Once out of the university system most PhDs get on with their lives, and rightly so, but their silence makes it harder to convince people within and outside of academe that reform is needed.

For myself, transitioning from a PhD student who advocated for more transparency (in regards to funding and academic job market figures) into a fully fledged independent scholar was a relatively easy decision. Once I admitted to myself that I still desired to continue my studies on my own, I realized that I was also placing myself in a unique position to voice my concerns about the faltering state of graduate education in North America. As an independent scholar who attends academic conferences and engages with my academic peers online, I have kept one foot in the door of the Ivory Tower. From the threshold, I get to tell those inside exactly why I left academia (while demonstrating my academic competence) and the public on the outside can hear me too. As an independent scholar, I know that my voice is being heard without any professional risk.

Community Engagement

When I left academe, I said good-bye to a formal system of professional support and community. Now I work at home. By myself. I interact with my clients through email and phone conversations, so my work life can feel fairly isolated sometimes. In addition to making me a memorable individual at business networking events (since no one else has “independent SF scholar” on their business card), my independent scholarship fulfills my need to be part of a larger community. Through my participation in the science fiction community – both academic and fannish – I get to meet and talk with people whose intellectual passions mirror my own.

At academic conferences, I enjoy the opportunity to be among my scholarly peers and get caught up with the latest research in my wider field of study. At SF conventions, I meet other fans from diverse walks of life and have fun participating as an “expert” on panels. By identifying myself as an independent scholar, especially within the fan community, I occupy a unique position of expertise that has connected me with some of my favourite writers and created new friendships and work partnerships.

Intellectual freedom

I get to read and write about whatever I want for whomever I want. It’s wonderful not having to worry about funding or departmental politics that (not-so) quietly dictate what one should or should not study. While I was a grad student, I deeply felt pressure to perform intellectually in specific ways that were not necessarily natural or agreeable to me. As an independent scholar, I never worry about whether or not my research is in vogue at the moment. If a peer-reviewed journal isn’t interested in my latest article, no big deal. I’ll send it to an SF-blog or post it on my own instead. My goal is to put my work out there for other interested parties to read – where that place is (online or in print, academic journal or SF book review blog), doesn’t matter to me so much.

Being an independent scholar has also given me the confidence to take risks in my intellectual pursuits. Freed from the pressures of academia, where publishing success determines advancement and changing one’s disciplinary focus is an arduous process, I find myself sketching out projects that I never considered before. If I’m going to be an independent scholar, I might as well take risks with that scholarship. While I still fully intend to keep my SF research going, I have decided that my next book-length project will be on theory – I want to rethink and reframe the concept of agency. Not a small task. Just writing that out for public eyes makes me sweat a bit, but it’s also damn exciting. Independent scholarship doesn’t come with a set of rules and regulations, so why contain my intellectual efforts to what I already know (and what already exists)?

Personal Satisfaction

Above all else, it feels wonderful to be able to do the work that I was trained to do. I spent six years in graduate school learning how to be a researcher, writer, and educator because I enjoyed those roles. While I get to put my skills into practice through my paid working engagements (as an academic coach and copyeditor), my time is spent helping other people with their intellectual or professional pursuits. I absolutely love working with my clients, but I still have a strong desire to do independent research into my own areas of interest. If anything, I am more motivated to keep my clients happy because their business gives me the financial freedom to take the time to write academic articles and attend SF cons.

In the past year, I have surprised myself at the level of success I have already achieved as an independent scholar – by the end of next year, I will hopefully have published at least three peer-reviewed articles, one peer-reviewed book (my edited essay collection, Technology as Cure: Representation of Disability in Science Fiction), and three non-academic pieces of writing. This list doesn’t include all of the smaller writing and SF-fandom projects that I’m involved in or the conferences/conventions at which I will be presenting . Basically, I experience all the best parts of being an academic without the institutional constraints.

Being an independent scholar is not for everyone. It requires a certain privileged position – I have a full-time working partner, no children, and state heathcare – and a willingness to work with no expectation of financial reward. I’ve become a firm believer, however, that one should live their passion. For me, I want a life full of science fiction and life-long learning. Even though this work will not produce any income (and often costs money to pursue), the benefits I have experienced as an independent scholar make the financial sacrifice worth it.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Thursday, 03 May 2012 15:43

Adventures in Independent Scholarship

Yesterday, I finally sat down and did some project management for my work life. Without intending it, I have officially become one of those people who must plan out their appointments and deadlines weeks – if not months – in advance. I am taking this new need for long-term planning as a sure sign that I am a fully functioning, on-my-way-to-success, real live Independent Scholar. It turns outs that all I needed to do to get to this point of alternative employment, was to start doing it. Like client work, interesting scholarship is rarely going to fall in your lap – you need to create opportunities for it to happen.

Last August I pitched my idea for Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability in Science Fiction [working title] at WorldCon, and by the winter I was selecting the essays that would make up the collection. Now it’s May, and I am writing the Introduction to the book, while my contributors buckle down on their second draft. My goal is have the full drafted manuscript off to the publishers for peer review in mid-summer. I am damn excited about this project – the contributors have written excellent, ground-breaking work and it seems that many people I meet are keen on picking up the book when it comes off the press. While I am still without a contract for the collection, I am fully confident that I will have one by the end of the year (if not much sooner).

In my role as editor of the volume, I have gone through a crash course in academic publishing. In many ways, the process is a lot less intimidating than I first imagined. I was worried that both academics and publishers would be uninterested in working with me, once they noticed my lack of university affiliation. But, like my experience at ICFA in March showed, I have not encountered any bias that was not easily overcome. Along every step of the editorial process for Technology as Cure, I have gone through bouts of self-doubt: Will this contributor respect my deadline? Will this seasoned academic be insulted by my request for extensive revisions? As always, my worry has been pointless. All of the contributors are committed to the project and I’ve discovered that I can edit with the best of them. It’s incredibly satisfying to be doing the kind of work that I was trained to do.

In order to give my recent scholarly activities adequate attention, I have had to limit the amount of paid client work I have been taking in. This meant making a financial sacrifice. And it’s been worth it. I have gone through a lot of soul searching this past year and I have had to evaluate life’s “big questions.” For me, it has come down to what I want out of my working life and I have chosen happiness, learning, and health over the potential to make more money. If I worked a traditional full-time office job, there is no way that I could pursue my research and writing into science fiction. Besides, I know for certain that traditional forms of employment are not for me – I’ve worked in various offices, taken on different roles within the academy, and no job has ever been fulfilling as the one I created for myself. I simply love being a self-employed scholar.

The next few months are going to be intense. Here is what’s on my plate right now: a few book reviews, paper at WisCon (May 23-28 in Madison, WI), wrapping up first full draft of Technology as Cure?, writing an Afterword to short story collection on “Outlaw Bodies” (Edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad), submitting an article to JFA (special issue on the Canadian Fantastic), and offering feminist feedback on one of my new SF colleague’s novel. Plus whatever other random projects I end up taking on/falling into as I keep working with academic copyediting and coaching clients. My fall is shaping up to be just as busy – if not busier – in terms of scholarship, so I am trying my best to dedicate enough time for all of that reading and writing.

All of this happened because I started writing blog posts about my SF interests and joined in the SF community (making initial connection over Twitter, the only social network I am on - @BleedingChrome). Each connection I made gave me a little more confidence to take the next step, to propose bigger, more adventurous projects. I can’t think of one day in the past three weeks where I didn’t love what I was working on (both in terms of paid and unpaid work). While I still get stressed out about what my future will be like (because it is so uncertain), I am not overwhelmed by it anymore. Instead, each day, I look at my work calendar and think to myself “this is awesome!” And it is.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Monday, 02 April 2012 18:11

Theorizing Vulnerability (A Beginning)

With ICFA now behind me, I'm already looking forward to attending WisCon at the end of May. I will be presenting a paper as part of WisCon's academic track and I am hoping to get a conversation started about vulnerability in feminist SF. This paper actually heralds in the first stage of my next major research project. Even though I'm still putting together Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability in Science Fiction, I'm already starting to plan out a solo, book-length exploration of vulnerability (in science/science fiction). I have been thinking critically about vulnerability - in all contexts of the word - since I first picked up Margrit Shildrick's Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self (2002) during my doctoral research. Shildrick's evocation of the vulnerable self - and the measures we take to cover it up - became a guiding theoretical framework for my thesis.

But even after writing my dissertation, the complexity of vulnerability - in terms of ontology, epistemology, and corporeality - has persisted in my imagination. It bleeds into all of my academic thinking. I encounter it, suddenly and unexpectedly, in my daily life. Vulnerability refuses to be ignored. No theory, word, or concept has ever taken such deep root in my conscious before. I find it - both the word and its presence in my awareness - unsettling and inspiring. And like with most things we find troubling, I'm eager to examine and contain it. I can't say yet what the book will look like or how fast I will write it, but I know that it is coming.

Below is the abstract for the paper (still to be written) I will be presenting at WisCon. A (tiny) sneak peek into my on-going obsession with vulnerability:

Theorizing Vulnerability in Feminist Science Fiction

As the pace of advancements in prosthetic and other computerized assisted-living technologies quickens, we, as a culture, find ourselves faced with new possibilities for (dis)abled bodies and embodiments. In this paper, I want to explore the concept of vulnerability in feminist SF and begin articulating the ways that vulnerability of the body can open up new ways of understanding human being (both materially and ontologically). Drawing on both disability studies and feminist theory, I want to expand on the notion of vulnerability as theorized by Margrit Shildrick in Embodying the Monster (2002). Shildrick proposes that while “we are already without boundaries, already vulnerable” (6), normative subjectivity elides its own vulnerability by repositioning it as a quality of the monstrous other (68). Much traditionally masculine oriented SF (from the books of Isaac Asimov to Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek series) rejects vulnerability in favour of the technologically-fortified posthuman. Technology is positioned as a way in which to overcome the physical or mental limitations of the human body, but the quest to transcend the body ignores the lived realities of labouring, feeling, and suffering bodies.

I suggest that, regardless of the distractions and promises offered by technology, the body matters. Elizabeth Grosz reminds us that: “If bodies are objects or things, they are like no others, for they are the centers of perspective, insight, reflection, desire, agency” (Volatile Bodies, 1994, xi). It is those unquantifiable qualities – perspective, insight, reflection, desire, and agency – that uniquely define embodied vulnerable being. They are qualities that technology cannot reproduce or replace. By taking examples from feminist SF works (from writers such as Octavia Butler, Misha, Larissa Lai, and Nalo Hopkinson), I want create an open discussion about the ways that the genre stresses the importance of the body (both abled and disabled), asking us to recognize the shared vulnerability that defines human being.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Last week I attended my first ICFA – it was an amazing conference and I’m still processing all of the information force-downloaded into my brain. I met dozens of interesting and brilliant scholars and writers, as well as received a deep validation of my own career choices. Last week also marks, roughly, the first year anniversary of Academic Editing Canada. I’m not sure exactly, because I never bothered to celebrate the date of my sole proprietorship’s launch last March. As anyone who has been following my blog knows, I left graduate school in the fall of 2010 feeling defeated and suffering from depression and chronic pain. So when I launched AEC in at the start of 2011, I had only the barest glimmer of hope. I could imagine the possibility of success, but only in the way that I can kind of imagine what being an astronaut or billionaire must be like.

Needless to say, I was not prepared for actually succeeding on my own, but here I am, with enough client work to keep me employed and support my independent scholarship (i.e. free up time to research/write and provide resources to attend SF cons). I’m absolutely gobsmacked at what I’ve accomplished. It’s not that I’m rolling in cash (far from it), nor am I racking up prestigious publications (so far). Yet I am happy – I have the academic job I always wanted!

From the completion of my PhD, it took me over 6 months to separate out what I liked about academia and drew me there in the first place from all of the stuff that I detested and could no longer endure. Once I worked out the basics of what I loved doing, I started shaping my career plans around them (creating, what is commonly called, a portfolio career). This is how I have ended up working as a copy editor (primarily for academic texts), dissertation coach, and independent scholar. Just as PhDs looking for non-academic careers need to articulate their “transferable skills,” I began thinking about how I could transfer or recreate the kinds of work I enjoyed performing in academia. Here’s what I did:

I moved my love of teaching and working with students one-on-one in the classroom into copy editing (where I assist people in improving their communication) and into dissertation coaching (where I get to practice mentorship). Basically, I have replaced “students” with “clients,” which, admittedly, is not really much of a stretch these days. I am engaged with people looking to improve their knowledge and skill base, but now I choose with whom I work and I never have to give or defend a C grade ever again. Down the line, I might want to pursue more active teaching avenues, such as working as a corporate trainer, and so I am already networking to keep that possibility open.

Working as an academic copy editor and coach also allows me the space to work with scholarly ideas and get paid at the same time. While a portion of my day-to-day work deals with subject matter outside of my immediate interest, I frequently get to edit challenging and thought provoking texts. In the year that I’ve been copy editing, I have not once been bored by the material I am hired to make better. I have learned about everything from pain management for recovering addicts to the intricacies of the Indo-Pak war of 1965. In terms of dissertation coaching, every client brings with them a unique set of knowledges and challenges. I’ve helped PhD students with all-things thesis, from developing writing schedules to reviewing what it means to “critically read” articles. The variety of work I encounter is fantastic … and it’s only becoming more interesting as time goes on.

And the best pay-off from doing this fun, engaging, and fulfilling work? It allows me the flexibility and opportunity to pursue my science fiction research. When I’m not doing client work, I turn my attention to reading SF, watching SF, writing about SF, and going to SF-centered events. Yep. It’s pretty freaking amazing. Being an Independent Scholar is way more awesome than I first thought. My worries about not being taken seriously by “real” academics? Gone. Going to ICFA confirmed to me that, in the field of SF studies anyways, my contributions to scholarship are valued and desired. I am now even more determined to put my head down and research/write my heart out.

I should add that I am able to maintain my portfolio career (copy editor/coach/scholar) because I am in a unique and privileged position. While I am certainly far from wealthy, I earn more than I did as a graduate student (which was practically nothing), I live in Canada where my healthcare is covered by the state, and I have a supportive partner (both in terms of financial and emotional support) and no dependents (only one little cat). We decided together, long ago, that we would work jobs that we love, even if it meant a materialistic minimal lifestyle. We rent. We have a hand-me-down vehicle. We don’t go on costly vacations or buy things we don’t need. But we work at jobs of our own creation and on our own terms.

All in all, I’m happy with my career success to date. The pay might not be the same, but I wouldn’t trade the freedom I have – to choose my work, clients, hours, research direction – for a tenure track position, even if one was magically dropped on my lap. What makes me really excited is knowing that I’m only at the start of my new career. There are so many opportunities, both known and unknown, ahead of me and I can’t wait to take them as they come. It’s a revelation (and a welcome one): I dared to quit the university and I’m doing okay. Actually, no. Scratch that. I’m doing great.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

It has almost been a year since I launched Academic Editing Canada (AEC) and nearly year and half since I finished my PhD and bid farewell to academia. In the time that has passed, I have slowly progressed through all the various emotions that attend any large transition. When I set out on my own last year, I had two major goals for myself: (1) heal physically and emotionally from the stress of grad school and (2) establish a business that provides me with steady part-time work so that I can continue pursuing my independent SF research in earnest. Despite working diligently towards these goals, it nevertheless has come as a shock that I have succeeded in reaching them.

I still have a way to go on the health front, but day-by-day I am learning how to better balance work and body demands. I am more acutely aware of the connection between stress and my chronic pain – when I’m anxious and binge working, I am not well. Being a sole proprietor definitely helps me control my working hours, but I am still unlearning many of the bad work habits I developed while in grad school. On the business front, I have established myself in the marketplace and developed several excellent long-term client relationships.

All of this progress is great, but I am most proud of the independent academic projects that I am undertaking. I am actually a real, live, breathing Independent Scholar – and I am having a bit of a hard time accepting that fact. It just seems too surreal and ridiculous to be true. I was unwell all of last week, so I had lots of time to reflect on the past year and on all the gains (and missteps) that I have made. When I left grad school, I felt worthless and foolish. Even though it was my decision to leave academia, there was always this little voice in my head telling me that I was a quitter, that I simply wasn’t good enough to make it into tenure-track. The voice goaded me constantly: “Where are your publications? Where are all the grants? You have done nothing. You failed as an academic and that is why you left.” Over and over again, the word failure plagued me, daring me to give up on the alternative career aspirations I had for myself.

I didn’t give up or take an easier, safer path. With the encouragement of my partner Andrew (who is an exemplar of self-directed learning and achievement), I took the risk on working for myself while expanding my scholarly experience. The biggest turning point for me, mentally, in transitioning from graduate student/academic to entrepreneur/independent scholar happened last August at WorldCon. I presented a paper in the con’s academic track and it was an awesome experience. Not only did one of my dissertation subjects, SF writer Laura J. Mixon, attend my talk (on her work, Proxies), I also had the chance to explore interest in my current project, an edited essay collection [working title] Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability in Science Fiction. Since the feedback I received at WorldCon was overwhelmingly positive, I jumped right into writing up a CFP for the book and receiving submissions. Now, I am eagerly waiting to read essays from 12 amazing SF and disability researchers from across the globe!

In addition to working on the essay collection, I am also taking the financial hit and attending (and presenting at) several conferences and conventions this year: ICFA, WisCon, WorldCon, and WFC. Admittedly, going to these events is fun, but I am also aware of the power of networking in person. While I already connect with other people in the SF community (both fan and academic) on-line, meeting individuals in person is immensely more effective and fulfilling. Again, I will be using these cons to test out my latest research interests, but I am also viewing this year as my public coming out as an Independent Scholar. I wish that I had access to the same funding bodies as institutionally-affiliated scholars do, but that is the only aspect where I feel that I am at a disadvantage.

Being an independent scholar is incredibly liberating. I always felt weighed down by the politics of the university and the backroom whispers of who’s (not) getting funding or who’s (not) getting tenure. Feeling like I was being constantly judged – and worrying that I wasn’t meeting the bar of academic success – held me back from pursuing what I wanted to do. Not because I was worried about derision from my peers or mentoring faculty for choosing to study an unpopular subject, but because the constant worry and stress of “measuring up” literally made me sick. Maybe it’s because of my class background or that my personal beliefs of equality and fairness are simply at odds with the current institutional system of higher education, but academia is not the environment to which I am suited.

I am excited about the upcoming year and the scholarly work that I am undertaking. I already have another book-length project in mind once I complete work on the essay collection. Being on my own has given me a level of intellectual and professional confidence that I never had as a struggling grad student. Throughout the last years of my PhD, several respectable people told me: “You know, Kathryn, you can succeed in academia if you want to. You have the skills.” I *do* have the necessary skills, but I lack the desire to compete for a tenure-track job. I think that my lack of hunger for tenure, combined with my deep and thorough academic burnout, was read by some of my peers as inadequacy. This past year has proved that I am anything but inadequate. I want everyone to know that they too have the same options for success outside of academia. There is no shame is leaving the ivory tower – and being on the outside doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing research.

Calling oneself an “independent scholar” is laughable to many people still entrenched in the university system. I know because I used to make fun of the concept myself – for individuals who only know scholarship within the walls of academe, the thought of it legitimately existing outside is both absurd and threatening. Of course, with experience, I’ve changed my tune and proudly call myself an independent scholar, even including the title on my business card. I want everyone I meet to know the kind of work I do and deem important. Sure, I probably won’t save any lives writing about feminist SF or disability in Star Trek, but, on my own terms, I am helping further conversations that I believe are important in establishing a more inclusive society.

I will be writing more about my life as an independent scholar because (1) not a lot of people write/discuss what it means to be one and (2) it is a natural extension of my advocacy for higher education change. I have been doing some research into organizations that support independent scholarship (through networking, grant applications, etc.) and I will post about those resources soon. If you also identify as an independent scholar – or are considering being one – and want to connect (for support, networking, etc.) please feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly.

 

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