Displaying items by tag: independentscholar

I haven’t had a lot of time available for writing and scholarly projects this past month – other work commitments (aka. my job) kept me from pursuing all of my SF and academic interests. It has totally sucked. Like many other things during my transition from PhD student to self-employed independent scholar, the depth of that suckiness has caught me by surprise. I don’t think that there was ever a time in my entire graduate education that I lamented: “I want to write but I have no time!” Instead, I rued the fact that I had to write, when I wanted to be doing just about anything else. Yet, here I am, absolutely thrilled to be finally have the time to focus on writing.

Yesterday, Julie Clarenbach (from Escape the Ivory Tower) interviewed me for a podcast she does for University Affairs magazine. I won’t give away any of the exciting details of our conversation – you’ll just have to wait for the podcast to air – but she did ask me about what it was like to be a scholar without a university affiliation. My answer was somewhere along the lines of “it’s awesome” and I started thinking about all the small (mis)steps and successes that I’ve experienced in the process of establishing myself as an independent academic. As I have yet to meet another person who also identifies her/himself as an independent scholar, I am totally making up it up as I go. I admit to feeling daunted, at first, by the “University Affiliation” field required for all academic article and conference submissions. Now, though, I have Independent SF Scholar proudly printed on my business card. Yeah! Here are some of my thoughts on how to turn into a successful “university of one:”

Identify the audience for your work. When you are in academia, the audience for your work is a given –the other 5 people in your field. Well, okay, maybe there are more than 5 interested readers (10?), but the relevant journals and conferences for your particular field of study are obvious. When you are an independent academic, however, you should be looking for audiences that exist outside of academe as well. For example, as an SF scholar, I have been integrating myself into the well established community of SF fandom. Large fan-driven conventions are excellent places to present your ideas and engage with other people interested in whatever obscure thing your dissertation was on. Trust me – far more people from SF fandom have read my thesis than people within academia. And, what’s even better, they tell me and give me compliments and ask questions (huge thanks!).

It is a great feeling to know that my years of research into feminist post-cyberpunk have not gone to waste. More than that, non-academic conferences are usually quite happy to have an academic speaker presenting a paper or included on a panel. Since a non-academic conference holds little weight on an academic CV, there are not a lot of academics willing to attend them. If you are going to be an independent scholar, engage with reading groups, cultural centres, and organizations that you think might be interested in talking with you and discussing your work.

Rethink what “being published” means. As a rule, the more prestigious the academic journal, the more impressed your department will be with your CV. Well, as an independent scholar, the name on the journal does not matter as much. In fact, I will even go so far as to suggest that you place academic journals lower on the scale of “good places to publish” if want to be a successful independent academic. Again, it goes back to the question of audience. For myself, I want as many people as possible to read my work and talk about my research. Getting a paper in an academic peer-reviewed journal is fine, but the potential number of people I can reach is limited. Plus, by the time my pithy article deconstructing race in the Smurfs* reboot comes to press, my attention – and that of my ideal audience – will have moved on.

While I have only been working at establishing my cred as an independent SF scholar for 6 months, I already have several publications on the go in various kinds of media (i.e. a freelance article for a well-known magazine, blog posts, an edited book collection, and a paper for 2011’s WorldCon). Considering that I was entirely unpublished as a graduate student, I am still impressed/surprised by the scope and success of my current output. I even recently received my first unsolicited invitation to an academic conference! Without the same pressures and stressors that attend the academic publishing process, I can be more creative and, as a result, I am finding lots of cool places to publish my work (and some of them even pay!).

Have exceptional self-motivation and self-discipline. If you are someone who needs your supervisor prodding at you to meet a deadline, being an independent scholar is probably not for you. When you are a university of one, you are only responsible to yourself. If you don’t care about the deadline for your article on zombies, who will? No one. Your great idea about how zombies are a modern day metaphor for the obesity epidemic will never make it public. If you are, however, a self-motivated learner who can stick to self-made deadlines, this is the ideal low-paying second job for you!

For myself, I do have excellent self-discipline in setting and making deadlines for my research and writing projects. Since I cannot devote all my working time to scholarly work, this means that I carefully set aside dedicated days for research/writing. Now, going to the library is a reward for having completed a client’s project (and not a procrastination technique). Being outside of academe means that you will probably feel isolated in your research at times. I say, turn that outsider mentality to your benefit. As an independent academic, you set the standards and pace for your work. You have the freedom to research, write, and publish whatever it is that interests you, without the worry of how it will impact tenure applications or the kinds of classes and grad students you have to take on.

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While in grad school, I remember I used to laugh about the prospect of becoming an independent academic because it seemed like an existence as likely, and about as common, as a unicorn. I am still figuring out my niche in the world, but it is becoming clearer to me by the day that my heart still is an academic one. If I am not deeply engaged with critical work, I am miserable. Of course, like most people, I need a break from academic thinking and this is where I find balance with my “day job” (editing for academic and professional clients). For months now, I relish the breaks in between client projects – that is the time for me to indulge in the latest novel by my favourite feminist SF author, attend a conference (when scant finances permit), or write about the never-ending awesomeness that is cyberpunk. Being an independent scholar, for me, is about exercising my unique skill set and knowledge in order to become a contributing (and hopefully, one day, an influential) member in a larger public community of shared interest. As a university of one, my future looks bright and brainy.


*Have not actually seen the Smurfs movie nor written about. No money in the world would be enough to sit through that monstrosity of a "film." *Shudder*

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Friday, 26 August 2011 17:10

Good-Bye Academia, Hello Fandom!

Good-bye academia, hello fandom! I know, I know. I technically left academia nearly a year ago at the completion of my PhD, but like in any massive breakup, there has been baggage. I have been working through my issues with my graduate education by writing on this blog. Overall, writing about my experience in grad school has been cathartic and has let me connect with others in similar positions. If anything, my disenfranchisement with academia has only deepened over time and I am entirely confident that I made the right decision to leave.

Still, the shadow of academe has loomed large over me this past year. Most of the people with whom I spend time I met in grad school and our conversations inevitably turn towards departmental politics and frustrations over our employment prospects. I have been waiting for the decisive break when I stop looking back and begin to move forward into a venture of my own design. I am happy to announce that Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention, in Reno (Aug. 17-21) was the break I was waiting for all this time.

I was uncertain as to what to expect of this WorldCon. My only other experience of intensive fandom was in 2009, when I attended WorldCon in Montreal. As I mentioned before, I was overwhelmed with people and panels during that trip and my presentation was less than stellar. Going into Renovation this year I set myself three goals: to talk to as many people as I could, present an engaging paper (leaving time for meaningful discussion), and to pitch my non-fiction book idea. On all accounts, I met with greater success than I could ever have imagined. I talked with writers and fans until I was literally exhausted. My paper presentation was awesome (Laura J. Mixon attended! More on that to come in another post) and we had a productive discussion about race in SF. My book idea was met with enthusiasm and sincere interest. To put in bluntly: I received more positive feedback during the 5 days of the con than I did in the entire 6+ years of my graduate education.

Part of the reason for the difference in response is obviously due to the fact that everyone at WorldCon loves SF/F, while I only met one or two individuals in academia who had a passing interest in the genre. As I noted before, SF is still a marginalized field of academic study. It just felt good to be surrounded by people who love SF as much as I do. Even when our specific interests diverged (because there are many different sub-genres in SF/F), the tone of conversation was one of sharing favourite authors and books instead of the never-ending academic competition of “who is better read.” I left Reno with a long list of books to read and a buoyed sense of self-esteem.

I am also acutely aware of the problems that exist within fandom. It is not a fairy-tale realm where everyone gets along and all of the world’s problems are solved. Sexism and racism are still issues that need addressing in SF/F fandom. Women writers, especially those who openly write feminist or queer SF, are still overshadowed by their male (heterosexual) peers. The marginalized presence and participation of people of colour at SF conventions is a site of great anxiety that is in desperate need of open conversation (one that is particularly pressing in my Canadian eyes). With these limitations in mind, I nevertheless feel that fandom is currently ready for significant change. As the generational split in fandom becomes more obvious (between the 50+s who have been attending cons since the 1960s/70s and the latest group of 20- and 30-somethings who bring with them the comic and gaming culture of the 1980s/90s), I believe that the conversations around the limits of fandom have the opportunity to evoke a real shift in the SF/F demographic.

Whereas I felt that I had limited impact on the same biases present in academia, I feel that I can perhaps create generative change within fandom. Someone had mentioned to me that it was a shame that I left academia as they need strong feminist women there, but I believe that the SF/F community needs them too. Instead of staying in academia and talking with a handful of colleagues who already agree with my politics, going into fandom introduces me to new people whose socio-political ideas are different from my own. While conversations around race, gender, ability, and sexuality, may not flow as easily as they would in a graduate classroom, the majority of the people I met at WorldCon are open to discussing (or, perhaps more accurately, debating) new ideas. The old fannish want to see fandom continue – and that means fandom must change to become more inclusive.

While I still don’t know with any certainty where I will be in terms of my career in the near future, I know that I want it to be within the SF community. Fandom offers me the opportunity to continue my research into SF and provides me with an eager and engaged audience for it. I can already map out some of the arguments that need to take place and I look forward to discovering new areas of contention (because that is where work needs to take place). I don’t want my life to be boring and safe. I want to live on my own terms and I want to be a positive and productive force in the world. SF, by its very nature as a speculative genre, coincides with my philosophy: to look ahead, to challenge and, hopefully, to change the future. So: Hello fandom. My name is Kathryn Allan, I’m a Feminist, and I’m just getting started …

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 14:14

Independent Academic

In the past month, I’ve taken to thinking of myself an “independent academic,” a designation that somehow is both laughable and admirable. Regardless of my many complaints and concerns about the academy, I still love the process of researching and writing. The highlights of my graduate education were those times of investigation and analysis. I miss seminar discussions of theory and literature. I even feel nostalgic for the long days spent searching through journals in the library. It took me the last half year to realize that I still wanted to be an academic. Not an academic in the sense of a university professor, but as someone who still pursues knowledge and shares it with like-minded people. I might not want to be a university faculty member anymore, but I still want to keep doing the same kind of work.

Being a science fiction (SF) scholar, I have a unique base of knowledge to start me off. The SF community is well-established and I am hoping that there is room in there for me. Part of the motivation for this blog – aside from a cathartic unburdening of my grad school trauma – is that I want to make connections with people who love SF as much as I do. My dream job would be to do editing work in the morning and write/talk/create SF in the afternoon. I believe that I have something worthwhile to contribute to the field of SF studies and I don’t see why I should stop my research just because I’m not employed by an institution of higher education.

My doctoral research was in the areas of feminist post-cyberpunk SF (a genre term of my own making!), post-humanism, technology, and the body. You can read my dissertation, Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminsist Post-Cyberpunk Science Fiction, online if you like. My current area of research interest (when I find the time) is the representation of disabled bodies and disability in SF. I’m particularly keen on notions of the prosthetic at the moment. I hope to document and discuss my on-going research through this site, so please feel free to join me in conversation.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
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