Kathryn Allan's Blog

In addition to running Academic Editing Canada, I'm an Independent Scholar of disability studies and science fiction (specializing in cyberpunk and feminist SF). I'm the proud co-editor (with Djibril al-Ayad) of Accessing the Future, a disability-themed SF anthology; editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure; and the inaugural recipient of the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. My PhD thesis is awesome: Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk SF [pdf].

So you find yourself on the outside of the ivory tower (either by choice or not) and now you want to become an independent scholar. First off, a definition for you to consider: an independent scholar is actively pursuing knowledge (and presenting/publishing it), is tangentially or not associated with a university, and does not have funding/financial support for their scholarly work. If you are still thinking “sounds good,” then here are some questions you should ask and answer before spending your time, energy, and financial resources pursuing independent scholarship:

Why do you still want to do academic research and writing when you no longer have to?

Of all the questions here, this is the “big” one to puzzle out--and the one that leads into all the other questions (and late nights second guessing yourself). When you first leave the academy, chances are you are leaving with some baggage about what it means to succeed as a person with a PhD. If you have made peace that a tenure-track job is not in your future, then take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Am I wanting to keep researching/writing/publishing simply because that is the kind of work familiar to me?” Transitions are hard. Transitioning out of academia into the non-academic working world is particularly difficult for many people due to the insular and cultish culture of academe. After x number of years carrying out academic duties, it is possible that you are still caught up in academic definitions of what constitutes worthwhile work.

Doing scholarship without a formal system of support is a whole other game. Do you actually love researching? Or is it just what you are used to doing? Distinguish between feelings of obligation (“I should be doing what I’m trained for”), expectation (“everyone expects a PhD to publish at least something”), fear of being seen as a failure (“if I don’t keep up scholarly appearances, everyone will think I suck”), safety (“this is all I know what to do”), and passion (“research is what keeps me going everyday!”). I’ve worried my way through all of these feelings and, admittedly, they all contributed to my decision to become an independent scholar in some small way. At the end of the day, however, it is a passion for learning, higher education, and seriously engaging in the genre of science fiction that continues to motivate me to spend my time and limited income on my independent scholarship.

Do you see scholarship as a hobby or as a part-time (unpaid) job?

As you’re figuring out why you still feel the desire to keep up your scholarly pursuits, (1) accept that independent scholarship pays no money and then, (2) ask yourself about how much time you are willing to commit to it. If it’s something that you only want to do on some evenings and weekends when the mood moves you, then it might be more difficult for you to meet the demands of academic publishing (which is something you may or may not be interested in…we’ll get to that issue soon). Good scholarship involves a lot hours—make sure to factor in how much time it really takes to research, read, write drafts, revise, submit, etcetera. I treat my independent scholarship as a part-time job and include it in my schedule as I would any paid work task.

Who is your audience? Do you want to publish inside or outside of formal scholarly publications?

You need to decide whether you want to even bother with academic publishing. Unlike non-academic publications that don’t require the same peer-review process, academic publishing takes forever and a day. Do you want immediate gratification from your writing? If yes, then you don’t want to go the scholarly route. Get your thoughts out there by writing for magazines, blogs and the like—just be cognizant that if you don’t have peer-reviewed publications, many academics won’t consider your work as on the same level as theirs. This may or may not be a problem for you (see next question).

Does academic acknowledgement of your work matter to you?

If you want to be a noticed voice in your field, then you are going to have to publish at least some peer-reviewed work and present at conferences. If you don’t care at all about academic acknowledgement of your scholarship, then perhaps you don’t actually want to be an independent scholar. And that’s okay. Be an awesome freelance writer or blogger or [fill in position here] instead. Being an independent scholar, however, does mean that you need to be actively engaged in scholarship—and this involves being in some sort of conversation, for at least part of the time, with fully ensconced (TT and all the rest) academics.

Is your particular field of study open to contributions from independent scholars?

Some disciplines have a long history of positively valuing independent scholarship, while others regard a lack of university affiliation with great suspicion. Knowing the landscape of your field will help you determine where your work will get the best reception and if it is worth your effort to pursue independent scholarship in the first place. By all means, be a trailblazer, but keep in mind that it’s often thankless (and expensive) work. See “Who is your audience?” above.

What are you hoping to gain from independent scholarship?

And finally, what is the payoff of independent scholarship for you? Remember, it’s probably never going to be money. Stop hoping for money! (Note: I’m still hoping for money). It might, however, be a way of finding an interesting career path that you never considered, or it might mean developing new relationships that will challenge and support you in your future endeavours. For myself, I’m still not completely sure what I want from my independent scholarship in the long term (like 10 years from now), but I do know that I have no intentions in stopping anytime soon. I have my next year of scholarship already planned out. I know that I want to write a book. I want to keep identifying the hidden corners of my field and help open them up to exploration. I want to start discussions, not end them.

When you are an independent scholar, you are essentially a university of one: you need to dig deep for motivation to finish projects, meet deadlines, and justify conference expenses.


Ultimately, being an independent scholar should make you feel happy and fulfilled. If, after mulling over all these questions, you do decide to become an independent scholar, please make sure to represent and rock out the title with pride!


I came across this feminist science fiction fellowship the other week--it looks amazing! As soon as I saw it, I knew that I would have to apply for it. For any feminist science fiction scholar, this is simply not an opportunity to be missed:

The Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Society, Robert D. Clark Honors College, and the UO Libraries. Special Collections and University Archives.

As part of the Center for the Study of Women in Society’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, and as a way of honoring the role that Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) played in the founding of CSWS, we are collaborating with the University of Oregon Knight Library and the Robert D. Clark Honors College (CHC) to create the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. (Guidelines PDF)

Purpose: The intention of the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship is to encourage research within collections in the area of feminist science fiction. The Knight Library houses the papers of authors Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Kate Wilhelm, Suzette Haden Elgin, Sally Miller Gearhart, Kate Elliot, Molly Gloss, Laurie Marks, and Jessica Salmonson, along with Damon Knight. SCUA is also in the process of acquiring the papers of James Tiptree, Jr. and other key feminist science fiction authors.

Fellowship description: This award supports travel for the purpose of research on, and work with, the papers of feminist science fiction authors housed in the Knight Library. These short-term research fellowships are open to undergraduates, master’s and doctoral students, postdoctoral scholars, college and university faculty at every rank, and independent scholars working in feminist science fiction. In 2013, $3,000 will be awarded to conduct research within these collections. The fellowship selection committee will include representatives from CSWS, CHC, and the UO Libraries.

Fellows will:

- Complete their research at the University of Oregon within a year of award notification;
- Submit a 1,000-word (maximum) essay on their research topic to CSWS for possible inclusion in publications;
- Meet with representatives from CSWS, CHC, and SCUA during their visit to Eugene;
- Submit a separate paragraph to CSWS documenting the specific collections consulted during the fellowship;
- Submit a copy of their final project or publication to CSWS;
- Acknowledge the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship and its sponsors (Center for the Study of Women in Society, Robert D. Clark Honors College, and Knight Library Special Collections and University Archives) in all publications resulting from the research fellowship.

Applicants must submit by September 1, 2013:
- A 1,000-word (maximum) proposal that describes the project for which these collections will be consulted, as well as the role that the applicant expects these collections will play in the project;
- An anticipated budget for the research visit;
- A two-page curriculum vitae or resume;
- Full contact information;
- Two letters of recommendation.

Applications (as PDF attachments) and questions should be emailed to Jenée Wilde, CSWS Development GTF (jenee[at]uoregon[dot]edu).

As part of CSWS’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship recipient for 2013-14 will be announced at the Sally Miller Gearhart “Worlds Beyond World” Symposium, University of Oregon, November 8-9, 2013, with honored guest speaker Ursula K. Le Guin.

CFP - Gothic and Medical Humanities

Thursday, 16 May 2013 13:13

Even though I'm not a gothic studies scholar, this CFP really caught my eye. A perfect opportunity to use a disability studies framework! I don't think I'll have the time to propose a paper, but I'm certainly going to consider it.


Gothic and Medical Humanities Call for Papers

Proposals are invited for a special issue of Gothic Studies exploring intersections between the Gothic and medical humanities.

Gothic studies has long grappled with suffering bodies, and the fragility of human flesh in the grip of medical and legal discourse continues to be manifest in chilling literature and film. The direction of influence goes both ways: Gothic literary elements have arguably influenced medical writing, such as the nineteenth-century clinical case study. In this second decade of the twenty-first century, it seems apt to freshly examine intersections between the two fields.

The closing years of the twentieth century saw the emergence of medical humanities, an interdisciplinary blend of humanities and social science approaches under the dual goals of using arts to enhance medical education and interrogating medical practice and discourse. Analysis of period medical discourse, legal categories and medical technologies can enrich literary criticism in richly contextualising fictional works within medical practices. Such criticism can be seen as extending the drive towards historicised and localised criticism that has characterised much in Gothic studies in recent decades.

Our field offers textual strategies for analysing the processes by which medical discourse, medical processes and globalised biotechnological networks can, at times, do violence to human bodies and minds – both of patient and practitioner. Cultural studies of medicine analyse and unmask this violence. This special issue will explore Gothic representations of the way medical practice controls, classifies and torments the body in the service of healing.

Essays could address any of the following in any period, eighteenth-century to the present:

· Medical discourse as itself Gothic (e.g., metaphors in medical writing; links between case histories and the Gothic tradition), and/or reflections on how specific medical discourses have shaped Gothic literary forms

· Illness narratives and the Gothic (e.g., using Arthur Frank’s ‘chaos narratives’ of helplessness in The Wounded Storyteller).

· Literary texts about medical processes as torture/torment in specific historical and geographic contexts (including contemporary contexts)

· Doctors or nurses represented in literature as themselves Gothic ‘victims’, constrained by their medical environment

· Genetic testing; organ harvest; genetic engineering; reproductive technologies; limb prostheses; human cloning, and more.

To date the links between Gothic and psychiatric medical discourse have been the most thoroughly explored, so preference will be given to articles exploring other, non-psychiatric medical contexts in the interests of opening up new connections.

Please email 500-word abstract and curriculum vitae to Dr Sara Wasson, s.wasson[at]napier[dot]ac[dot]uk. Deadline for proposals: 1 October 2013.

The official journal of the International Gothic Studies Association considers the field of Gothic studies from the eighteenth century to the present day. The aim of Gothic Studies is not merely to open a forum for dialogue and cultural criticism, but to provide a specialist journal for scholars working in a field which is today taught or researched in almost all academic establishments. Gothic Studies invites contributions from scholars working within any period of the Gothic; interdisciplinary scholarship is especially welcome, as are readings in the media and beyond the written word.

For more information on Gothic Studies, including submission guidelines and subscription recommendations, please see the journals website: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/cgi-bin/scribe?showinfo=ip022


Good news! My proposed paper was accepted for the Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre conference at McMaster this fall. I'm particularly excited about writing and presenting this one, since it will be my first try at crafting a theoretical framework in a conference paper (more than simply presenting an analysis). Here is my proposal:

Backwards and Beyond: Neuroscience and Disability in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy

In Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy (Wake, Watch, Wonder), Caitlin Decker is a blind teenager who is given technology that enables her to see both the physical world and the virtual realm of the internet. She becomes a figure that stands between a human past where intelligence is characterized as singular and “primitive” (represented by the apes Hobo and Virgil) and a “posthuman” future where intelligence is multi-faceted and supported by a great number of organic and inorganic technologies (i.e,. the spontaneous AI, Webmind). Framing my reading of the books within Disability Studies, I propose that Caitlin’s prosthetic enhancement, as well as the novel kinds of intelligence displayed by both the apes and Webmind, disrupt the Western cultural construction of disability as a biomedical condition that can be known, contained and controlled.

In Cultural Locations of Disability, Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell contend that the disabled body is often characterized as temporally in flux: “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). Given that current neuroscience demonstrates that the brain is far more complex than previously understood--moving away from the study of the single neuron to positing that “communities” of neurons act together to complete a task, allowing for the direct integration of prosthetic technology into the brain (see Miguel Nicolelis’ Beyond Boundaries)--the Western biomedical model’s conception of disabled bodies as “primitive” or limited must be reconsidered. I will theorize how the threats to normative human embodiment displayed by the “enhanced” disabled/deviant bodies in Sawyer’s WWW trilogy reflect the advancements in neuroscience that have disrupted the distinction between the “primitive” and “human” being. My reading of the science fiction series will address the necessity of changing our Western understanding of what constitutes intelligence and ability, and which bodies are therefore entitled to autonomy and self-determination.

Works Cited

Nicolelis, Miguel. Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connection Brains with Machines -- And How it Will Change Our Lives. New York: Times Books, 2011. Print.

Sawyer, Robert J. Wake. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009. Print.

– –. Watch. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2010. Print.

– – –. Wonder. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2011. Print.

Snyder, Sharon L. and David T. Mitchell. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.

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