Independent scholar, cat addict, tattoo lover

Life and work of an indy scholar part 4 - Last week I announced that I had planned a shut-up-and-write day and I’m sorry to say that I failed to deliver. I shut-up-and-wrote on two late afternoons for a few hours, but I advanced far less than I had hoped to. Sill, having many irons in the fire feels good and I actually added some more this week. After all, writing for academic journals isn’t really my core business as an entrepreneur. I like to write and I get that hosanna feeling when a paper is accepted, but I don’t perish when I don’t publish. I write for fun but I have other distractions too.

This week wasn’t very different from last week. I had a an appointment regarding the film about PhDs and the labor market and I had a meeting about our research on social entrepreneurship. I also discussed some ideas for new projects in the SE-lab (SE = Social Enterprise), which I will officially join starting February 1. And this Tuesday and Wednesday a colleague and I interviewed people about their experiences with racism in the Netherlands. We’re developing a new interview method which should enable us to do narrative research in a much more focused way, which can make it less labor-intensive and so less costly. The prospects are good and I will be presenting about our research in Ghent this April (my paper has been—hosanna—accepted). And for the rest I emailed, I was on the phone, I spend some time in social media, and I went out for drinks. So all in all again a busy week with a broad range of activities and not a lot of shut-up-and-write. I think I will call this ‘paper time’, the time I think I have for writing papers but isn’t really there.

One thought has been popping up all week this week. I contacted someone who will launch a website in a few weeks. This website is to support independent scholars like myself and I emailed him to see if he was interested in my blogs, maybe put them on his website. That sounded like a good plan to him and he invited me, as he will do others, to blog about what this question: “What would I do if I were stuck in a low-paying adjunct teaching position job with no hope of tenure?” That triggered me. I worked at a university from 1994 to 2002 and have had six temporary jobs, of which only the last one, a postdoctoral position was an academic one (I was hired to do other things than graduate, so I was an external PhD candidate). In the Netherlands, six temp jobs are the max and after that you’re either offered tenure or you’re fired (‘let go’), which was my case. The way he framed his invitation, using words like ‘stuck’ and ‘no hope’, struck me as a bit weird considering my own history. I never wanted a university career but I wanted to do research, so career-wise I never felt stuck and hopeless. I felt stuck and hopeless because my colleagues kept pulling from all sides, demanding my devoted loyalty in their political games and keeping me away from my research. I felt stuck and hopeless when my manager persisted in trying out outdated motivational theories—the sticks and carrots one, for instance. I felt stuck and hopeless at meetings that were organized with the principles of a Polish Diet, and had to go to dinner with the same people afterwards. And I felt stuck and hopeless in the middle of a palace revolution when my work was put on hold by professors who were like, ‘we wanna be free to do what we wanna do’ (yes, read this on the tune of ‘Loaded’ by Primal Scream, played here). I can tell a lot of stories about feeling stuck and hopeless in university, but none of them are about me desperately wanting to stay in a workplace that made me feel stuck and hopeless. I wanted to do research, but realized that doing so within a university would require some adjustments on my side that clashed with my temper. In fact, the idea of becoming self employed had crossed my mind every time I got a letter saying I was sacked. ‘Now is my chance’, I thought, ‘now use this time pressure to start to make work of an enterprise.’ So why didn’t I? I mean, I had five of those letters before the definite one came. The answer is, I was being lazy. I was offered another temp job five times and taking it was so much easier than starting my own business. The ‘should I stay or should I go’ decision (yes, on the tune of The Clash, played here; appropriate in so many ways), it was just easier to stay a little longer and postpone the insecurity of not receiving a monthly salary. I wanted to be self employed, but the university intervened and I allowed it because I had no idea how to make a living otherwise. When the legal max of six temp jobs was reached, the decision was made for me, although again I stalled. After hundreds of job application letters written in vein, I finally started my own business in 2003.

So this is my answer to the question “What would I do if I were stuck in a low-paying adjunct teaching position job with no hope of tenure?” Even though the question doesn’t really apply to me, I’d probably have done the same as I did: stay. Until that was no longer an option and I went. In the twelve years that followed I learned a lot, about which I’ll write in the following weeks. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do, but I think independent scholarship deserves sincere consideration. Hence my weekly blog. I hope this helps you get an idea of what it can mean to you.

Part 3: Me in a getting-things-done mode          Part 5: Don’t leave your clients floored          All weekly blogs