Independent Research: When? Why? How?

Before I got my doctor’s degree (PhD), different circumstances forced me to choose sooner rather than later a more independent path. This new path was a very helpful reminder of why I first wanted to become a researcher. This post is about writing as an independent scholar in 2020 and 2021.

How it all started

I am not quite sure when I got the idea first. I do remember though thinking about what makes you choose the path of independence on the day I met Sara Ahmed.

In 2017, I had the privilege of meeting the feminist scholar at Södra Teatern in Stockholm. Before Sara gave her lecture “Snap! Feminist Moments, Feminist Movements” (listen to it here at the website of the organisers, Tryck), I had the opportunity to join a discussion with Sara and other feminist anti-racist activists. At that time, I represented Interfem and Mana and was there to interview Sara Ahmed.

I already knew some of the reasons that led Sara Ahmed to resign from her academic position. It was an act of protest against academia’s failure to tackle the issue of sexual harassment. I was thinking that there are others who choose to leave academia for similar or other reasons. With that choice, they are leaving behind not only an institution but also the idea of doing research.

But Sara Ahmed was different.

I had my own struggles causing me to ask questions about independence. But I did have my doubts, as well. I was writing my doctoral thesis at that time and was thinking that independent scholar is not an available option for everyone. We may lack the qualifications, or have not made a name for ourselves. So, I asked the question: “Who can become independent?”. I still remember her replying that, for her, it was never a matter of choice.

This meeting turned into more than an essay on the lecture by Ahmed and her book Living a Feminist Life. Now in retrospect, it seems that the meeting marked a turning point in my own life.

When and why I was “independent”?

In the second half of 2019, I found myself writing my articles/thesis, but I had no university employment and my affiliation to the academy was temporary. The day I got this reality check was the same day I officially started writing as an “independent scholar”. I recalled the words of Sara Ahmed about not having a choice, though my situation and reasons were different from hers.

Yet, like Ahmed, I was not willing to give up on research. I also wanted to find ways to put my creativity, curiosity, and interests to better use. I wanted to learn more, anew, and I yearned for career opportunities. There have to be other ways than giving up!

In 2020, I wrote: “This independence is still an experiment and there is much to learn, explore and there are also a few challenges to overcome but I am excited to see how far it will go.”

Update August 2021: I am very happy to announce that in only a few weeks from now I will have a university affiliation again! So far, I have managed to get two works published/accepted as well as attend a conference as independent scholar. More works were completed independently but since I had an affiliation when they were started, I chose to state that instead. This period was not without challenges given that it is very difficult to get access to research databases without a university affiliation, not possible to apply for ethical vetting and a few other issues. However, it has been rewarding in many ways as I had the opportunity to explore new themes and interests. Now I look forward to my new workplace, meeting my new workmates, students, seminars, discussions, collaborations…

Further reading

Sara Ahmed’s blog feministkilljoys