Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job title: Independent Researcher @DrHelenKara
I became an independent researcher by accident. Here’s how it happened. In January 1999 I was asked to do a piece of research as a one-off. I agreed, did a reasonably good job, people got to hear about it and I was asked to do more. I realised I enjoyed the work, but thought I’d better brush up my research skills, which had atrophied somewhat since I’d finished my first degree 13 years earlier. I signed up for an MSc in Social Research Methods in September 1999 which I completed successfully in 2001. I wasn’t done with studying, though, and got my PhD in 2006. After that I had a few happy years of steady work, with clients such as local and national governments, charities, and public sector partnerships, before politics got in the way.
The change of government in 2010 was swiftly followed by a recession. Most of the people in my networks took early retirement or redundancy or were demoted back from management to direct service delivery roles. My company’s financial year runs from August to July, and 2011-12 was the worst; the company’s turnover was less than £11,000. I had to get a part-time job for two years from September 2011, but – with a great deal of support from my partner – managed to keep my business afloat.
On the plus side, this gave me time to write the research methods book I’d been wanting to write for several years. Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitionerscame out in 2012 (second edition 2017), Creative Research Methods for the Social Sciencescame out in 2015, and Research Ethics in the Real Worldwill be out in November 2018. I don’t make much money from the sales of my books, as royalties on textbooks are not high, but they do help my professional profile. Also, they bring in money through teaching and speaking gigs which I wouldn’t be offered without the authority that being an author confers.
Partly with the help of my writing, over the last five years I have reinvented myself as someone who works with academia. I still work with clients from other sectors, but these days the bulk of my work comes from universities. This reinvention has involved a lot of writing – not only the books, but also several journal articles, a bunch of e-books, my blog, tens of thousands of tweets – and as much networking as I can manage. Luckily I’m good at, and enjoy, both networking and writing. However, the networking is limited by cost. I have never been to a conference outside the UK, and I don’t go to many in the UK; only those I can afford. In practice this usually means the ones that will let me do some voluntary work in exchange for a place. I do have a Visiting Fellowship at the UK’s National Centre for Research Methods, an honorary position which is a huge help as it gives me access to mentoring and resources.