National Coalition of Independent Scholars conference

I went to part of the NCIS conference in June – just one day of a three-day meeting. Attendance was modest on that day: around 20-25 people at each session, with only one session in each time slot. The total attendance at the conference was probably larger.

I met some impressive people doing very interesting academic work. Some were adjunct professors, a couple were librarians or archivists, quite a few were retired, and there were many whose day jobs I don’t know.

The organization has had some changes in leadership over the past two years or so. It’s trying to raise its public profile and to increase its usefulness to independent scholars. Among its offerings are small grants for members, discounts on some database subscriptions, and several modes of online contact and conversation. The conference was also part of that effort. And there was talk of another new direction: teaching people how to be freelancers. It wasn’t clear to me whether the speaker meant freelance academic work or parlaying one’s academic skills into other kinds of freelancing, and in any case it was just a brief reference.

I did sense that the organization is trying to serve several disparate constituencies. It admits members with and without formal credentials; its stated criterion is scholarly production, not preparation. Several of the speakers (especially the social-media experts) seemed to have very little idea of what academics actually do. Others seem to be introducing fairly basic information, perhaps aimed at those who haven’t been trained in scholarly practice. On the other hand, some sessions were traditional-style presentations of academic papers.

A high point, for me, was a lovely presentation from a curator at one of the Yale art museums, a carefully prepared and persuasive discussion of the ways new media can enhance visitors’ education and the ways independent scholars might find a place in this work. I also appreciated another speaker’s fast run through the many platforms for digital humanities.



6 comments on “National Coalition of Independent Scholars conference

  1. You’re right to say that there were some really impressive people at the NCIS conference, and that they came from all walks of scholarship. I certainly enjoyed the breadth of the conference, and there has been excellent feedback. The three-day conference program as a whole provided a very comprehensive picture of digital tools and resources, which could be used in both traditional research and other areas such as curating. I was particularly impressed by the fact that art historians, curators, librarians and archivists were given their say as these groups provided a valuable alternative perspective.

    And one last point re entry qualifications: while it is true that NCIS don’t insist on a PhD (although the majority of members do in fact have a higher degree) all applicants must have a proven commitment to research, evidenced by professional peer-reviewed publications, conference papers, curatorial work, etc., and all are judged (vetted) on a case-by-case basis. This flexibility does allow for the diversity which is indeed the strength of this organization: there are few such organizations who serve our eclectic constituency of independent scholarship with so many benefits and opportunities (grants, discounts, professional services etc.) which can be seen on .

    With all good wishes,

    Amanda Haste (Vice President, NCIS)

  2. For full information on NCIS go to

    And per qualifications for membership: “NCIS assesses the qualifications of each membership candidate for intellectual contribution, scholarly rigor, and independent status prior to acceptance” — a.k.a. “formal credentials.”

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