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.


Still here! Join us June 3

A columnist quotes advice from a freelance academic:

“Get a coach, or a mastermind group, or a meet-up group. If you are the only person in your head every day, you will go crazy.”

We are your meetup group! Not that I am threatening anyone with insanity if they don’t participate. But Hidden Scholars is the place to get out of your head and be with others who are on the same path, in the same boat, dealing with the same issues. And unlike coaches, we don’t charge.

Our next meetup will be Wednesday, June 3, from 7:00 until 8:30 p.m., at Fresh Side in Amherst (tea, cold drinks, snacks, meals). We’ll start with informal conversation and then give each person a chance to ventilate, to talk about his/her work, or to ask for advice and feedback. Come for the whole time or just drop in.

Other news of interest:

The quote above is from an article on Vitae, a career website sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It hosts groups called Adjunct Life and Flexible Academics, among others. More information here.

The National Coalition of Independent Scholars is holding a conference in New Haven on June 18-21. Read about it here.

And here is some insightful commentary on the life of an adjunct professor.

Finally, my apologies for the long silence. I’ve been finishing a book and preparing it for publication, and the process has preempted many other things. It’s due out in October and can be pre-ordered. Here’s a glimpse.

Thanks! Hope to see many of you on June 3.


Shays’ Rebellion and Schadenfreude

Late-breaking news: Daniel Bullen, who was profiled as a Hidden Scholar in the Chronicle of Higher Education article a while back, will be speaking on Shays’ Rebellion TONIGHT at 7 p.m. at Forbes Library in Northampton. This versatile writer is speaking as a poet rather than a historian. Playwright Constance Congdon and historian Richard Colton are also on the program.

Meanwhile, a member forwards this commentary from Slate on hierarchy and rhetoric about adjuncts:

Coming events

A couple of notices from Versatile Ph.D. about exploring non-teaching careers, and a gallery exhibit by member Lorna Ritz, a painter and teacher.


A Career in Publishing

Jane Mairs, Merriam-Webster

Thursday, April 9th – 6:00-7:30 pm
N400 Integrated Learning Center
650 N Pleasant St
Amherst, MA 01002

From the beginning of her graduate work in Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin, Jane Mairs was considering a non-academic career. Recognizing that her interests gravitated towards practical uses of academic training, she sought professional opportunities to leverage her knowledge and skills. Her path has included a variety of teaching, editing, and publishing roles at such organizations as New York University, Cambridge University Press, and Merriam-Webster, Inc. In this session, Jane will lead a discussion about the factors that influenced her career trajectory and led her to her current position as Director of English Language Learning Publishing at Merriam Webster, Inc. Light refreshments will be served. Pre-registration is required. This event is sponsored by the UMass Amherst Graduate School Office of Professional Development (OPD). Questions? Contact Colleen Smith at

Versatile PhD – Western Massachusetts presents
 Alt-Ac Careers for PhDs:
 What are they? How do you prepare for an alt-ac career and how do you obtain an alt-ac position?
Dr. Mary Fechner, Proposal Development Specialist, Office of Research Development, UMass Amherst
Dr. Susan Newton, Associate Director for the Center for Public Policy & Administration (CPPA), UMass Amherst

Thursday, April 2, 2015, 6 p.m.
Jones Library, 43 Amity St., Amherst, MA
For further information, please contact Melissa at:


273 Pleasant St., Northampton, MA 01060 (413) 586-6300 Gallery hours: Thur.-Sun., 12-5
Two plein air painters Brian Chu and Lorna Ritz
April 2- April 26

Reception: April 10, 2015, 6-8pm

March 5 program from Versatile Ph.D.

From the regional chapter of VPhD:


Our next VPhD Western Mass meeting will feature Heidi
Garrett-Peltier (PhD Economics). Heidi is a researcher at the
Political Economy Research Institute who will discuss her own
“alt-ac” career and give advice to those looking at or thinking
about a profession utilizing research skills–skills that are honed
in the process of obtaining a PhD. Note that she is not speaking on
behalf of PERI, but of her own observations and experience.
For those of you who attended Chris Humphrey’s talk, alt-ac would
constitute one of his four quadrants of career opportunities for
PhDs. Research positions, however, can be both within higher
education institutions or outside of them. In fact, many are
somewhere in between.

So if you’re thinking about a post-PhD career using your research
skills, whether you’re in HSS or STEM, come talk to Heidi about what
she sees as important in obtaining this type of position. More
information will follow. Heidi is local, so you can speak to her in

We will meet at the Amherst Room of the Jones Library (upstairs), 43
Amity Street, in downtown Amherst. Time: 6:00 p.m.

Versatile Ph.D. meeting in Amherst!

There’s now a local chapter of Versatile Ph.D.! They will be hosting a session this coming Saturday, February 7, with Chris Humphrey of Jobs on Toast (see The topic: “How to market yourself for a career outside academia.” Jones Library, Amherst Room, 1-3 PM.


We’ll have more to say soon about common ground and possible collaboration with VPhD.

New book from a Hidden Scholar

So I walked into Amherst Books the other day, and there on the front table was the latest from Emily Monosson, Unnatural Selection: How We Are Changing Life, Gene by Gene. Emily is a toxicologist and an impressive example of what an independent scholar can be and do. This book explores the effects on natural selection of chemicals developed by human beings and used for human purposes.

Read more about the book here:

Emily Monosson is also the author of Evolution in a Toxic World: How Life Responds to Chemical Threats, and editor of Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory.  And she developed the “Science Moms” blog (see blogroll to the right).

Independent scholars in the humanities

Just a couple of news items: Longtime independent scholar Ray Kibler is organizing a conversation at the upcoming meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego, hoping to bring together independent scholars and those employed in the academy.

And the American Historical Association is conducting an extensive and thorough study of contingent faculty. “It is impossible to develop practical policy recommendations when we know so little about the influence of crucial variables in shaping this population,” notes of the committee responsible for the survey. Watch this space for further news.