Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Academic Affiliation

I asked Twitter for some advice about maintaining academic affiliation when you leave academia to work in a non-academic or alternative-academic job. This is particularly relevant for me, as I will be starting an alt-ac job at my current university, but also have a publication and conference plan in place for the next 1-2 years. This is part of my "one-foot-in" plan in case I want to return to academia in the near future.

The responses I received were very helpful. In particular I was advised to ask my department about an honorary research associate or academic visitor title and get my supervisor to also help out. 

However, there was also a concern that I was denigrating the status of independent scholars. 

Independent scholars are hugely important, but are too often ignored by the 'traditional' academic community. One Twitter user commented that having the title 'independent scholar' on a conference badge could be the kiss of death for social interactions at conferences. This is completely unfair and yet too often true.

With the market saturation for PhDs at a record high and jobs scarce, more and more PhD students will be forced to find alternative jobs and careers, if even for the first couple of years post-PhD. Academic affiliation is massively important in allowing post-PhDs to maintain academic visibility and output so that they can work towards that academic job.

Perhaps it comes down to a personal choice. Many are content and happy with their status as an independent scholar, but for the moment I am not. And unfortunately, the humanities PhD market is such that, for a while at least, I won't have an academic job and consequently the status of independent scholar is forced upon me. 

Fingers crossed my department will be able to provide some help with this!

However, what I will not do is "fake" affiliation!

Recently, there has been a Twitter-storm over an open letter from a group called Historians for Britain (see #HistoriansforBritain). On the list of supporters, one name stuck out to me and other Twitter users, and a point was raised about the misuse of academic affiliation:

Now, I understand that David Starkey is too often an easy target but bear with me here! David Starkey gained his doctorate from the University of Cambridge, fair enough. He then went on to teach at LSE until he quit in 1998 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Starkey). 

At the moment, he has no academic affiliation (as far as I am aware of, happy to be corrected),*** yet when I read that list above it appears as though he does! In reality it should probably just say "David Starkey, DPhil (Cantab.)". 

If I don't end up gaining academic affiliation while I am at my alt-ac job, I will embrace the status of independent scholar. I would rather that, than pawn myself off with a dubious affiliation and unscrupulously pretend to be among the ranks of professors, associate professors, postdocs, etc.

But maybe that's just because I was raised with ethics......

***edit: David Starkey is an Honorary Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. However, it has been pointed out that there does not appear to be teaching/research output stemming from the honorary position.


  1. Starkey is an honorary fellow of Fitzwilliam College (see the list here: https://www.fitz.cam.ac.uk/about/people/honorary-fellows). However, in the time I was a grad student there, and in the couple of years since, I never heard of him doing any teaching or research as part of the university, so I think your point holds!

  2. Ah, fair enough! But he does seem to judiciously deploy the University of Cambridge affiliation when needed, without any teaching/research to back it up. Then again, I dislike the man, the self-titled "great historian", so am rather biased!


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