The freelance postdoc experiment

We are all well aware of how difficult is to get a permanent position in academia. The employers are very cautious as the tenured position comes with a very strong contractual stability and in some country with immortality (as civil service status). The postdocs work longer and longer hours to face the increasing competition. Academia needs more and more advanced skills that can only be acquired with years of experience but it refrains from rewarding it with a permanent job. An interesting alternative is that of the academic freelancer as proposed by Katie Rose Guest Pryal here, as a mean to alleviate the intense and extenuating life of a postdoc or not-tenured academic.

We have already started such an experiment, as I have hired a recently graduate and unemployed colleague to perform some theoretical calculations that we need for our experiments. The difference with respect to a normal collaboration is that this time I am paying him by the hour and he is performing the work choosing his time and without being based in London, just coming for a meetings to discuss the results. All the other discussions are done by Skype, email and probably soon in Slack.

In this way we can reward skills and actual hours of work, and potentially we can resolve personal issues such as family relocation etc… Would this work also for experimental work? It is hard to tell, but I could imagine having a setup in my house and performing experiments on demand as a freelancer does. Shared facilities similar to maker and hacker space could also make lab space and equipment more accessible.

Sooner or later we will have to invent a new way to develop science, a research 2.0, and it may start by embracing new concept such as remote and freelance work.