In a recent blog post I discussed Alt Ac careers. These are typically full-time non-teaching and non-research positions within higher education. You could be administrator, public historian, digital humanities.
I also described post-acs, who are the bad boys of academia. It is completely leaving academia altogether, wiping your hands clean of the entire process. These people work in business, publishing, writing, or any other sort of career. Post-ac is an identity or way of identifying in relation to the institution of academia, and a belief that the current system is flawed, cruel, unsustainable, and therefore impossible to directly engage with.
Now I’m going to discuss a third approach to non-traditional academic careers — the Scholarpreneur approach. This is a neologism of my own coining, and it has much in common with alt-ac or post-ac but there is a slightly different mindset.
What I put forward is that the most important distinction for a Scholarpreneur is that you are an academic who controls your own career. You are not tethered to an institution as the means of your identity. You control the means of your academic production. In an old system, your academic production is controlled by a university and they control your academic avatar. In a Schoalrpreneur system, you publish at multiple outlets, but your identity is under your control.
Scholarpreneurs believe that academic knowledge should be taken to the open market so academics can earn what they deserve. Here scholars can profit in ways unthinkable at a traditional university.
Scholarpreneurs also believe that academics can thrive if they learn how to teach in a dynamic way and market it for the masses.
Think of the example of the medieval artisan. This was the career of Leonardo da Vinci. He worked within the late medieval tradition of an artisan, in which his patron called on him to do many practical things, whether diverting the flow of a stream, building defensive walls, or painting a picture. His profession blended the jobs of the mechanic, sculptor, artist, and architect. Some of the writings that he left behind to us include a system of movable barricades to protect the city of Venice from attack and a scheme of diverting the flow of the Arno River. While modern thinkers have credited him with being a man ahead of his time for combining science and technology when nobody else did, this is an anachronism. Leonardo rarely focused on the theory of how he made inventions but rather delved into tinkering to determine if it could be done.
Leonardo was a painter, architect, sculptor, mathematician, engineer, musician, inventor, anatomist, geologist, botanist, cartographer, military strategist, and writer. Leonardo is the ideal of a multi-accomplished humanist figure, of limitless curiosity and feverish imagination. He employed unusual empirical methods of the time to approach his broad scope of interest. He made discoveries in optics, hydrodynamics, engineering, and anatomy. He conceived of flying machines, armored vehicles, calculators, the double hull, and even concentrated solar power.
What are some modern-day examples? Kenny Mencher is another such scholar. He has had wild success with his online course“Art History: Renaissance to 20th” century.” He put it on Udemy, a web-based platform where experts upload video courses. Mencher charges $25 and has over 2,000 students – more than 10 times the number that could pack into a large introductory course. He earns far more than the $7,000 than an average Udemy instructor earns per course.
Karen Kelsky from “The Professor is In” is a Great Example. She is a successful academic consultant and voice behind the www.theprofessorisin.com. This site is probably one of the best online resources for aspiring academic entrepreneurs, or anyone looking for advice on how to manage academic life.
Karen is a former professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Oregon. She left her academic career in 2010 and now runs a consulting business and blog called The Professor Is In.
Karen did something that few academics consider and even fewer do. She left behind a tenured position and was even a department chair in anthropology. She then decided to start a consulting business offering mentoring services to graduate students who aren’t getting enough help from their own advisers,
Karen didn’t have a plan when she left the academic world to start this consulting business – she merely left to begin a new chapter in her life. But the idea came to her when she realized that she is motivated by rage and considered what made her angry. The answer was the faults in the modern-day academic system – The tenured professors enjoying job security while not helping their graduate students join the profession. The passivity around basic tasks of an academic career like publishing, CV building, and grant writing. The elitist denial of adjunct suffering.
Karen is fixing all that with her consulting business, offering through her website TheProfessorIsIn.com. She began to offer training for graduate students about the academic job market, giving them the mentoring they weren’t getting from their advisers.
Other scholars are moving to self publishing. Long the realm of failed authors and conspiracy theorists, it has gained new legitimacy in the last five years as Amazon has opened its publishing platform to any author (the 70% royalty rate doesn’t hurt either).
One such stand-out on Amazon is Andrew Hartley, a Shakespeare scholar at the University of North Carolina who has had tremendous success, among many other novels, adapting MacBeth into a thriller. He has adapted it for audio and is now working on Hamlet.
Greg Sadler was a guest on the fourth episode of this podcast. He is a philosophy professor who has a massive presence on Youtube and has created opportunities for himself as an academic – teaching on Oplerno, doing public speaking, academic teaching at many different universities.
Scholarpreneur is an active and rapidly growing community of scholars who are looking to take their academic knowledge outside of a traditional university setting. Online tools allow them to reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of students a year instead of the hundreds that a brick-and-mortar university would allow.
Other PhDs have proposed different versions of this model. For example, podcast guest Dani Babb talked about the Adjunctpreneur model. She recommends staying in higher education, but viewing each of your schools as clients. Here is what she says:
So how do you work as an Adjunctpreneur TM ? First, you have to change your mindset, and begin to look at your career in online teaching as a business with multiple online teaching jobs. This doesn’t mean sacrificing quality – what business can survive without quality? But imagine having a business with only one or two big clients that produce 85% or more of your revenue – what would happen if you lost that one client? Your business would likely go bankrupt. Businesses cannot survive on one client (without a lot of luck and exclusivity) and neither can online professors (without a lot of luck, or tenure).
I recommend the Adjunctpreneur TM model because it will help you feel more stable, allow you to gain best practices from multiple institutions (which by the way, many schools like! This even comes up in interviews and training – “how can you apply what you’ve learned working at other schools to make us better?” – if you haven’t heard that question, you likely will!), and will help you diversify your risk. Online teaching is a risky business, sometimes at the whim of dean-changes, external market influences like IRS regulation or healthcare requirements, fewer students, dropping enrollments, changing policies and so on. By working for more than one institution (or several) you can ensure if you lose one school/client, you can still survive while you look for other work. Don’t take on more than you can handle while providing quality instruction, but do look out for yourself and your financial life.
So those are some approaches to the Scholarpreneur model of higher education employment. For more examples I recommend checking out the archives to this site and past episodes of The Scholarpreneur Podcast.