A couple of weeks ago I met a truly accomplished independent scholar: Mariano Martín Rodríguez. What is an independent scholar, you may ask? Wikipedia explains that “An independent scholar is anyone who conducts scholarly research outside universities and traditional academia”. I find that this not 100% accurate, as an independent scholar, while not employed by a university, must accept the rules of ‘traditional academia’ or risk remaining unpublished. I’ll rephrase, then, the definition: an independent scholar is a person who, though not working for a university, chooses to pursue an academic career based on doing research but excluding teaching.

I believe that there are two kinds of independent scholars: those who wish they could have a university job and those who do not care for one. By the way, the reason why they are (euphemistically) called ‘independent’ is that universities do not allow scholars to present themselves as affiliated researchers unless they are a) employees, b) students up to doctoral level. This, excuse me, is idiotic and counterproductive–I really fail to see the reason why a person with a doctoral degree from an institution cannot be affiliated for life, particularly when this person produces valid research that can even benefit the prestige of his or her alma mater.

I have met Mariano in relation to my current involvement in the organization of Barcelona’s 2016 Eurocon though I had previously contacted him concerning an article I sent to HĂ©lice. This is a quality online periodical publication (neither academic journal nor magazine), devoted to speculative fiction (their preferred label) and the fantastic, which Mariano edits together with Mikel Peregrina. As the section ‘Nosotros’ (see announces HĂ©lice intends to offer “serious, rigorous criticism” which, I’ll add, bridges the gap between the scholar and the common reader–now that many of us with university degrees have the training to produce informed essays on the popular genres we love. Mariano asked me to publicize HĂ©lice, by the way, hence this paragraph
 If you wish to send a piece, please do so (in Spanish or English).

If you recall, my post on Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman included some comments on her concern that the Humanities might be negatively seen by our scientist colleagues as a ‘hobby’ (to which I replied that just as recently as the 19th century science was in the hands of gentlemen scientists). Mariano actually proves that the Humanities can be both a hobby–no matter how embarrassed Braidotti and other humanists may feel–and a serious pursuit. Indeed, whereas independent scholars make little sense for the sciences (unless they can afford building their own labs!!), the Humanities still offer some room for independent research. Here’s the recipe, as embodied by Mariano: first, find a reasonably well paid bureaucratic job which does not occupy your mental energies beyond the end of your working day; second, be willing to invest a good deal of your monthly wages in your research, as access to university-funded resources will be either limited or impossible; third, use your free time productively. Mariano is a translator at the European Commission, a job, as he explained to me, which fulfils the conditions named here. He is by the way, single, but I see no reason why a person with family obligations cannot be an independent scholar–it’s a matter of time limits not of personal will.

I can imagine many of you, dear readers, raising your sceptical eyebrows
 Does this work? Oh, yes, it does: you may check Mariano’s CV at ( and marvel at the long list of solid publications to his name
 I am positive that many tenured teachers in many countries all over the world are by no means this accomplished
 Seeing this impressive list, I need to scream: ‘Shame on you, tenured teachers who waste your time and produce nothing!’ And, please, do not give me the excuse that you have to teach and he does not, blah, blah, blah. These publications have been produced during busy evenings and weekends for, remember, Mariano has a full-time job. He is certainly much closer to our own overworked associates than to a tenured teacher. (By the way, I forgot: if he does not appear as an independent scholar at this is because the Rumanian university where he has done part of his research has kindly allowed him to become an associate member of one of its institutes
 an example to follow).

I must say that Mariano has totally shocked me out of my assumption that independent scholars only put up with the many difficulties of maintaining an academic career for a few post-doctoral years until they give up in frustration. He has been active now for about 20 years and shows no signs of relenting… Actually he strikes me as the happiest scholar I have ever met, hence this post: to celebrate his career as an example that many others could follow.

A funny point in our long conversation–for Mariano is truly enthusiastic and a great talker–came when I asked Mariano whether he wished he was employed by a university. ‘Not at all’ was his reply. I think it’s the first time in my life that I meet someone with a doctoral degree who does not care for the university. Mariano elaborated: he is not interested in teaching (but, then, how many university teachers really like teaching?); above all, he will not waste his time with bureaucratic matters. Yes, the bane of our academic lives
 I also found Mariano gleefully free from the obsession to calculate each step of his academic career with an eye on official research assessment, promotion, etc. If you think about it, his career is a singular example of total and absolute motivational purity, which is an elegant way of saying that he simply does as he wishes–an attitude hard to maintain within the university. I wish my career had the coherence that Mariano’s own has.

This does not mean, mind you, that I would gladly abandon my current post for a routine job in combination with being an independent scholar on the side. Not at all, and much less so considering how hard getting tenure has been. The point I am trying to make is that Mariano’s case proves that a successful academic career need not be tied to the university. Since I am a vocational teacher, I find it hard to separate research from teaching but I understand that not all scholars feel the need to deal with students. Also, there must be different kinds of academic careers, so why not choose one focused on research and publishing (with total freedom)? My celebration of Mariano’s career is not intended to suggest, either, that since good research in the Humanities can be carried out outside the university, there is no reason for this institution to offer new jobs in this area. Not at all
 Remember that he has made a choice. It would be unfair to force the same choice on others, though at the rate we are going our associates are in an even worse situation, for they have all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of working in a university.

The only downside, as this is something I am guessing, not something that Mariano has shown in any way to me, must be the personal insecurity. Very often I find myself emailing people I need to pester for one reason or another and, well, I know that the name of my university below my signature guarantees at least some form of attention. In contrast, I can very well imagine the patronizing sneers that independent scholars surely receive from our most snobbish colleagues. I wonder whether Mariano has ever been called an ‘amateur’ (in any of the six languages he speaks correctly
) or whether he has ever been treated without the respect he deserves. Personally, I prefer disrespecting the privileged tenured teachers who misuse their time and who fail to be both good researchers and good teachers.

Mariano: this one is for you–may the project we are now sharing becomes the first of many collaborations in the future. Please, receive all my admiration and respect.

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  1. Dear professor,

    It is so rewarding to read your lines that, once again, I must write to you to thank you and celebrate your blog.

    I feel pretty much identified with that type of indepent scholar who pursues her interest and continuing education through a personal research that goes beyond the 40h a week as a teacher of English in Secondary Education.

    As a vocational teacher and post doctoral researcher I have sometimes experienced a condescending attitude towards me on behalf of some Spanish professors, who might have believed that I was just playing to be a “real” researcher. A sad reality, indeed. However, I must say that I have always been respected and treated as a professional everytime that I have contacted a foreign scholar/ professor for consultation and/or collaboration. That is the part by which I am cheered, and that is, in fact, a real incentive.

    In all, I truly believe that your insight in this issue exposes a situation that is often silenced by the academic community.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank YOU, Esther, for your kind message. Needless to say, I’m appalled by the patronizing attitude of some of my colleagues. I think it is very, very important to encourage scholarly research beyond the increasingly narrow walls of the unievrsity. You have ALL my support!!! Sara

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