What if you’ve finished your PhD and now find yourself without an institutional affiliation? How can you still access research materials and get on with your work? Maria weighs in with some tips and advice.
Picture this situation: you have finished your PhD and, for one reason or another, you are no longer formally affiliated to an academic institution. Your access to library material and academic facilities, which you were entitled to automatically as a student enrolled on a course, has now expired. Nevertheless, you are still interested in continuing your academic research. So what do you do? Here are some tips on how to access academic material — such as books and journal articles — as an independent scholar.
1. Use your local library
Although your local library will, most likely, not offer many academic papers and books, this should be your first port of call, for a few reasons. Firstly, it will still allow you to access many other primary sources, including many books of fiction and nonfiction, contemporary magazines, movies, and various other works of popular culture. So, if your work is based in the humanities or social sciences, especially, your local library will afford you access to a fairly generous pool of materials that you can use for free. Moreover, many local libraries nowadays offer access to e-format books so you might be able to study some of these materials remotely.
Secondly, do not fully discount your local library as a source of academic materials. I, for one, have been surprised to find a fair few academic books of interest to my particular line of research at my local branch. Also, do not forget that you may be able to request that your local library buy a book, or borrow it from yet another library. This will, of course, be largely dependent on the library’s resources, but do not be afraid to ask the librarians what options you have in terms of sourcing materials that the library does not, at the moment, hold.
Thirdly, local libraries will offer a good space to work in silence, a free WiFi connection, multimedia resources, as well as printing, scanning, and photocopying facilities. And finally, your local library card will — at least if you are based in the U.K. — allow you to access all the other libraries run by the local city council, so do take full advantage of that, as different branches may offer slightly different facilities and resources.
2. Check your alumna/alumnus benefits
Most universities do not completely cut off their alumni after graduation. Instead, they offer them — albeit slightly more limited — access to on-campus facilities. Find out what you are entitled to as an alumna or alumnus, and apply to use those facilities in your new capacity. At the University of Warwick, for instance, you will still be able to use campus WiFi, library and Learning Grid facilities, access the sports centre and top up Eating at Warwick credit, among other benefits.
3. Access other university libraries
Many university libraries will offer free visitor access, which will allow you to consult library books, and perhaps use free, public WiFi and some other library facilities (for a fee). It is true that this arrangement will, most likely, not allow you to borrow any books, or access any e-format materials, such as journal articles. However, if you can afford it, many university libraries provide full access to all their resources in exchange for a yearly registration fee, so it is always worth asking university librarians about your options.
4. Find online resources
There are numerous free and legal online resources that you can use as an independent researcher, including a wealth of digitised materials offered for free by university websites, art galleries, and other institutions or not-for-profit organisations. Some examples include:
- the Internet Archive, “a non-profit digital library offering free universal access to books, movies & music, as well as 357 billion archived web pages”,
- the online archives of museums, libraries, or various research institutions, such as the CERN Document Server, British Library’s digitised manuscripts, the Wellcome Collection’s database of digitised works, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s digital archive, the Hathi Trust Digital Library, or the New York Public Library Gallery, and
- the Google Arts and Culture database, which offers access to thousands of works of visual art.
Do not discount Google Books either. True, it is not the best of resources, but it will often offer quite extensive “previews” of academic books, so there’s no reason not to give it a try when you find yourself in a pinch. Same goes for Google Scholar — after all, more and more academic papers are now open access, and this search engine could help you identify the materials you need.
Finally, some researchers make their papers downloadable via their ResearchGate or Academia.edu profiles, so it’s worth checking out these platforms, just in case they hold that elusive pdf you’ve been searching for all along.
Conducting in-depth research without having an official institutional affiliation can indeed be challenging, and it will perhaps take longer, as you may need to put more time aside to discover new resources. Don’t let that discourage you, however. Keep on using the same lateral thinking skills that you employed as a postgraduate student and you will find that, as the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Are you an independent scholar? Do you have any tips on how best to access research materials and relevant facilities while not affiliated to a university? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Maria Cohut recently finished a PhD in English and Comparative Literary Studies, and now works as a medical journalist. In her spare time, she writes poetry, weird fiction, and occasionally creates taxidermy pieces. You can reach her on Twitter, @mariascohut.