Scholars are almost always academics. We assign the designation to professors and researchers with university posts who get paid to research and publish. The term “independent scholar” only proves this: The qualifier is necessary because “scholar” by itself implies an academic position. I think this is why I’ve been uneasy about my desire to continue my research concurrent with building a non-academic life. Research and teaching go hand in hand, but scholarship and a non-academic career doesn’t seem right. Is my on-going interest in my dissertation topic a sign that I haven’t yet let go of academia? Is there room for scholarship in a life completely removed from a university?
I think there is. After all, scholarship isn’t a job; it’s something some people do. I revel in learning and delight in detail. I enjoy the knowledge, insight, and fulfillment that comes from exploration and contemplation. Academic-type research is one aspect of a good life for me, just as reading, cooking, and long intellectual conversations are others. When I think about it this way, my continued fascination with the subjects of my grad school research isn’t out of place. It isn’t a manifestation of my refusal to move on. It’s part of who I am.
A few minutes ago, as I took a break from writing this post, I read this article. It’s a fascinating piece about a Russian family “discovered” by Soviet scientists after living alone in the Siberian taiga for decades. The author’s framing of Siberia as “five million square miles of nothingness” reminded me of a book I want to write. One day, I will write and publish it. It will be a work of scholarship, but my place outside the academy will free me to write it as I please, free of tenure deadlines and judgments. And that’s exactly what I want: to be a true, unfettered scholar. Put it another way, I want to be me.