Do people still get paid for research, and if so, how?
June 30, 2010 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Could I get paid for my (new-found) interest in researching topics? If so, how? More thoughts inside.

As you might guess from my FPP history, I like researching odd topics and writing about them in detail. I enjoy delving into an unknown topic, reading all I can in a short period of time, and digesting it all into some form of a narrative to pass the information along. Also:

* I like to write, but I worry about my dedication to a given topic some months into writing and trying to publish a book.

* I like to research, but I only know of internet-based research, and even then I feel like I'm just scraping the surface of potential sources of information.

* I like the idea of being a research assistant for a writer or journalist, but I don't know nearly enough about this sort of writing field to know where to start.

* I enjoy my current field (urban/regional planning), and it's steady pay. I don't see these two interests merging, so I was thinking research could become a fun hobby or part-time job.

I was thinking of research for books, until I read a comment by Chandler Burr, journalist (via):
James Fallows once said to me that the joy of being a journalist is having the freedom to stumble on something extremely interesting, learn about it in depth, share your knowledge and excitement with others, and then dive into something completely different.
This summed up my current pattern pretty well, and sounded like a magical job, except the reality of journalism seems bleak. Of course, there's posting well-researched write-ups online as a venue, but I thought I'd ask the hive mind for other ideas, and the potential to get paid for my research would be pretty wonderful (even if it probably is a long shot). I'd be happy with any insight to the world of organized research, whatever the field. Thanks!
posted by filthy light thief to Work & Money (17 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Opposition research. Every political campaign needs research and it's almost exclusively internet-based these days. It's a lot like what you describe -- diving into an issue (or person), learning everything you possibly can about it in a short period of time and then spitting it out as a useful narrative.

You could work directly for a campaign, for a political party or for a consulting firm. There's a variety to it and you end up learning a lot of random, interesting things along the way. The pay can be decent, but not spectacular and you may have to start as a volunteer and work your way up. I was a political researcher for years and I still miss it.
posted by fancypants at 1:31 PM on June 30, 2010

Best answer: Replying because it is one way to do research, yet it may not be what you are looking for (but there may be related fields, so this could be a starting point).

Medical communications companies write material about disease states and how to treat those disease states. The target audience may be physicians, and in this case the person may write a PPT deck with pictures and text or anything from a few hundred to thousand word document. Other med ed companies will give you the data from a clinical trial, and tell you to write it up for a medical journal (but you need to do the background research and put it into the introduction, discussion, etc.). I fell into this field by accident and it is not because I enjoy writing, but because I love the information and want to stay in contact with it. Now that I’m independent – I have had companies contact me and ask me to summarize a disease or look up and identify 10 to 15 web sites explaining a disease state.Just saying that there are people to hire you to do those things but in a certain niche/domain.

Anywho, if you have any interest in medicine or disease states, you could look for a job in medical communications. Most large cities (throughout the world) have these companies. You can specialize in a disease state/therapeutic area and look up more and more info related to that field. If you wanted to break into this field, I would give you a heads up and say that some of the companies mainly hire PhDs and MDs. However, there are people employed by these companies and they may have a journalism background or an MA in science, and understand the science and can also write – so there are ways in if this is what you wanted and you are persistent.

Some of your concerns and how it applies to med education:
-Worried about dedication – the pieces you write for communication companies are short. 5000 words max and you are done within a few weeks max. If you get bored easily, specialize in several therapeutic areas – or if you really enjoy a topic, specialize in one area.
-Scraping the surface – I don’t feel that I am scraping the surface because 1) I often need to read original, peer reviewed journal articles in med journals (and for some of these specialize areas there is not much published yet) 2) talk to the investigators (national/international experts) and hear their perspectives 3) if you are writing a clinical trial, you are getting a lot of data
-assistant? If you have an undergrad degree and aptitude, why not write your own documents/articles etc.. – someone will work with you and train you
-world of journalism/bleak – I have heard about the state of journalism but I’m not worried (special niche, companies will pay for it, and there are lots and lots of new medications in the pipeline). There is a lot of demand for this and a market for this – each project builds on itself and you will acquire more and more expertise. Note that in reality …I am writing for a med ed company or pharma company– I want the information so I don’t care who pays the bill in the end. But I think if you had a specialized niche that people are willing to pay for then the door is open.

I’m sure there are other types of companies that specialize in topic areas (besides medicine), but I don’t know what those are.

I really do believe in this when I am advocating it, too, if you have a special area that you are passionate about and know something about – why not create it and see if there is an audience? There are so many tools available to people now and you can create your own high tech content without a company behind you. If you have the time/energy/passion and the spare time, go for it. Own it yourself (vs write it for pennies or a few bucks for a low paying market)
posted by Wolfster at 2:20 PM on June 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

There is a shortage of librarians in this country. And that includes research librarians.

Of course, this may ultimately require a degree - and you are researching on directed topics. You are told what information to find, and not free to stumble on to anything.
posted by Flood at 2:24 PM on June 30, 2010

Best answer: I've worked as a research assistant, but the jobs I got were through people I know; I don't know how you get jobs like that without connections.

I also worked as a factchecker, which I loved. I got to become a complete expert on some random subject for a week or a day, then set it aside and become an expert on some totally unrelated subject. In theory factcheckers don't do research, as the writers give the editors a factchecking packet with all the information in it and the factcheckers just go through and verify it; in reality, factcheckers do great piles of research, as writers are lazy people. I worked in magazine publishing, in New York City. You seem to be in California, which makes it a bit tricker -- but I do know there are freelance factcheckers working for book publishers, and I presume they don't have to go in to the office.

It's been several years since I last worked as a factchecker, so I don't know how much it matters now that you know only Internet researching techniques. Back in my day we had only one iMac with an Internet connection for the whole research department... uphill, both ways.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:45 PM on June 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Flood, the librarian shortage is a myth.

I was going to suggest fact checking, but it looks like TCINL beat me to it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:53 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are forum-traffic-creator companies that pay people to post on forums. I doubt it pays very well. I once contracted like 10 posts re: creationism to be posted on a heavy metal forum I frequent.
posted by low affect at 2:55 PM on June 30, 2010

Best answer: If you want to deepen your research skills I'd suggest reading a book whose existence I discovered through Metafilter, Thomas Mann's Oxford Guide to Library Research (which is not at all restricted to 'book' research). Once you've read it, pick one of those weird little topics you're interested in and follow it into your local (big) library as well as the internets. See what you get. You could try something in an archive too: presumably you're familiar with some municipal archives in your area, for example. Archival digging is extremely addictive.

Once you've had a bit of fun doing this, you're probably ready to start offering your services as a research assistant--to academics, social research organisations, novelists... A friend of mine did some research in the Dublin city police archives* for a blind PhD student a few years back; he was working closely in collaboration with his, well, I guess client is the word, but in other archives I've met people who were just digging away, with very loose parameters set by clients who were living on other continents. Academics don't have much money, but this kind of thing gets written into grant applications. (There's a notice up in the archive where I'm doing research at the moment from someone offering exactly these services.)

Obviously I'm a historian, but I'm not suggesting you should limit yourself to doing historical work in archives (and not all archival research is for historians anyway): this is just an example, though if you want to develop a sideline as a researcher it would make sense to familiarize yourself with various different research resources that are available where you are, not just the online ones, crucial though they certainly are. Different kinds of academic, let alone different kinds of client, would be asking for different kinds of research.

As to selling your services, a carefully-worded website would be very useful [types terms "english copyediting" into google; smiles]. You could do a couple of bits of research on topics that are quirky, interesting, and likely to be relevant in whichever areas you're targeting, then post your write-ups as samples of your work--because you won't just be selling your services as someone who can research a topic, but also as someone who can process, synthesize, and sum up information (and quite possibly reference it to the required standard), too.

This could be fun, and I'm worried that I might be making it sound boring. So let me finish with a message from the 19th-century Dublin police, a mysterious note that my friend came across one day bearing only three words: Wild savage dancing.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:03 PM on June 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

There is a shortage of librarians in this country. And that includes research librarians.

No. Please, no. Stop the "librarian shortage" myth madness! Just search past AskMes seeking alternate careers for MLIS grads for proof. I'm one of them - graduated 2006 and have yet to work in a library. Because there are NO. JOBS. in this wretched economy.

Okay, rant over. I have nothing constructive to offer to answer the OP's question, but felt morally obligated to throw myself in front of the librarian shortage train and try to stop it.
posted by chez shoes at 3:34 PM on June 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

College research assistant ?

Also, I knew a few people back in the day that paid other's to do the research for their college work. (Not arguing if it is ethical, but that is what they did.) You could try something like College essay writing. If you can get past the fact you are doing other people's work you might find some interesting topics and get paid for it.
posted by Ereshkigal313 at 3:47 PM on June 30, 2010

Best answer: In a completely different direction, universities, charities, and non-profits often need prospect research. It's a very different vibe than academic or journalistic research, and it's not always a deep intellectual puzzle, but it's a lot like being a detective where you delve into the background and interests of various wealthy and accomplished people.

Along those same lines, there's also grant writing, which requires focused, detail-oriented research and strong writing skills. Academic or non-profit fund-raising is not the same as just diving into a random, interesting topic, but if it's for an organization or subject you're really committed to, it can be extremely satisfying and personally enriching.
posted by Diagonalize at 4:21 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I only know of internet-based research

That's not nothing. Internet research can require inspiration. My practice is, whenever I feel I've had a really good night finding related, targeted materials, that seem to fit together as a functional whole, then I print that stuff out and put it in a folder. The next day, I start without a browser history and see if I can recreate what I did last night. Often I can not, and I have to open that folder to get the references. It does take magical skills sometimes.

I don't track users here that much, but my impression is that filthy light thief is a competent thinker and writer. Alas, it does come down to marketing. Get out of the house and meet people. That can work surprisingly well.

Having known a career journalist, I can say that there were a lot of cocktail parties and book receptions involved.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:10 PM on June 30, 2010

Oh, and yes, "journalist" is at the bottom of the pay spectrum, right before "writer."

But my friend did get promoted to senior editor, brainstorming and developing a new magazine publication, and finally got well compensated for that.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:14 PM on June 30, 2010

Best answer: If you're just looking for part-time kinds of work, I see postings on craigslist fairly regularly by professors/writers looking for part-time temporary research assistants. They generally want you to have some access to a big library for all the pay databases though which you can get at most college/university libraries though 'community borrowers' programs.

Librarian shortage!! Snort, hahahahahaha! Sigh.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:30 PM on June 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I assist a number of creative people and projects, and quite a bit of that involves research - looking up indie publishers, finding the unusual properties of chilli, working out the best people for X or Y. I mainly work through word of mouth, though I've had some success with social networking and my blog.

The Writers Centre here occasionally has ads from writers needing research assistants. I'd suggest looking up your local Writers Centre (or Writers Society or some such) and putting out an ad offering your research services. People would love you.
posted by divabat at 7:58 PM on June 30, 2010

I'd be interested on how you prove credentials - if you had grad school, I can see that as being a recognition, but are there any other ways like certification that would help prove research skills? I'm interested as well.
posted by rmm at 11:07 PM on June 30, 2010

Response by poster: Definitely not interested in writing papers for college kids, and the library route is one that is interesting, but seems like something I'd do as a volunteer gig (which wouldn't be bad).

Thanks to everyone for the reading and resource recommendations so far, and the mysterious note. Time for more reading, and then to create a research portfolio or somesuch bit of eye-catching craftiness.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:11 AM on July 1, 2010

I saw a beautiful animated film last night, which is, amongst other things, a hymn of love to a gorgeously-rendered early-1960s Edinburgh. (I had no idea of this beforehand--it's a French film.) As it happens, I've lived in Edinburgh, so I could vouch for pretty much every surviving detail, and quite a few of the vanished ones too. So I wasn't surprised to see two researchers credited at the end. Made me think of this thread...
posted by lapsangsouchong at 11:44 AM on July 5, 2010

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