How can I make a living as a student, but not in school?
December 10, 2012 9:02 PM   Subscribe

When I was in college, I really loved writing papers and now I find that I miss the chance to study small topics in depth. How could I make that into a career?

I have a BA in Political Science and if I thought I could get a job after, I'd go for a PhD. Outside of academia, what are my options?

(Don't say 'Get a blog'. I like having external guidance and pressure for these sorts of things. I'd love it as a job, but not so much as an end just for my own amusement.)
posted by youcancallmeal to Work & Money (23 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
You could write other people's papers. Unethical, totally. Lucrative, totally.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:14 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

This is what you do as a fact-checker. (The position is also sometimes called researcher or research editor.) It's kind of an entry-level gig at a lot of publications, so the pay isn't great.

You also do this as a writer/reporter/"journalist," but you need a lot of other
skills to do that job really well. Like, you should be good on TV, have admirable networking talents, have no shame, and be a good bullshitter (I mean all those as positive attributes).
posted by purpleclover at 9:18 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

A lot of legal practice is like this.
posted by raf at 9:31 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some forms of journalism like feature writing can do this, though the classic newspaper/magazine is dying and their support for long-form/investigative journalism is minuscule. You could, however, freelance for a site like DamnInteresting or MentalFloss (or even Cracked if you don't mind doing linkbait-style "5 weird things that happened in history" pieces, I have also heard they're pretty easy to break into).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:54 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is why I love being a graphic designer—becoming well-versed in the wide range of businesses I design for, then moving onto the next thing. For effective advertising or design, the first step is research, then writing a creative or design brief. It may seem like a stretch, but feeling well-educated about subjects I'd never consider researching on my own is one of the best things about my job. (For example, I know a good bit about breastfeeding, banking, snowmobiles, the Peace
Corps, the Kalamazoo Promise
and various charities all from projects I've worked on.) It maybe a far reach from your background, but you may find a lot of pleasure doing, say, advertising or marketing work at an agency that has clients in a lot of different industries. I've generally been a contractor so I do it all, but agencies have people specifically doing this client research.
posted by thesocietyfor at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2012

I have a friend who once had a job like you're seeking. He was one of a small group of smart, technical generalists who worked for Stephen Wolfram. Wolfram would toss off an idea at a furious pace and then ask someone to dig into the relevant field, push the idea along, and see what happens. The next day or two, he'd ask the person to bring him up to speed: "brief me on X." It seemed like a hard job since he never could take the time to do things really right -- would you be OK without academic-like comprehensiveness over what you study? Wolfram was fine with a shallow summary, though, since he was really just outsourcing musing + curiosity. (Trouble was, he really did then consider any ideas you came up with in the process to be his.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:01 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about working for a think tank? Or government--something like GAO.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:02 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was a research journalist for awhile. This basically involved writing a research paper each afternoon for the next morning's show in order to fill in the gaps in the host's knowledge on whatever topic we were covering. I loved it, it was a fabulous job, it paid decently and I was never bored.

Then the Harper government cut funding to the CBC and there were no more jobs. The end.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:23 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

A lot of legal practice is like this.

Beware: most of it isn't.

Also, why not go for a (fully funded) Phd?
posted by murfed13 at 4:25 AM on December 11, 2012

Many consulting jobs are fundamentally about researching and writing papers. You might also enjoy doing interpretation for museums, historic sites, etc.
posted by carmicha at 4:30 AM on December 11, 2012

I do this.

First, I'm a freelance grantwriter/proposal consultant. I work with a bunch of clients who do different things, and any given proposal is for a different project - I need to understand it, learn its language, research its context, justify it, and write clearly about it.

Furthermore, for the past few years I've done some freelance research work for a variety of nonprofits. Partly this is on purpose, and partly this is because while getting a Master's degree I just bounce around between short-term work. But basically, every few months, I'm working on something new - or, if it's something old, then at least from a new angle.

The terms of the work can make it a rough hustle, but the work itself is enjoyable.
posted by entropone at 5:53 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know about making it a career, but if you enjoy writing papers why not try to publish them?
posted by windykites at 6:16 AM on December 11, 2012

agree with others that consulting is all about this. and new topics every few months!
posted by saraindc at 6:28 AM on December 11, 2012

This is what researchers for TV do, but you need some production experience as well. But most politicians need staffers who research and write background papers, and so on. Know anyone in Sacramento?
posted by Ideefixe at 7:19 AM on December 11, 2012

You could write for publications such as CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints.
posted by Boxenmacher at 7:48 AM on December 11, 2012

My job has this element. I research and write things like speeches, briefing notes, articles, feature stories and reports on various topics. I work in communications. It pays pretty well and I like because I get to learn a little bit about a lot of new things.
posted by Lescha at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2012

This is outside my expertise, but I am under the impression that (state and federal) legislative aids do a lot of this stuff:

"The senator has been contacted by constituents about X. Go research X and write up a brief report for the senator about X."
posted by hydropsyche at 11:24 AM on December 11, 2012

Seconding Lescha that working in communications or PR, in my case a large non-profit association, we have to constantly write, research and update materials on a massive slew of different subjects.
posted by forkisbetter at 11:27 AM on December 11, 2012

This is kind of out of the box but maybe you could work on youtube! Like get a sponsor and become a partner (see crashcourse). OR you could write for academic magazines. Or work on teams that are making documentaries. Or work for politicians/political parties.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 12:05 PM on December 11, 2012

I work for a social science research company. We do contract work for various governments and non-profits that involves collecting and analyzing various kinds of data. A lot of my work involves learning about topic X for purpose Y to depth Z and summarizing it in some way -- in a proposal, in a memo, in an email, in a presentation, in a meeting, in a report, in a journal article, etc. Sometimes the depth is fairly shallow, sometimes it's deep, but the topics change (within some limits) and it's always interesting to me.

I have a PhD in a social science, but I work with and supervise a lot of people who have bachelor's and master's degrees. To really do the kind of work you that's most like writing a paper, you would need to have a master's degree, but with a bachelor's degree you could get your feet wet in this general line of work, and most companies that do this kind of work will pay for strong employees to continue their educations.
posted by OrangeDisk at 3:08 PM on December 11, 2012

Research positions in strategy consulting firms.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:18 PM on December 11, 2012

I found working in government like that - I did a short stint in regulation reform and in that time learnt about land use planning, food label regulations, all kinds of different stuff that I needed to understand enough about to be able to write short briefs or to review other people's papers.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:54 AM on December 12, 2012

Performance audit or program evaluation.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:33 AM on December 13, 2012

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